Monday, November 09, 2015

The Darker Side of Guam and Okinawa

I came across this article while looking for examples about the way American media frames Okinawa, its history, its relationship to the United States, and the "problem" that it presents to US interests. The usual way in which the United States relates to places where it has bases, is through gratitude or lack of gratitude. If the people support the presence of the bases, then the media represents them as appreciative and understanding about how the US, as the greatest country in the history of the world, has helped protect them, develop them, given them freedom and democracy and capitalism. This is the case, even when those countries were former enemies of the United States and the bases were placed there during or after times of war. Even then, the US media and scholarly class has a way of making it seem as if the people there should appreciate the lesson they were taught about the world and global power. Hami i Yu'us, Hamyo taotao ha'. 

But if the governments are not "cooperative" or the people are not supportive, the media portrays them sometimes as being irrational, suicidal and crazy. They have bad memories. They don't understand the way things are in the world. They aren't appreciative of all the wonderful things America has given the world. Okinawa is one of those places that gets alot of attention as the protests just never seem to disappear. In other countries, such as South Korea or the Philippines, the protests against the US presence/bases there vanishes very quickly in the United States, but the Okinawan problem always persists. The international media helps to ensure that, but also the Okinawan people themselves, who continually in both large and small numbers protest. It helps that they have an array of numbers and facts on their side that make the story so compelling. For such a small place to host such a large military presence, for a 12 year old girl to be raped by three US servicemen, for 85,000 people to protest the fact that 16-18% of their islands are US military facilities, that so much of the protest hinges on a large sea mammal, the dugong, that Futenma base was once referred to as the "most dangerous base in the world." All of these things create an insistence, whereby even if people wish the Okinawan problem would just vanish the way other foreign problems, do, it can't.

In this article, the darker side of Okinawan history, which deals with bloodshed and atrocities during World War II, but also the dangers and damages associated with the US military presence are chronicled. I have long thought about a similar article for Guam. Many have been written about the darker side of Guam's history in terms of Japanese brutality and terror during I Tiempon Chapones, but less has been done about the darker side of Guam in general. Something that deals with the racism, the discrimination of the past and present. The deadly damage of militarization and the places where you can still see and feel it today. The less than stellar parts of Guam, that nonetheless carry important truths. Even if we were to focus it simply on I Tiempon Chapones, the darker side wouldn't necessarily focus on the evils of Japan, but draw out the stories that people refuse to tell (for a variety of reasons). Comfort women in Guam, for example is something that everyone knows existed on Guam during the war, but few know any details about them. It was something where much of the knowledge and stories were not passed on to the next generation because of the trauma and sensitivities involved. But connected to that are also stories of how families, in order to survive, encouraged their daughters to go and be nice and friendly to Japanese soldiers. There are also many lost and silenced stories of Chamorros using that new power to take from others and victimize others. Perhaps the darkest and most silenced stories are from those Chamorros who preferred the Japanese to the United States, and did not see the war as a terrible disruption, where their precious colonizer was now cut off from them. These Chamorros saw Japan as a potentially better colonizer, and preferred this master over the last one. Just in the same way that when America arrived in 1898, some Chamorros celebrated while others longed for the Spanish.


"Exploring the Darker Side of Okinawa"
by Nicholas D. Kristof
New York Times
January 21, 1996

