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International Relations | Military History | Race and Ethnicity


When the U.S. military landed on the shores of Okinawa in 1945, they faced not only a fierce and battle-tested Japanese force, but also 463,000 Okinawan inhabitants. Larger than any other civilian population encountered by the Americans during previous campaigns throughout the Pacific islands, the people of Okinawa also had a unique and complex historical and political relationship with Japan. Okinawa never experienced subjugation as a colony, yet its acceptance as a prefecture did not yield equal treatment for the people because of their Ryukyuan heritage. As the U.S. military prepared for the Battle of Okinawa, they faced dangerous uncertainty about the potential actions of half a million people. Would the Okinawans welcome the arrival of a foreign invading force as an opportunity for independence or stage a determined resistance in line with loyalty to Japan? To answer what Tenth Army Deputy Commander for Military Government, Brigadier General William E. Crist deemed “the most vital question” in planning operations on Okinawa, the American military conducted astonishingly open and deliberate analysis of Okinawan ethnicity, identity, and political positioning with Japan, to attempt to determine Okinawan allegiance. The conclusions reached shaped occupation policies carried out on the battlefield by soldiers, sailors, and Marines.
Expanding beyond academic assertions about the Pacific War as a conflict driven by searing race hate, the wartime military occupation of Okinawa, 1945-1946, demonstrates the ability of the American military to rationally and unemotionally consider race, ethnicity, and identity in military operations while also equally weighing practical concerns of resources and battlefield conditions.



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