On most days, World War II seems far too distant to be relevant to my here-and-now life. That is, on most days. Yes, this despite daily reminders of the sacrifice, courage, and bravery of U.S. servicemembers who fought to defend our freedom and values. Like many men his age, my Grandfather fought in WWII. And, like many men who did so, he doesn’t speak about his time overseas often.
I recall my first–and only–visit to Hawaii more than 10 years ago. It was suggested by a friend–and a resident of Oahu–that I spend time at the USS Arizona Memorial. I chose not to do so; it is a decision I regret. In my defense, from the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt the weighty history of our country on my shoulders. War, I understood, was hell. And how could it not be given the accompanying all-encompassing fear, destruction, and death.
Since moving to Japan, I’ve been forced to confront part of World War II’s legacy. As an American living in Okinawa, I find myself uncomfortable more often than not. America won the war. American occupied Japan post-armistice. America authored Japan’s current constitution. And America continues to have a significant presence on an Island whose countrymen and women desperately fought against American forces. I think about the events of December 7, 1941, as often as I think about the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Indeed, it’s impossible not to living here.
On Okinawa, most of the war memorials are in or around Naha. MCCS (Marine Corps Community Services) Tours offers a battlefields of Okinawa tour and one can learn about the war at Okinawa’s Peace Park Memorial. I’ve been told by some American visitors that they felt out of place, as if they shouldn’t have been there, given the solemnity of a memorial dedicated to remembering those Japanese whose lives were taken by American forces.
It is a sentiment I now understand first hand. On a rainy day we headed to Naha to tour the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters. The Japanese forces there, fought to the end in June 1943. As we toured the intricate replica of the underground headquarters, we noted the placards and reading material explaining that their defeat was inevitable because of the “overwhelming fire superiority of the U.S. Forces.” We were the only Americans touring the site. And while the mood inside the memorial was grave in remembrance of history, we were warmly welcomed.
Will we continue to explore battle sites? I hope so, if only to remember the realities–and true cost–of war.