In August 2018, members of The Okinawa Memories Initiative returned to the islands. For one month, students, faculty, photographers and documentarians continued to search for the places and people that Charles Gail photographed in 1952. Thanks to continued interest and coverage in the prefecture’s two largest newspapers, The Okinawa Times and The Ryūkyū Shimpō, our project was amplified to a wider audience of locals might be able to help identify so many of the unknowns in the photos. There were many surprises and discoveries, including our first positive identification of one of the children in the photographs, whose story was written about in English here.
Beyond the travels and research of our group, August also turned out to be a month of significant political tumult for the prefectural government. Governor Onaga Takeshi, who had long been a vocal opponent of the expansion of American bases on Okinawa, died of cancer on August 8. A new election for his successor may bring a more pro-base governor to power, which would almost certainly lead to the completion of the expansion of Camp Schwab into Henoko Bay. Just three days Onaga’s passing, tens of thousands of Okinawans gathered at Onoyama Park in Naha for the All-Island Rally, an annual event in which speakers voice their opposition to base expansion.
As the “Place Annihilation" module so aptly demonstrates, representations of place and event have powerful impacts on the narratives that are built upon mass atrocity. Like the Tokyo left in ruins after repeated American air attacks during the war, the Okinawan landscape was forever altered in 1945. Ishikawa Kōyō’s photographs conveyed the raw destruction and gave later generations the visual evidence of urban ruin, made all the more impactful by Tokyo’s postwar reconstruction. Charles Gail’s photographs portrayed postwar Okinawa as a place that was optimistic, undisturbed my militarism, and very much alive.
Of course, Okinawa has changed drastically from the time Gail took his photos. The farmland that was once pockmarked with bomb craters has been transformed into dynamic urban spaces not unlike others towns and cities in Japan. The immense accumulation of American military bases, which cover nearly twenty-five percent of the Okinawan main island, have become a permanent fixture of the landscape and a prominent reminder of the unending militarization of lived spaces. If the cities and towns have grown, and the farmland has slowly given way to concrete, the military bases of Gail’s time remain anchored to the Okinawan landscape.