Okay, I know I watch the Military History Channel way too much–but it was on this date in 1945, a date that was both April Fools Day and Easter Sunday that year, that we began our amphibious invasion of the island of Okinawa. The irony of the date is kind of incredible. Couldn’t have we waited just another day or two to begin the assault? Or was that precisely why, in the skewed reasoning of the military, that we chose that date to begin the battle?
The struggle for Okinawa lasted nearly three months and was a slaughter of incredible proportion: We lost 12,000 dead plus another 27,000 wounded. Japanese casualties were well over 100,00 dead soldiers and Okinawan civilians–many committed suicide rather than submit. It was the last great battle of WWII and the ferocity of the Japanese resistance led directly to President Truman’s decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki two months later.
Giving it some perspective, our 12,000 dead in three months on Okinawa are twice what we’ve suffered total in the decade-long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the dimensions of WWII in terms of its impact on the American psyche are largely lost on the boomers and other generations born since 1960. During my childhood time was chronicled by The War–as in “Oh, that happened before the war,” or “that happened during the war,” or “that happened after the war.” I have a distinct memory from around age three, after the war had ended, asking my parents, “Will the Japs bomb here?” I remember asking that question, and their reassuring answer, clear as a bell. Also, WWII’s impact was diminished greatly by the fact that the men of that generation didn’t talk much about what they actually did in the war. During the late-1940s and fifties our whole society went about trying to forget the six-year trauma that was The War.
Another ironic note: My ex-wife’s maternal Japanese grandmother’s family was Roman Catholic and from Nagasaki. We dropped the bomb on the city in Japan that had the most heavily Christian population. Nagasaki became the alternative choice that day, Aug 9, 1945, when the original target Kokura had too much cloud cover.
I feel like I should add one more wry observation–or have an upbeat note to top this brief piece off–but I don’t.