IT has been half a century since the Battle of Okinawa, but in the inky depths of a cave in the center of the island it suddenly came alive for me last June. Dozens of people had committed suicide in the cave, to avoid the rape and mutilation they expected from the American troops who were outside, and then the cave had been forgotten in the aftermath of that bloody summer of 1945.
The cave formally opened to the public a few years ago, and as I shined my flashlight around I saw things that horrified me more than any museum exhibit possibly could have.
There were bones, mostly little ones, belonging to the children -- the youngest was 2 -- who were killed by their parents to save them from the supposed American demons. There were old water bottles, bowls, combs, a pair of dentures, knives and other detritus of war, with teeth scattered about.
It was grisly, but then the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 was even grislier. More than 200,000 people were killed in the battle, the last major campaign of World War II -- more than many of the estimates of the death toll in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Some 545,000 American troops stormed Okinawa, in the biggest land-sea-air invasion in history, and 14,000 Americans died in the battle. Since then hundreds of thousands of Americans have served military tours on the bases that take up 20 percent of the island.
Many tourists come to Okinawa for the beautiful beaches and great scuba diving, but I came to explore its darker side. Okinawa played a crucial role in World War II, and there are exceptional war memorials and museums that record what happened.
Perhaps the most famous is the memorial that opened on June 23, the 50th anniversary of the end of the battle. Situated in Peace Memorial Park in the southern end of the island, where fighting was particularly fierce, the memorial is the most impressive and warm-hearted tribute I know of to the dead of any war.
Set on a beautiful lawn not far from the beach, it consists of black granite slabs engraved with the names of all the war dead: Americans as well as Japanese, civilians as well as soldiers. There are 234,183 names, variously in English, Japanese and Korean writing systems.
A computer in the center of the park allows a quick search, in English or Japanese, to find where a person's name is engraved. Many visitors make rubbings of the names of loved ones and take them home.
In the same park is the Peace Memorial Museum, with two floors of displays about the battle. Opened in 1975, the museum was intended to exhibit primarily artifacts of war, and it does have bullet-riddled helmets and the like. But the curators soon decided that artifacts could not really tell the story, and so they made the centerpiece the written testimonials of citizens who endured that terrible summer of 1945. Most of the testimonials are in Japanese, but there is one huge book in which the accounts of survivors have been translated into English.
A typical grim sampling, by an adult Okinawan who was then a 14-year-old boy, recalls how a woman and her two children could find no room in any cave to hide in. So they stayed under a tree outside the cave where the boy was staying, perhaps hoping that someone would leave so that they could move inside. The mother was struck by a shell fragment and killed. "The children were safe," the entry reads. "The baby was sucking at her mother's breast, while the older one was leaning on her body. They stayed alive like that for three days. But when I came out again to relieve myself, I found the kids lying dead beside their mother, soaked in the rain that had fallen all night long."
Some museums in Japan gloss over Japan's own brutalities, portraying the Japanese as victims rather than aggressors. That is less of an issue in the museums in Okinawa. It is true that they do not fully explain the background that would lead the United States to invade Okinawa, nor do they acknowledge the brutal Japanese military occupation of China, Korea and other countries. Yet the museums do emphasize the viciousness of the Japanese Army, noting that Japanese troops often evicted civilians from caves to face the shelling, or even killed them outright. The exhibits suggest that the Americans undoubtedly killed huge numbers of civilians with their shells, but that many were uncommonly kind to those they captured. According to numerous accounts in the museum and other recollections by survivors, American soldiers regularly risked their lives to save those who had just tried to kill them.
A 10-minute drive away is the Himeyuri Peace Museum, dedicated to 320 students at Okinawa's best girls' school who became student nurses. Of the 320 only 103 survived; the rest were shot or shelled, or committed suicide to avoid the rape and torture that they had been told to expect from the Yankees.
There are several rooms in the museum, but most haunting is a huge room with a double row of pictures of the schoolgirls who died. They stare out, 15 and 16 years old, in cheerful school photos, and then one reads testimonials -- in English -- about how their jaws were blown off, about how they were napalmed in their caves, about how they used hand grenades to kill themselves.
From Peace Memorial Park, it is a 15-minute walk along the seaside cliff to the last bastion of the Japanese defenders. A trail leads by a series of memorial stones and plaques and on up to a cave that was the redoubt of the commander of the Japanese Army, Lieut. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima. In this cave, when it was clear that the battle was lost, General Ushijima committed seppuku -- ritual suicide by slashing his stomach with his sword.
Okinawa was the only major battle in which both sides lost their commanders. Just six miles from General Ushijima's cave is a hillock marked with a memorial showing where Lieut. Gen. Simon B. Buckner Jr. was killed as he observed the enemy.
