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WOW—SUM BEACH
5/30/2011 5:48:28 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

Some think that applauding our troops as they pass through the airport is a good way to express thanks for their service. It’s a grand thought, but I don’t think it’s ‘thanks’ they want. I have come to believe that APPRECIATION is much more apropos.

The universal gesture of a “thumbs up” is more suitable than applause. Next time, try it. I bet they’ll respond in kind — they may even make eye contact, which is a rarity . . . especially if the man or women in uniform had kin in the Really Big Ones: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanastan.

Memorial Day got me to thinking: How much do our youngsters — or any of us, really — know about the prolonged battle we waged against the fanatical and fascist regime of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany?

Today we hear a great deal about nuclear proliferation — and where did we get off vaporizing the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Who the hell do we think we are?

Take out a map and look at the area of the Pacific known as the Marianna Islands, just north of the equator. See Tinian? Take a good look. It’s less than forty square miles, a small island, sparse and gorgeously formidable, a jungle in the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

You will notice a slash across its north end — a long thin line that might be an overgrown road. But it isn’t. It’s what’s left of a dirt RUNWAY. If you didn't know what it was, you wouldn't give it a second thought.

Up close, you see the runway isn't dirt at all, but tarmac and crushed limestone, abandoned now and weedy and unkempt. It looks awful — but this is arguably the most historical airstrip on earth.

This is RUNWAY ABLE. This is where World War II was won.

On July 24, 1944 (67 years ago) 30,000 U.S. Marines landed on the beaches of Tinian. Eight days later, over 8,000 of the 8,800 Japanese soldiers on the island were dead (we lost 328 Marines), and four months later the Seabees had built the busiest airfield of WWII — dubbed North Field — allowing B-29 Superfortresses to launch air attacks on the Philippines, Okinawa and mainland Japan.

Late in the afternoon of August 5, 1945, a B-29 was maneuvered over a bomb-loading pit. After lengthy preparations, it taxied to the east end of North Field's main runway, Runway Able, and at 2:45 in the early morning darkness of August 6, it took off — destination somewhere over Japan.

Colonel Paul Tibbets of the U.S. Army Air Force, who had named the plane after his mother, Enola Gay, piloted the B-29. The crew named the bomb they were carrying Little Boy. About six hours later at 8:15am Japan time, the first ever atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Hiroshima.

If you ever go to Tinian, you’ll be all alone. There are no other visitors and no one lives anywhere nearby for miles.

It would be a moment of deep reflection for you. Most people, when they think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at all, think only of the audacity of Harry S Truman and the number of lives lost in the nuclear blasts — at least 70,000 and 50,000, respectively. If you do go there and stare at the plaque erected next to Runway Able, you will reflect on the number of lives saved — how many more Japanese and Americans would have perished in a continuation of the war had those nukes not been dropped?

It's not just that the dropping of the atomic bombs prevented a U.S. invasion of Japan’s mainland — it was to be called Operation Downfall — that invasion would have caused upwards of a million American and Japanese deaths. Make no mistake: the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of extraordinary humanitarian benefit to our nation and people of Japan.

On that map of the Mariannas, look slightly north, past the pristine beach and expanse of blue Pacific: the Island of Saipan is less than a mile away from Tinian.

The month before the Marines took Tinian, on June 15, 1944, 71,000 Marines landed on Saipan. They faced 31,000 Japanese soldiers who were under oath not to surrender. “Fight to the death” was the operative phrase.

Japan had colonized Saipan after World War I, turning the island into a giant sugar cane plantation. By the time of the Marine invasion, in addition to the 31,000 entrenched soldiers, some 25,000 Japanese civilians were living there, plus thousands more Okinawans, Koreans and native islanders shanghaied into slavery to work the sugar cane fields.

There were also about fifteen hundred Korean “comfort women” (kanji in Japanese), abducted young women from Japan 's colony of Korea, sent there as whores to service the Japanese soldiers. One of the most compelling books on this is “The Comfort Women: Japan 's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War” by George Hicks.

Within a week of their landing, the Marines set up a civilian prisoner encampment that quickly attracted a couple thousand Japanese and others plied with U.S. food, medical attention and protection. When word of this reached Emperor Hirohito — who contrary to popular myth was the bastard in full charge of the war — he became enraged and alarmed that radio interviews with the well-treated prisoners were being broadcast to Japan; he felt this would subvert his people's will to fight.

It is meticulously documented by historian Herbert Bix in “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan,” that the Emperor issued an order for all Japanese civilians on Saipan to commit suicide. The order included the promise that although the civilians were of low caste, their suicide would grant them a status in heaven equal to those honored soldiers who died in combat for their Emperor. Wow — sum beach!

And that is why the precipice most often photographed on Saipan is known as Suicide Cliff, off which more than 20,000 Japanese civilians jumped to their deaths to comply with their Emperor's wishes. The most horrible image that comes to mind is mothers flinging their babies off the cliff first, and then carrying the older ones in their arms as they themselves jumped. Wow — sum beach!

Anyone reluctant or refusing to comply, such as the Okinawan or Korean slaves, was shoved off at gunpoint by the Japanese military. Then the soldiers themselves proceeded to jump off another nearby ridge called Banzai Cliff. Of the 31,000 Japanese soldiers on Saipan, the Marines killed 25,000; 5,000 leaped off Banzai Cliff, and only the remaining few hundred were taken prisoner. Wow — sum beach!

The extent of this sort of demented fanaticism is hard for any civilized mind to grasp — especially since it is nothing more than abject evil. The vast extent of barbaric brutalities inflicted by the Japanese on the conquered and colonized peoples of China, Korea, the Philippines, and throughout the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” was a hideous and depraved horror.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki — a tactic against which the Japanese had no defense whatever. Dropping atomic bombs was not a matter of justice, revenge, or making sure they got what they deserved. It was the only way to end the war against unparalleled Japanese dementia.And it worked — mostly (and ironically) for the Japanese. They stopped being barbarians and started being civilized. They have achieved more prosperity amidst peace than they ever knew — or could have achieved had they continued fighting.

Would they have lost anyway? I don’t know. But the shock of getting nuked undoubtedly was the final blow. Horrible as it was, it worked.

History has proven us right (although “right” can never be confused with righteous.) We achieved this because we were determined to achieve victory. Victory without apologies. Despite perennial demands we do so, America and our government has never apologized for dropping those two bombs. Hopefully, we never will.

Oh, yes... Guinness Book of Records lists Saipan as having the best, most wonderful weather in the world. And the beaches? Well . . . you have to see them to believe it!

Have a contemplative and reflective Memorial Day.


Copyright 2011 by Robert A. Mills, all rights reserved


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Words on my Plate by Ann Streetman

Looking for an ebook to enjoy with your little one throughout the year? Words on my Plate is a simple book that will engage toddlers, pre-k children, and very young readers...  
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