Saturday, April 13, 2013

Outliers

Lt. Gen. Tachibani surrendering
Iwo Jima and Chichijima are islands on the edges of Japan. Barely 150 miles apart, both have unique histories. Neither was ever fully Japanese nor returned to Japan at the end of the Occupation. Both are remembered for their bloody legacies from the last months of the Pacific War.

Two best-selling books by James Bradley tell the wartime histories of these small islands, Flags of Our Fathers (2000) and Flyboys: A True Story of Courage (2003).

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit both this Sunday, April 14th. It is a trip of reparation.

After declaring that April 28th is Sovereignty Restoration Day commemorating the end of the US Occupation of Japan in 1952, Abe Administration had to backtrack. Neither the Ryukyu (Iwo Jima) nor Ogasawara (Chichijima) island chains were returned at that time. Both used to host U.S. military facilities, the former had to wait until 1968 and the later until 1972.

Hoping to placate protesters, Abe plans to visit Iwo Jima (now called Iwoto) to honor the Japanese dead from one the bloodiest battles of WWII and then to fly to Chichijima, first settled by Westerners in the 1600s, to talk with its residents. On both islands he will be haunted by these islands' complicated war histories.

The Battle of Iwo Jima is well-known and memorialized. What happened on Chichijima is considered best forgotten. Although Chichijima was never invaded, it is the site of infamous war crimes for which four Japanese officers were hanged.

During the Battle of Iwo Jima, U.S. United States Navy pilots tried to bomb Chichijima's two strategic radio stations. Nine crewmen survived after being shot down in the raids. One, Lieutenant George H. W. Bush, was rescued by an American submarine. The others were captured by the Japanese and tortured. And as chronicled by Chester G. Hearn in Sorties into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima, these POWs were then executed and partially eaten by both Imperial Army and Navy officers. Their livers were fried for a dinner party.
Cannibalism toward POWs or even dead fellow soldiers was reportedly not unusual among Japanese troops. The trials and convictions of 30 Japanese soldiers and four officers on Guam, including the commanding General Joshio Taichibana for war crimes was unusual.

Aides to Abe said the visit to Chichijima was intended to show consideration for those areas that were not covered under the San Fransico Peace Treaty's restoration of sovereignty. There is indeed much to show consideration to.

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