Okinawan Boys Scouts, the War, Internalized Oppressions: A Commentary

A group of U.S. Soldiers, Boy Scouts, Okinawan and Japanese citizens combined their efforts Saturday to help clean up the Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner Jr. memorial site located in Itoman City. Photo courtesy of

I want to make a small, agitating comment on the conditions that underlie the photo above.  This is from a March 23, 2011 event in Okinawa.

Some of you know that the Battle of Okinawa was one of the most fiercest, bloodiest battles fought in the War in the Pacific, World War II.  Almost half of the Okinawans that died in this battle, were under the age of 18.  Often, children as young as 8 and 9 years old, were carrying weapons to defend their home, their lands.  At times they fought against both the Japanese imperial forces as well as the Americans.  And it was immensely complex, with varying degrees of friendship, hostility, distrust, suspicion, avarice, fear, violence, allegiances, etc.   Some who had closer relationships with the Japanese, trusted the Japanese “truths” of Americans coming to rape them so they fought hard against the Americans, feared them more.  Others mistrusted the Japanese army and had histories of subjugation and violence perpetrated against them during the Japanese rule of this kingdom.

I will also mention here, for those who do not know, Okinawa, or the Ryukyu Islands, are a separate kingdom colonized by both China and Japan, through long histories.  The Ryukyu are their own people, their own kingdom, with diversity and varying allegiances along caste and regional lines.  Okinawa is NOT “just another part of Japan” or the same as Japan.  Let us understand this.

The photo above, taken in March of this year, shows an African-American female marine, helping alongside the Okinawan “Boy Scouts,” to clean up the Lt. General Simon B. Buckner Memorial site in Itoman City, Okinawa.  One can recognize, if American, the uniform that the Okinawan boys wear–that of the American Boy Scouts.  The memorial memorializes an American serviceman who died there after writing a letter to the commander of the Japanese forces there, during the Battle, writing of respecting the spirit of the Japanese and admonishing him to stop, let the Americans win because he was the one that should stop his forces.

What are the boy scouts thinking during this?  Are they aware of what they are doing? Do they care?  What does this participation allow, cloud over, maintain, propagate, make invisible?  What does this mean for Okinawans who remember what had occurred here in 1945 and the events leading up to it, and still ongoing in Okinawa?

I speak to many Japanese and Okinawans who speak of how they are grateful to the Americans and the American bases, while other Okinawans want the bases out.  What creates this configuration?  What acts of forgetting and remembering create the politics of division?  What does it mean for an Okinawan boy to be wearing an American Boy Scout uniform?  What does it mean for an African-American woman, in the US military, serving whatever she thinks is her country, to be there with them in whatever fashion? Between imperial Japan and the empire of the United States, between resistance to American and European controls in socio-economics and the military, and between self-determination, between lies and trauma and violence, and survival.

Militarism and cultural identity, individual identity (in the case of Americans especially–is the same as a cultural identity as far as I can think), and issues of nation, race and gender.  The configuration is all here in the photo.  Forgetting, immense forgetting, is also here in the photo.  Happy people with jobs and participating in a “good” thing.  Surrender.  Occupation, Jobs, loyalties, all forge ahead.  If not, there is escalation of conflict, which we are all afraid of.  In that space of being afraid, of “wanting it to stop,” what dominates? How?

What can be done to remember, heal, negotiate, create a different world?  The photo shows an assimilating gulf, a covering over, a “happiness” and a “peace” that is all too familiar.  It’s not that it shouldn’t be.  What of smaller countries, subjugated by larger ones?

Aaah, Okinawa.  What must be done?

You can read the article on the event (without any particular reflection on what is happening), at the Japan Bases .com site HERE.

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