Prisoners of War, Prisoners of Peace: Captivity, Homecoming, and Memory in World War II

By Bob Moore; Barbara Hately-Broad | Go to book overview

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Japanese Deserters and Prisoners of War
in the Battle of Okinawa

Hirofumi Hayashi


Introduction

Since World War II, there have been a considerable number of studies on the attitude of Japanese soldiers to being captured as POWs. Many scholars believe that Japanese soldiers would always resist capture and instead fight to the death and although the author does not disagree with this view, it is important to realize that the matter was not quite so simple.

During the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, numerous Japanese officers and soldiers deserted and often surrendered voluntarily to the US army. In the case of Okinawan conscripts, they either surrendered or in many cases disappeared into the local population. It was not uncommon for even those from the mainland to surrender. The question of why significant numbers of Japanese, not just Okinawans but also those from the mainland deserted and surrendered is an interesting one and it forms the first point to be considered in this chapter.

This also leads into a second point. How has the experience of those who surrendered been dealt with since the war ended? It is clear that they were ignored until the 1980s, while stories about soldiers and volunteers who fought to the death were repeated over and over again. But the 1980s were a turning point in Okinawan history. Following a long occupation by the US military, Okinawa was finally returned to Japan in 1972. The Okinawans at first tried to identify themselves as Japanese, but gradually began to feel a sense of betrayal that the burden of US bases had not been mitigated by mainland Japan while at the same time rediscovering their own history and culture. They recalled old memories of ill-treatment and massacres at the hands of the Japanese military during the Battle of Okinawa. The stories of those who deserted the Japanese military and saved their own lives began to attract people's attention. Thus the focus here is to look at the history of Japanese deserters and POWs in the Battle of Okinawa from these two points of view.

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