What it took to turn the tide of World War II

By Bill Federer

Battle of Okinawa
Battle of Okinawa

Considered the largest land-sea-air battle in world history, it began April 1, 1945, with the most massive amphibious attack by the U.S. in the Pacific war.

60,000 U.S. troops landed on the Island of Okinawa in the last major battle of World War II. Fighting continued for 82 days. Imperial Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots caused the greatest loss of American ships in U.S. naval history with the sinking of 38 and the damaging of another 368. There were over 72,000 American casualties. Imperial Japan lost over 110,000 men, in addition to nearly 150,000 Okinawan civilian casualties.

On April 18, 1945, Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on an island northwest of Okinawa Island. Ernie Pyle had been embedded with Army infantry soldiers in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. His newspaper columns were turned into the 1945 movie, “The Story of G.I. Joe.”

Ernie Pyle wrote in 1943: “I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.”

The fierceness of the combat during the battle of Okinawa, with nearly 2,000 kamikaze suicide attacks, led the Navy and Marines to expect over a million casualties if they attempted an invasion of the main Japanese islands.

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The battle of Okinawa convinced Democrat President Harry S. Truman to drop the atomic bomb on the industrial centers of Hiroshima and Kyoto in August of 1945. Secretary of War Henry Stimson argued to spare Kyoto as a target. The city Kokura was then chosen, but on the fateful day cloud cover blocked the crews’ visual identification, so the bomb was dropped on nearby Nagasaki.

Tragically, Nagasaki had been the most Christian city in Japan. Nagasaki was first visited by Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier in 1549, through whose efforts the powerful daimyo (lord) Ōmura Sumitada had been baptized, followed by 300,000 becoming Christian by the end of the 16th century.

Suffering persecution, Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) or Mukashi Kirishitan (“Ancient Christians”) passed their faith over the intervening centuries. Emperor Meiji finally allowed religious freedom during the Meiji Restoration, 1868-1912.

From 1912 to 1926, Japan experienced unprecedented freedom and prosperity during the “Taishō democracy.” Beginning in 1926, Japan’s Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito, concentrated power politically into a totalitarian, militaristic state.

Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial Japan entered into a Tripartite Treaty with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party on Sept. 27, 1940, being referred to as the “Axis powers.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had recited the reason the United States entered into war with Imperial Japan in his address to Congress, Dec. 8, 1941: “The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage … lives have been lost. … Ships have been reported torpedoed between San Francisco and Honolulu. … The Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya … Hong Kong … Guam … Philippine Islands … Wake Island … and Midway Island.”

FDR stated Jan. 6, 1942: “Japan’s … conquest goes back half a century. … War against China in 1894. … Occupation of Korea … (1910) War against Russia in 1904. … Fortification of the mandated Pacific islands following 1920. … Seizure of Manchuria in 1931. … Invasion of China in 1937.”

Invading Imperial soldiers massacred over 300,000 in Nanking, China, 1937-1938. FDR concluded his address: “We are fighting today for security, for progress, and for peace, not only for ourselves but for all men, not only for one generation but for all generations. We are fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills. Our enemies are guided by brutal cynicism, by unholy contempt for the human race. We are inspired by a faith that goes back through all the years to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis: ‘God created man in His own image.’ We on our side are striving to be true to that divine heritage. …”

FDR continued: “We are fighting, as our fathers have fought, to uphold the doctrine that all men are equal in the sight of God. Those on the other side are striving to destroy this deep belief and to create a world in their own image – a world of tyranny and cruelty and serfdom. That is the conflict that day and night now pervades our lives. No compromise can end that conflict. There never has been, there never can be, successful compromise between good and evil. Only total victory can reward the champions of tolerance, and decency, and freedom, and faith.”

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