Oral Histories

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In gathering information historians place primary emphasis on written documents, downplaying or ignoring all together the data that could be possibly attained from interviews. Journalists reverse this emphasis. The fact of the matter is that oral histories are resources that vary in quality, just like any other. The best collection of oral histories on Okinawa for any time period or subject matter are those in the Senior Officers Debriefing Program, Military History Institute. This collection contain interviews with the last four High Commissioners of the Ryukyu Islands, Lt. Gen. Paul W. Caraway, Lt. Gen. Albert Watson II, Lt. Gen. Ferdinand Unger, and Lt. Gen. James B. Lampert. Since none of the high commissioners penned memoirs, these oral histories help present their version of events, rescuing them from anonymity. The interview sessions lasted several days and the resulting transcript are several hundred pages long. The interviewers were officers studying at the U.S. Army War College and had done research before the sessions on the issues and events of each high commissioner's tenure on the island. The generals prepared for these meetings, rereading old notes and speeches. Each oral history contains entertaining quotes and detailed recollections that are highly informative and rarely vague. The collection also includes a useful interview with Col. William G. Schless, Lampert's chief of staff.

Much the same thing can be said for the Foreign Service Oral History Program, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. The only post-war U.S. ambassador to Japan that has not written an account of his time in Tokyo is Douglas MacArthur II. His thick, multi-volume oral history is just as informative as any book. Not every Foreign Service officer is a talented writer, and many with interesting tales do not take the time to write memoirs. Olcott H. Deming served as the U.S. consul general on Okinawa in the mid-1950s, and his oral history provides some interesting information about events. The interview of Ulrich Straus and Philip Tresise document the influence MacArthur had while in Tokyo.

The John Foster Dulles Oral History Collection, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ is another informative collection, particularly on the negotiating of the Japanese peace treaty. Maj. Gen. C. Stanton Babcock served as one of Dulles' principal aides. Assistant Secretary of State W. Walton Butterworth helped convince the Truman administration to assign the task to Dulles. The oral histories of Sir Howard Beale, Sir Carl Berendsen, and Sir Walter Nash provide Australian and New Zealand views of events at this time, and document Dulles' expert handling of the negotiations. William J. Sebald represented another, almost sovereign center of power: Douglas MacArthur. As the general's political advisor, Sebald essential had to two different roles: U.S. ambassador to MacArthur, and the general's personal foreign minister. MacArthur biographer D. Clayton James interviewed Sebald for his book. Researchers should look at this transcript and the three volume, thousand page oral history in the Papers of William J. Sebald, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD. The oral histories at the presidential libraries vary greatly in usefulness. Interviews with Lucius D. Battle, U. Alexis Johnson at the Truman Presidential Library, Independence, MO, Walter Robertson at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abiline, KS, and Edwin Reischauer at the Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston, MA have information of only limited value. On the other hand, the oral histories of U. Alexis Johnson, Edwin Reischauer, and Dean Rusk at the Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, TX are quite useful, containing information not otherwise available.

Information on the early occupation and administration of Okinawa is difficult to find. Oral Histories of Cpt. Lowe Bibby, T/3 Ralph Saito, PFC Takejiro Higa, and Roderick Gillies in the Ryukyu Papers, Military History Institute provide interesting and important data, including the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency.Oral Histories are extremely important when writing about the Battle of Okinawa. Because of the inherent destructive nature of combat, records do not often survive. The U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. has a number of oral histories about Okinawa. Interviews with Maj. Gen. William P. Battell, Brig. Gen. Fred Beans, Maj. Gen. August Larson, Lt. Gen. Alan Shapley, Lt. Gen. Merwin Silverthorn, Lt. Gen. Ormond Simpson, and Gen. Oliver P. Smith state that a power struggle broke out for control of the Tenth Army after the death of Lt. Gen. Simon Boliver Buckner, Jr. The authors James and William Belote denoted their interview notes for their book Typhoon of Steel: The Battle for Okinawa. (New York, 1970) to the Military History Institute. This collection includes a number of interviews with a Japanese veterans and Okinawan civilians.


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