We have been honouring Veterans’ Day and Remembrance Day, so it is timely to write my own ‘Lest We Forget’ post about a small place in the Pacific, to which we owe an enormous debt of gratitude. That small place is Tarawa Atoll.
This is what happened there from 20 -23 November 1943. ( Warning! This Academy Award Winning Documentary is VERY GRAPHIC. Please do not watch it if you find war scenes disturbing.)
The Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific Theatre of War was brutal. Within the space of 76 hours, the Americans suffered approximately 3166 casualties. Enemy casualties were also horrendous. “Of the 3,636 Japanese in the garrison, only one officer and sixteen enlisted men surrendered. Of the 1,200 Korean laborers brought to Tarawa to construct the defenses, only 129 survived. All told, 4,690 of the island’s defenders were killed.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tarawa
And let’s not forget that the Tarawa Atoll was inhabited by its own people . Their losses, material and psychological, were immense too, particularly for the inhabitants of Betio Island, the main site of the Battle of Tarawa. Pre-war the people of Betio had enjoyed a good subsistence lifestyle. http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/15557/OP36-109-112.pdf?sequence=1 Following World War Two, their fragile environment and livelihoods were left in ruins.
And, to a large extent, in ruins they remain to this day. Not just for Betio, but for the entire country which is today known as Kiribati. In addition to war, phosphate mining and nuclear testing have taken their toll. Now Kiribati is engaged in a new battle. It is on the front-line of another great struggle; once again not of its own making. Slowly, but surely, Kiribati is drowning. Climate change and rising sea levels are torturing Kiribati to death.
And the big powers, some of whom were once prepared to fight over Tarawa Atoll to the last man, if necessary, because it was considered so important to their success, don’t seem to give a toss.
Which means that when we come to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa in 2043, or the centenary of the end of the Second World War, there may not be much left of Tarawa to see. Within the next 50 or 60 years, most of Kiribati will be uninhabitable because of climate change.
When the land sinks beneath the sea, the people of Kiribati will become citizens of nowhere. What a tragedy. They will be as lost and broken as the 520, or more, Marines , and the thousands of Japanese, who lie, to this day, mangled and unidentified under the fragile surface of Tarawa. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/magazine/the-search-for-the-lost-marines-of-tarawa.html?pagewanted=all
‘Last week some 2,000 or 3,000 United States Marines, most of them now dead or wounded, gave the nation a name to stand beside those of Concord Bridge, the Bonhomme Richard, the Alamo, Little Bighorn, and Belleau Wood. The name was Tarawa.’
—Robert Sherrod, Time Magazine War Correspondent, 6 December 1943
This post is for climate warrior/peacemaker Matisse whose recent post on Kiribati and climate change reminded me how often we forget what is on our doorstep http://matissewb.com/2014/11/12/the-arctic-is-melting-islands-are-disappearing-the-president-of-kiribati-sails-to-the-top-of-the-world-to-visit-the-ice-that-will-soon-swallow-his-nation/#respond Please read her post. It is important.
Lest We Forget …battles old and new, and an island people whose sacrifices, present and past, allow us to live as we do.