Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Last Stand of General Ushijima

I've left Okinawa for Taiwan, but the stories I heard and learned still stay with me. The violence of war on the land and the people. So similar to Guam, a great conflagration between empires built and fed on war takes place over an island and the people are trapped, caught in between. They get erased in the process in so many ways. Their lives are obliterated. Their memories wiped away. Their claims to the land vanish beneath bases. Even their stories are cast aside. When they fit the heroic and sacrificial narratives of the two great powers, they are brought forth as moments of patriotism, loyalty and power. But if they don't, they are forgotten.

I finished reading the English translation of former Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota's book on the battle of Okinawa. Even though Ota himself is Okinawan and a big critic of the way both America and Japan have treated his people, his book still follows the narrative above, focuses on the tales of the two great empires locked in conflict.

I've copied below one of the later chapters of the book, which reprints an AP story on the suicide of General Ushijima, the commander of the Japanese defense of Okinawa.

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The Last Stand of General Ushijima

General Ushijima’s cook, who had been taken prisoner, told the story of the join suicide. After their deaths, the two officers were placed by their orderlies in graves at the base of the cliff.

On June 22 the cook was order to prepare an elaborate dinner for a special occasion, he told American officers. At this time the Mabuni Ridge was under terrific artillery and mortar bombardment and the United States flamethrowing tanks were climbing the steep coral slopes to burn out the undergrowth.

The general’s last meal was rice, canned meats, potatoes, fried fish cakes, salmon, bean soup, fresh cabbage, pineapples, tea and sake. The meal was served at 10 p.m. and at 11:30, the sentry at the cave entrance was dismissed by the general’s aide.

The guard was told that he was “no longer needed” and ordered to participate in the penetration attack against the American.

At 3 o’clock the following morning, the cook was preparing breakfast when the general’s orderly whispered that the general and his chief of staff were going to commit hara-kiri.

Forty minutes later both generals, dressed in full field uniform, wearing their medals, with boots highly polished, walked silently to a narrow ledge outside the cave mouth, followed by aides and members of their staff. The two generals talked in low tones as heavy blankets were spread on the ledge. Over the blankets was placed a white sheet, symbolizing death.

General Ushijima knelt on the sheet in the customary position. General Cho knelt on his left. Both faced the ocean. Because of the narrowness of the ledge, they could not face the north- the direction of the Imperial Palace – as in usual ceremonial procedure.

General Ushijima’s aide then approached with two knives, half of each blade wrapped in white cloth. He handed one to each general. His adjutant stood directly behind General Ushijima with drawn saber. Both generals opened their blouses to bare their abdomens.

General Ushijima thrust the knife deep and at the same instant the adjutant slashed him across the back of the neck, severing his spinal cord. A moment later General Cho died in the same manner.

The orderlies carried the bodies to the base of the cliff and scooped out shallow graves for them. Partly covered with rocks, the graves were discovered on June 25 by a patrol of the Third Regiment Seventh Division…

General Chow as wrapped in a white silk mattress cover on which his epitaph was written in his own hand-writing. It read: On the twenty-second day, twentieth year of the Showa era, I depart without regret, shame or obligation. Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cho Isamu; age on departing, 51 years. At this time and place I hereby certify the foregoing.

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