Saturday, June 04, 2016

"a feast of the Jews, was nigh" - A Symbol of the Battle of Okinawa

The National Diet (Parliament) Bldg. of Japan, Tokyo

A Symbol of the Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa was fought in the last stage of WWII between March 26 to June 23, 1945.

Okinawa Island situated between the mainland Japan and Taiwan has a length of 107 km and a width of 31 km.  The population was a little less than 600,000 before WWII.

To defend the Okinawa Islands, Imperial Japan deployed 116,000 troops while the US dispatched 548,000 army and navy soldiers.  The Battle of Okinawa took 200,000 Japanese lives among which 94,000 were Okinawa citizens.  Through the Battle, 12,500 US soldiers were also killed.

After WWII, the US occupied Okinawa.  It was in 1972 that administrative right on Okinawa Prefecture was returned to the Japanese Government.  For this reason, there are today still many US military bases in Okinawa whose total area accounts for 10% of all the area of Okinawa Prefecture.

Okinawa is the only prefecture of Japan where ground battles were fought between Imperial Japanese troops and US troops.  And, the scale of damage and the number of civilian deaths were so large that Okinawa people have been critical to the central government of Tokyo.  They still remember that in the Battle of Okinawa they were expected by the Imperial Japanese military to commit suicide before being captured by US troops.  Accordingly, most of Okinawa citizens were prepared for death when the US started to invade Okinawa Island by mobilizing 1,500 ships.

The battles were actually ended on June 23 with the collapse of the headquarters of the Japanese garrison troops on June 23, but some isolated Japanese soldiers continued fight.  Even Okinawa citizens hiding in caves and the like hesitated to come out.  Most of houses, buildings, and utilities of Okinawa were demolished through three-month fierce fight.

But on June 25, a seven-year old girl suddenly appeared from a devastated field near the shore.  She was alone walking among other citizens who were walking to American troops for help now that the battles were over.  A US cameraman paid attention to her and took some pictures of her because she was carrying a white flag.  She looked like symbolizing the tragedy of the Battle of Okinawa.


These pictures were included in some American picture books issued after WWII.  And, decades later, an Okinawa woman who happened to find one of the books in a book shop saw herself in these pictures.  But she did not come forward to claim that the little girl carrying a white flag was herself.

However, as time went by, these pictures came to be widely known among Japanese and Okinawa people, resulting in various rumors and stupid stories circulated.  So, in 1987, Tomiko Higa wrote a book to tell the true circumstances about the picture.

Tomiko's mother had been dead already before the Battle of Okinawa. When the Battle started, her father left their home to join some activities to support Imperial troops.  He said to his four children (three girls and one boy), "When you die, show your smile to the enemy!"  The children never saw their father since then.  Tomiko was the youngest children of the family.  She was following her siblings to run away from battles.  But her brother died as a stray bullet hit him.  And in a turmoil and confusion, Tomiko was separated from her elder sisters.

So, Tomiko alone wandered through battle fields and safe shelters that were mostly caves.  She was sometimes rejected when she entered a safe cave as too many people were in it or Japanese soldiers did not like to protect civilians.  So, she alone moved around battle fields and demolished villages to eventually come to a half-hidden cave near the shore.  She met two old people there, an old man who lost his hands and legs and a blind old woman who was taking care of him.  Tomiko was allowed to stay there with the poor old couple.  Weeks passed, but they did not realize that the battles were actually ended on June 23.

But on June 25, American soldiers found the cave where the three hid and lived.  They shouted to the cave, "Come out! If you don't come out, we will blast this cave!"

The old man said to Tomiko that he and the blind woman were determined to die there in the cave but Tomiko must live.  The disabled old man had the blind woman make a white flag from his underwear and tie it to a stick of wood.   Tomiko asked the old man to allow her to stay with them and die together.  But the old man scolded her: "You must live.  Life is precious.  This white flag is a universal symbol of surrender.  American soldiers would not shoot you."

So, seven-year-old Tomiko alone came out of the cave carrying the white flag tied to a stick.  She looked impressive to an American cameraman accompanying US troops, since there were no such children carrying a white flag to surrender.  He took pictures of Tomiko who realized it.  She thought that she might be shot.  And she remembered that her father had told to die with smiling to the enemy.  So, Tomiko smiled and waved to the cameraman.

And, this picture became well known after WWII as a kind of symbol of tragedy of the Battle of Okinawa, though the little girl was not covering her face from fear but was smiling and waving as she expected to be shot to death by an American cameraman.

Note: The Imperial Japanese military virtually forbade its soldiers surrender, which meant to fight till death.  Accordingly, it was unthinkable that white flags were used for surrender by Japanese troops.  This paradigm was apparently forcibly applied to Okinawa citizens during the Battle of Okinawa.  White flags were what should not be used even by a poor little Okinawa girl.

**** **** ****

Joh 6:4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.
Joh 6:5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?