June 23, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo
Seventy-five years have passed since the Battle of Okinawa, which took many precious Okinawan lives and destroyed the unique culture created by our forefathers. On this Okinawa Memorial Day, we want to inherit the experiences of the Battle of Okinawa with the testimony of battle survivors and messages sent to us from battle remains engraved in our hearts, and pledge to construct a foundation of peace-building.
Okinawans who experienced the Battle of Okinawa during their elementary school years are now in their 80s. Most of those who were mobilized to the battlefield as defense troops, “iron and blood imperial corps” student troops, and female student troops are now in their 90s. We have increasingly limited opportunities to hear testimony directly from the survivors.
We hope to put forth effort into opening our ears to the testimony of survivors in the little time we have left to do so, and come up with a new form of passing down these experiences on the basis of cumulative research on the Battle of Okinawa. In recent years, city and town histories and guidebooks about the Battle of Okinawa compiled with the participation of young researchers have been highly lauded.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has left the Okinawan economy and Okinawans’ lives hard hit, has also cast a shadow on the passing down of experiences of the Battle of Okinawa. The Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, Himeyuri Peace Museum, and Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum have all been forced to close their doors temporarily, and the time allocated to peace education in schools has also been cut. Memorial ceremonies across the prefecture have been downscaled or refrained from being held.
Although it is a shame that we have lost opportunities to honor the dead and learn about the Battle of Okinawa, we must not let these circumstances cause us to fall behind in our efforts to continue passing down experiences of the Battle of Okinawa.
In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the surface various challenges that we face in our attitude towards commemorating the dead and engaging in peace administration.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government initially announced that it would reduce the scale of the annual Okinawa Memorial Day ceremony and hold the ceremony at the National War Cemetery of Okinawa. Researchers specializing in study of the Battle of Okinawa objected to this plan. They expressed their concern that holding the ceremony at the National War Cemetery would support the position that civilian casualties were “martyrs” who sacrificed their lives for the emperor and the state.
Most Okinawans who have long commemorated the dead at the Cornerstone of Peace, the Konpaku Memorial Tower, and local memorial towers feel no affinity to the National Cemetery. The Prefectural Government ultimately moved the location of the ceremony back to the Peace Memorial Park, where it is normally held, but the event brought into question its attitude toward the sentiments of Battle of Okinawa survivors and victims.
Governor Denny Tamaki frankly addressed the concerns of Okinawans calling for a change in the ceremony venue saying, “I thought that the same sentiment would be communicated no matter where we prayed, so I didn’t think the venue was so important. Now I see that I hadn’t done my homework.” However, the governor’s expression of remorse does not signify an end to the issue, which shows that we are in danger of seeing commemoration of battle victims and peace administration becoming a shell of its former self. We want to see the Prefectural Government’s decision-making process in selecting the venue uncovered, analyzed, and used as a lesson for the future. Cities and towns must similarly take stock of their experience passing-down activities and the present state of war remains. Peace-building efforts should be a pillar of municipal administration.
We study the Battle of Okinawa in order to build peace. Okinawans have long taken a negative view of anything leading to war, based on the lesson gained from the tragic battle experiences that “the military does not protect civilians.” We have returned to the scorched aftermath of battle 75 years ago time and time again in order to uphold this belief.
The Battle of Okinawa is not a thing of the past. It serves as a valuable lesson for us living today. We must not forget that the experiences of the Battle of Okinawa give us a barometer in our peace-building efforts.
(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)
June 23, 2020 Ryukyu Shimpo