June 21, 2007, - 9:54 am
By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE ****
The Japanese are changing the name of the island of Iwo Jima–site of the monumental World War II Battle of Iwo Jima–back to its prewar name, Iwo To.
Japan claims it is doing so at the urging of the island’s “original inhabitants”–whatever that means, since the island was mostly barren when the famous WWII battle took place. Currently, its only residents consist of 400 Japanese soldiers. The “original inhabitants” are upset that the “identity” of the island has been “hijacked” by high profile movies like the extremely long and boring “Letters from Iwo Jima” (which made the Japanese look like good people in the battle, and Americans like evil killers of those who’d already surrendered).
But since nobody went to see “Letters”–the mostly Japanese movie with English subtitles was a huge bomb at the box office–it’s apparent that’s not the real reason for the name change.
Let’s face it. The real reason the Japanese are changing the name of the island is because the current name–Iwo Jima–is synonymous with what happened there: a huge military defeat for Japan and a point of significant import and pride in U.S. history. We all know the famous Joe Rosenthal photo of the flag being raised on Mount Suribachi (a shining American moment, which Eastwood also tried to sully and attack in “Flags of Our Fathers“). And the Japanese know it, too.
But a name change at Iwo Jima won’t change history. It won’t change what happened there. It won’t change the brutal attacks and torture of many of the nearly 7,000 American soldiers who died there. It won’t change their victory over Japan. And it won’t change the fact that American won World War II, and Japan was defeated and humiliated.
Retired Marine Major General Fred Haynes–who was a 24-year-old Captain in the regiment that raised the flag on Mount Suribachi–agrees and is upset by the news. From AP:
“Frankly, I don’t like it. That name is so much a part of our tradition, our legacy,” said Haynes.
Haynes, 85, heads the Combat Veterans of Iwo Jima, a group of about 600 veterans that travels back to the island every year for a reunion. He is currently working on a book about the battle called “We Walk by Faith: The Story of Combat Team 28 and the Battle of Iwo Jima.” He doesn’t plan to change the name.
“It was Iwo Jima to us when we took it,” said Haynes. “We’ll recognize whatever the Japanese want to call it but we’ll stick to Iwo Jima.”
Like I said, they can change the name. But they can’t change the history: a tremendous U.S. victory over the enemy (with tremendous sacrifice of American soldiers’ lives to do it).
**** UPDATE: Although I don’t agree with him, Asia Business Intelligence Editor Rich Kuslan has a different take. He writes:
The Iwo Jima/To change is not a big deal. Jima and To are two pronunciations of the same Japanese character for “island”
Japanese borrowed Chinese characters to represent the spoken language for purposes of reading and writing. The traditional Japanese pronunciation for island is “jima.” But Chinese itself pronounced island very differently, something close to its current mandarin pronunciation of “dao.” Japanese took that pronunciation and read it as “To.”
And besides, it’s Japanese territory. Wouldn’t it be nuts if the Dutch were to insist on calling it New Amsterdam?
Rich Kuslan, Editor
Asia Business Intelligence
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