Nearly July already. The grass should be up by now, first sweep of allergy season over, and ready to move into Independence Day next week, this year in the middle of the week so dreams of three- or four-day weekends are just that. June is, however, one of three months in the US calendar that have no Federal, bank-closing holidays; March and April are the other two. For what it’s worth.
But June has events enough. On 25 June 1678 Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to earn a Ph.D.; hers was in music, but she lectured in mathematics and was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French, and Latin–makes you feel like an underachiever, don’t it? And, on 25 June 1863, while the Army of Northern Virginia was invading the North again, George Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac from Joe Hooker; “Old Snapping Turtle” Meade had ruined his back a year before during the Seven Days’, and was known as an irascible but sensible commander. On 25 June 1950, the Korean War began which, remarkably, may finally come to an end during the administration of “warmonger” Trump who, we were assured in 2016, would begin a nuclear holocaust Any Minute Now. Today is also National Strawberry Parfait Day because someone wanted it to be today. But today we’re going to talk about the end of Okinawa, and pure marketing holidays.
This is what Okinawa looks like these days
This isn’t the same beach, but it might have been.
One of the more remarkable things a historical writer gets to do is decide which times in the past he wants to concentrate on, and through what lens it is to be viewed. My co-writer and I have been working on Japan in the Pacific War off and on for nearly a decade. Our latest effort, Why the Samurai Lost Japan, focuses on the “why” of the Japanese aggression in the 20th century. In so doing, we’ve created a narrative that seems to be unique. This essay is in that spirit.
When 77-year old retired IJN Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister for less than two weeks, announced that the last of the Okinawa garrisons had been overwhelmed, it was his way of announcing that Japan was doomed.
On this day, 25 June 1945, we have to note, the bakufu–military government–of Japan announced to its people that Okinawa had been lost to the Americans. Many commentators have missed the significance of this event. Mostly the announcement is regarded as a “so what” event by those whose access to information is free and, in the 21st century, instantaneous. But in wartime Japan, leaders admitting that a part of metropolitan Japan had been captured by an enemy who was supposed to have been unwilling to fight at all was, by then, both breathtaking and soul-numbing. Barely a year before, Tojo Hideki had lost his jobs as Prime Minister/War Minister/Chief of the Imperial General Staff after admitting to the loss of Saipan. When 77-year old retired IJN Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister for less than two weeks, announced that the last of the Okinawa garrisons had been overwhelmed, it was his way of announcing that Japan was doomed.
Since the 1920s, the shishi had been killing those who opposed their visions of Japan’s future.
Most scholars have written about the end of WWII in the Pacific in one of two ways: either as a triumphalist American campaign attacking the Home Islands with impunity or as a hopeless Japanese resistance driven by fanatics. Trouble is that both have elements of truth, but neither is complete. Both ignore the fact that Japan had been driven by fanatics for decades. These neo-samurai had among them young men with dreamy views of an Imperial Japan that had never existed, where His Majesty ruled directly, unfettered by pettifogging politicians, where strict moral codes (theirs) were enforced. The most dedicated of these were known as Young Men of Purpose, contracted in Japanese as shihi. They were scattered all over the services, in influential enough positions so that they had access to those at the heights of power. Since the 1920s, the shishi had been killing those who opposed their visions of Japan’s future.
To the samurai, failure of any kind and on any scale–from fighting wars to writing a message–resulted in death: not as punishment, but as a natural consequence of failure.
The doom that Suzuki announced wasn’t as stark as saying “that’s all, folks” Bugs Bunny fashion, but its implications were far more stark. In the samurai culture that dominated the Japanese leadership, the strong resistance that would be offered to any invaders would certainly destroy any vestige of a Japanese state or empire. But this was not a punishment–it was the natural consequence of Japan’s inability to achieve the samurai’s goal of self-sufficiency. To the samurai, failure of any kind and on any scale–from fighting wars to writing a message–resulted in death: not as punishment, but as a natural consequence of failure.
The announcement of the loss of Okinawa on 25 June 1945 set the stage for both the samurai’s Gotterdammerung and the Showa’s rescue of Japan from it.
This was well known among those in the military, and to most Japanese civilians both in Japan and out. The Potsdam Declaration a month later was met with silent contempt at the time because there was no other way the samurai could answer it. Surrender was, for them, impossible. Those who spoke of it, overtly or covertly, risked being killed by a shishi in the next office, or desk. But in August, when the Showa Emperor Hirohito realized that he didn’t want to see his country exterminated, he decided to take the Allies up on their Potsdam Declaration and told his government to do just that. You see, the Showa wasn’t a samurai, so he didn’t have a failure=death mindset. Though there were several shishi who tried to prevent compliance with the Emperor’s wishes–they believed that His Majesty was being misled by bad counselors–that resulted in several score casualties, they couldn’t stop it. The announcement of the loss of Okinawa on 25 June 1945 set the stage for both the samurai’s Gotterdammerung and the Showa’s rescue of Japan from it.
Now, National Leon Day is one of those national days that I have to scratch my head over. The “logic” behind it is that it’s exactly half a year to Christmas (Leon is Noel backward), yet the good folks at National Day Calendar can’t find whose brilliant idea it was. It seems like a natural for all those marketing types to jump on with as much gusto as they could muster–any excuse for a sale. But…no. Too, there’s a complication: Leon Day.
Leon Day was one of the best players of his time, playing every position but catcher. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1995. Marketing thus runs into the crass commercialism of Christmas versus commemorating something of a legend. And we can’t have that.
So, it is recommended that those who make their Christmas gifts by hand observe National Leon Day by getting started on your macrame or paper-mache or knitting or whatever else it is you clever sods can do for your loved ones. And you can watch baseball at the same time if you’re so inclined.