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The Battle of Okinawa: Could more civilians have been saved?

12 1 6

Kobe – In early 1946, U.S. Navy Commander Henry S. Bennett, a member of the Medical Corps who served with the U.S. Marines during the Battle of Okinawa, said: “Without doubt, our military operations in the Okinawa Gunto have caused far greater disruption, destruction and casualties than any previous violent historical episode in the archipelago, and cannot be regarded by people as anything but a calamitous disaster.”

This assessment was not an off-the-cuff remark but was included in the first detailed analysis of the battle appearing in the U.S. military’s most prestigious journal, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Born and raised in Tottori, Bennett, who later became an internationally known anatomist and cell biologist, was particularly sensitive to the needs of civilians, making a number of recommendations about the military occupation of the island upon his return to the United States.

Because it led to so many unnecessary noncombatant deaths, the Battle of Okinawa should have been the last example of senseless slaughter of civilians in world history. Of course, it wasn’t — such tragedies continue today, daily, around the globe.

I recently led a group of young Japanese people, including a woman from Okinawa Prefecture, in a simulation to “refight” the Battle of Okinawa, this time, with the protection of civilians as the main priority of the defending Japanese forces (and as a significant factor in U.S. planning).

In particular, I was hoping to explore if it were possible for more civilians to have been spared from experiencing the battle, rather than being trapped amid the fighting, either willingly (as many sought protection by Japanese forces) or involuntarily, dying as a result of sickness, disease or malnutrition, or lost........

© The Japan Times