The caves of Okinawa were the focus of the entire battle. Soldiers and civilians alike hid in them, and it is possible to get a sense of how the Japanese Army operated by visiting Tomigusuku cave, the former navy command center burrowed into the soil by the sea. One enters by a set of stairs, improved for tourists, into a warren of dozens of rooms and minor shafts leading off from a few main tunnels. It was in this labyrinth that the Japanese Navy officers hid from the American forces and plotted strategy. Some of the rooms are pockmarked, a sign that they were used by officers to commit suicide by exploding hand grenades. But to me, the most painful place of all will always be the cave where I found the bones. It is called the Chibichiri cave, a natural cavern about 100 feet deep, used by 140 villagers to hide when the Americans landed. In the 1980's interviews with elderly Okinawans about their war experience turned up accounts of what had happened in the cave, and several antiwar activists found it and eventually succeeded in turning it into a war memorial. Shoichi Chibana, an antiwar activist who led the restoration effort, told me what happened.
The villagers in the cave had been told by the Japanese Army that the Americans would torture and kill everyone.
When the Americans approached the cave, on April 2, 1945, two boys charged them with the only weapons they had -- bamboo spears -- and were shot and killed.
The Americans, at the mouth of the cave, pleaded with the villagers to come out and surrender. They dropped leaflets in Japanese explaining that everyone would be treated well, but no one believed them.
"Mommy, kill me!" shouted an 18-year-old girl, Haru Uechi. "Don't let them rape me!"
The mother killed her daughter, setting off a mass killing within the cave. Parents killed their children, then killed themselves.
In all, 83 people in the cave died at their own hands or at the hands of their parents. The family members of the dead have taken away most of the bones, but they left some as a kind of memorial. For the same reason they left the debris of those days in the recesses of the cave.
ONLY the entrance to the cave is formally open to tourists; the remainder is blocked with a sign saying that it is dangerous. Perhaps there is some potential earthquake danger, but the cave has lasted many decades, and the real reason, according to Mr. Chibana, is that relatives do not want insensitive tourists wandering about gawking at the bones and teeth, or pilfering them as souvenirs. However, they are willing to allow in visitors who will treat the site with the respect it deserves. It is best to write in advance, in English, to Yukei Murakami, the head of a group of volunteers who conduct tours of war sites. Mr. Murakami explains that the group wishes to give tours only to those who want to learn about the tragedy of war and offer condolences to the dead; they are wary of Americans who wish to commemmorate the victory.
Mr. Murakami's address is: 2994-2 Ikehara, Okinawa-City, Okinawa 904-21, Japan.
Visitors should go only with a permission, flashlight and a guide. Potential dangers include deadly snakes called habu, which live all over Okinawa, not just in caves. In addition, when I went in the cave, I spotted a huge scorpionlike creature, perhaps five inches long, hanging on the roof above me.
In that dank cave, haunted by the stories of what had happened there, I felt the horror of the Battle of Okinawa as I never could from a museum exhibit.
What to see, what to read
Getting There
Flights to Okinawa go to Naha, the prefectural capital. The best hotel in Naha is Harbor View, (81 98) 853-2111, fax (81 98) 834-6043. A double is $220, calculated at 100 yen to the dollar. Many other resort hotels are found along the beaches. Tour packages are available from travel agents who include air fare and a resort hotel at a much cheaper price than is possible trying to book directly.
Peace Park and most of the sites in the south of Okinawa can be reached by the Nos. 32, 89, 33 and 46 buses from Naha. Get off at the "Himeyuri no toh mae" stop, (fare $4.70), which is where the Himeyuri museum is situated. Buses leave there every hour for Peace Park.
Alternatively, taxis can be hired for $30 an hour. More detailed instructions and English-language pamphlets can also be obtained from your hotel.
The Sites
The Peace Memorial Museum, 997-2874, is open from 9 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. every day except Monday, when it is closed. Admission is $1.
The Himeyuri Peace Museum, 997-2100, is open from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. every day. Admission is $3.
The navy caves, 850-4055, are open every day from 8:30 A.M. to 5 P.M. Admission is $4. For further information about various sites, contact the Okinawa Visitors Bureau, 961-6331.
One site that is not strictly war-related but that is well worth a visit is Shuri Castle, the old seat of power for the king of the Ryukyu Islands before Japan seized the territory in 1879. Shuri was demolished during the fighting, but was rebuilt from photographs. It is open daily from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. Admission $8.
There are many books that describe the Battle of Okinawa. My favorite is "George Feifer, Tennozan," (Ticknor & Fields), a very readable 602-page paperback survey of the war and its victims.
Another engaging account is "Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II" by Robert Leckie (Viking).
The Governor of Okinawa, Masahide Ota, has produced a coffee table-sized book with riveting pictures and an English text, "The Battle of Okinawa," which does not list a publisher but is available for sale at some hotels on Okinawa.
For a general history of Japan's role in World War II, try "The Rising Sun" (Bantam), by John Toland.

 The Atmosphere
There has been a good deal of publicity about the movement in Okinawa to evict the American bases. It is true that there is widespread hostility to the military presence, but that does not lead to ugliness or discourtesy toward Americans; on the contrary, local people are very friendly and helpful. N. D. K.

Photo: Names of those who died in the 1945 battle are carved ingranite. Japanese visitors to the Chibichiri cave listening to an account of what happened there in the Battle of Okinawa. (pg. 19); Part of the seaside walk from Peace Memorial Park. (Nicholas D. Kristof) (pg. 26) Map of Japan
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF is chief of the Tokyobureau of The Times.

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