Okinawa, Commodore Perry, and the Lew Chew Raid
March 8, 2010
by William P. Meyers

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The ramifications of the U.S. War Against Asia are ever present, and of course the U.S. could resume the war at any time. In fact, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq are in Asia, although my work-in-progress is devoted to wars in East Asia.

The United States occupied Japan after World War II and still has bases on the island of Okinawa. Apparently there is a Marine Corps base and a Marine Corps air station. The new Japanese government would like the U.S. to remove its bases, but for now is asking that the air base be smaller. Barack Obama would like to keep the bases, hoping for a change back to a more U.S. sycophantic government. [See, for instance, Japan Offers New Plan in Okinawa Dispute,]

Recently I read Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan, and much of the book is about the adventures prior to actually ordering Japan at gunpoint to give the U.S. bases there. A big section of the book is on the visit, or raid, to Lew Chew island. It turns out Lew Chew and Okinawa are one and the same. American's don't know about the Lew Chew incident, but I am sure Japanese historians and well-educated Japanese in general do.

Matthew Perry and crew had first sailed around Africa to China. They stopped at Okinawa on their way to Japan. They came originally in four large (for the time) vessels [Susquehanna, Mississippi, Supply, and Caprice], all heavily armed, two run by steam power, two by sail alone.

Okinawa was a possession of Japan. Perhaps it could be said to be naturally part of the Japanese islands geographically, and that the central government of Japan had extended its sway there around 1609, though actually a clan from the island of Kyushu did the sway extension.

We can only try to imagine the thoughts of the Japanese upon seeing the great war ships in their harbor in 1853. They sent out a couple of officials to greet the Americans. Commodore Perry refused to see them. He did see a missionary, Bettelheim, and got intelligence about the island from him. The next day the Japanese brought gifts of food, but were again declined. Two of Perry's officers were sent ashore (with interpreter) to talk to the mayor of Napha (Naha), the harbor town. When the regent of Lew Chew came to Perry's ship, he at last was received.

What followed was a preliminary to the tactics Perry used in Japan. He would ask the Lew Chew officials for permission to do something. They would say no and explain why. "There was evident opposition on the part of the authorities, at first, to visits on shore from the ships." Perry would say it would be done anyway, and then do it. The Okinawans were afraid of the obvious military power of Perry, so they did not oppose his visit, more of an invasion, with force. Perry did not conduct the usual U.S. raid on Asia, complete with killing people. He had the island surveyed and insisted on meetings with officials, and a house to stay in, and the construction of a building to be used to store coal for future U.S. steamship visits. Just in case, he had the American flag planted on a mountaintop, the traditional symbol of conquest. He planned a fuller conquest of Okinawa if the Japanese government failed to grant the U.S. the right to set up bases in Japan proper.

One amusing aspect of the book, which probably reflects the attitudes of both the author, Francis L. Hawks, as well as Perry and his crew, is that they suggested that Lew Chew was badly governed. The peasants seemed poor and mistreated. How much better off they would be if they were part of the United States. Of course, good government in the 1850's in the United States included a slave work force who were far worse off than the Lew Chew peasants. Perhaps Perry was already thinking of putting the Asians into reservations and populating the island with white Americans.


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