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Typhoon of Steel: The Battle for Okinawa Hardcover – 1970
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Typhoon of Steel is the first comprehesive history of the last military campaign of World War II ever written for the general reader. It is based on interviews in Japan and Okinawa with military and civilian survivors, with numerous americans who fought in the campaign, and on many months of research in the official American and japanese reports.
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I don't see much point in going through the details of the battle for Okinawa. It was a joint operation involving the Army, the Marine Corps, and the Navy. In his report, Samuel Eliot Morison inserts a few digs at the Army infantry because in his view they lacked the esprit and aggression of the Marines, but as the Belotes make clear, when faced with the same opposition in the same terrain, there was no discernible difference.
I think I'll quote one paragraph that will illustrate the point, as well as give some idea of the general nature of the fighting.
"In the center of the island, attacking along either side of a mile-wide valley, the 77th Division [Army] met the same brand of resistance that had held up the two Marine divisions. Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge's 305th Infantry had to fight through terrain strikingly similar to the desolate no-man's-land of World War I, ground cratered, chipped, littered with broken coral, churned by fire that had destroyed almost every living plant. In ten days beginning on May 11 the 305th inched from Hill 187 just south of Maeda to the outskirts of Shuri on Highway 5. No one day was spectacular; gains were steady and so were losses. On May 15 the regiment stood at quarter strength; by the twenty-first it was too depleted to continue in action (p 280)."
The battle for Okinawa cost the life of an American Lieutenant General, Buckner, and of virtually all of the Japanese on the island. The writers, who published the book in 1970, were distant enough from the events to be dispassionate but not at all unfeeling about both sides in the conflict. Descriptions of individual actions supplement the overall picture that is the focus of the report. The Japanese mounted a superb and wittingly suicidal defense of an island that was considered part of the homeland. The book is dedicated "to those who served, American and Japanese."
The ironic fact is that Okinawa was fought for by the Allies, including a British naval force, to be used as a staging area for the invasion of the Japanese islands, which proved unnecessary. The atomic bombs vitiated the entire point of the later stages of the Pacific War.
I found the volume thorough, well researched, gripping, thrilling, and infinitely sad. The older I get, the more skeptical I become of the saying that "some things are worth dying for." Certainly there ARE some things, but I can't help questioning whether things as palpable as "oil" or as abstract as "national honor" are among them. Death will come soon enough.
If I were a doctor, I'd see this book as a description of a particularly lethal disease, but, as an anthropologist, I can't think of a worse way for Homo sapiens to promote itself or protect its own welfare than by going to war and killing one another. It's all rather like Samson bringing down the temple on himself and his enemies. The chief physical features that distinguish us from other animals are our big brains and our free hands. Sometimes, looking around at where these gifts have gotten us to is an exercise in despair. There must be some way to avoid blood baths like this but we don't seem to be pressing hard to find it.