Press "Enter" to skip to content

Shaking hands with an amputated arm

After reading the grim recollections from student nurses in the Battle of Okinawa, I got pretty depressed. All of the reading we’ve read so far is depressing. It’s unfortunate that the battle had to end the way it did, I wish the Japanese had just surrendered. Of course, if they had, would this carnage have been avoided? Would a worse fate have befallen them if they had? It’s impossible to say.

The testimonials included some terribly vivid images. One that particularly stuck with me was the account about soldiers being incredibly hungry and their only food when in the hospital was other soldiers’ amputated arms and legs. The mass suicide orders reinforced the idea for me that the soldiers were horribly low on food. Lighten the load? Barbaric. As the nurse said, however, “that’s war.”

When the nurses were disbanded, they shouldn’t have been forced to leave the caves. Over 200 dead from the 216 that went in, and the loss could have been completely prevented. The morale was low, though, and in the War Memorial museum that we went to today, I saw in an exhibit that the Japanese military would murder soldiers who were too weak to recover by giving them milk laced with cyanide. That isn’t following the Hippocratic Oath. The Japanese suicide tradition is one that I hope died with the end of the war.

On top of being caught in the middle of a warzone and being denied basic water and food, the student nurses weren’t really treated all that well by the Japanese soldiers. In the student nurse museum I read a few quotes about the soldiers being ungrateful for the help that was being offered, probably due to the pain that they were in. There weren’t enough pain-killing drugs to go around, and thus the soldiers suffered unnecessarily during procedures. The descriptions of the soldiers in testimonials described that they were covered in lice, and one nurse was described to have maggot infested wounds of her own. The American soldier who captured her was cutting away all her clothes and behaving as if he enjoyed torturing her. No matter what side of the battlefield you were on, it seems that monsters existed.

I’m glad that the war memorial includes the names of all who died, not just the Japanese. It has been called by some authors the decisive battle that helped to end not only the war, but the entire style of high-casualty warfare, but its terrible that it had to end like this. At least respects can be paid at the memorial and at the various museums. If we arm ourselves with knowledge, it should help to stop history from repeating.