"By Command of Major General Eagles”: Archival Documents and Lived Historical Experience

Alan Christy
Jan 19, 2016 · 14 min read

The Gail Project team has gathered several thousand documents from the National Archives and elsewhere from the era of American military rule of Okinawa, from 1945 to 1972. As we dig through them, one at a time, we chance upon some documents that provide deep insight to that era or that pose interesting mysteries. This is one of a series of short essays on what we are finding in our archive.

Imagine yourself going into an archive, passing through the bureaucratic entry procedures under the watchful eyes of an archivist. There is the moment when the materials you requested arrive. If the archive is good and organized, you open a cardboard box to find a sheaf of folders each holding an assortment of papers. If your heart is pounding in excitement, you are probably a historian, if not by profession then by temperament. You are filled with anticipation because, as Gail Project member Jessie Haupt says, you are about to “touch history.”

Of course, many profess to hate history. It is dry, they complain. It is focused on facts to memorize and details from a dead past. “You’re history!” goes the slur that condemns someone to irrelevance. “And the rest is history…” goes the phrase that tells us that the storyteller won’t bother to tell us the rest of the story because they assume that we already know it. “That’s old history” says the person, waving a hand dismissively, who wants us to forget something and “just move on” or “just get over it.” Our everyday language is full of phrases that suggest that the past is just past and paying attention is a waste of time.

But any person sitting in front of a stack of papers (or any object or image) from the past who feels a little kick of adrenaline is, at that moment, a historian. They are a historian because what they see in front of them is not a boring, desiccated thing best forgotten. They see a trace of people, of lived experience. The object is a door, inviting one to pass through to an analytic imagination of other lives in other places.

The members of the Gail Project are immersed in a review of about 9000 documents we have gathered from the National Archives from the American military rule of Okinawa between 1945 and 1972. I would like to show what that analytic imagination is like by taking one seemingly simple document and playing with it for a bit.

The document at hand is a simple directive and reads as follows:

Image for post
Image for post
From the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

MILITARY GOVERNMENTAPO 331MG DIRECTIVENUMBER 9SUBJECT: Declaration of Cameras and Photographic Supplies14 February 1949TO: Chiji of Okinawa GuntoPursuant to United States Navy Military Government Proclamation Number 8, upon publication of this Directive, public notice shall thereby be given that on or after 1 March 1949, all Ryukyuans in Okinawa Gunto in the possession of cameras, equipment for the development or enlargement of photographs and undeveloped film, shall register such possession with the Chief of Police of the district wherein such possession is exercised or be subject to the penalties prescribed in Article VII of the said Proclamation.BY COMMAND OF MAJOR GENERAL EAGLES:JESSE P. GREENColonel InfantryDeputy Chief of StaffDistribution: (76) “A”50 Chiji — thru AIMG-G.1 Rykom PIO2 526th CIC8 AIMG-Q

Scrawled across the document in red pencil is a big “x”. Above the “x” is written, “Rescinded by CA Directive No 12 19 November 1953.” Below the “x” is written “Rescinded by CA Dir #7–1953”

Because the Gail Project begins with a set of photographs taken in 1952 by an American serviceman, Charles Eugene Gail, this document caught our attention. The catalogs of postwar photography in Okinawa that I have viewed have very few photographs taken by civilians prior to 1954. This is something of a mystery and our suspicion was that this document pointed us to some answers. Perhaps many cameras had been confiscated for a time, or photographers were intimidated. The 1972 reversion of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan and the closure of the US Civil Administration’s doors left in their wake not only a turbulent political and social climate that remains unresolved today, but also a paper trail longer than the islands it controlled for two decades. But the USCAR archival collections are ominous not only for their size; while the documents are now disintegrating, two-dimensional sheets of plant matter filed away in a vast temperature-controlled hangar, the effects the ink upon them had were very real for the people of Okinawa.

To restate the directive, all Okinawans who have cameras or any equipment for developing film or printing photographs must register that fact with their local chiefs of police. It does not say why they must do so, nor does it stipulate what will happen once that registration is made. On its face, it is strictly a document directing that a certain class of facts about Okinawa at that present moment (and into the future) be gathered so that the authorities will know what they might be dealing with.

But it can’t be that simple, can it? The immediate meaning of the document is clear, but the larger meaning is not: why must they do so? At this stage, with this one document, how can we begin to make sense of these larger questions?

As a historian looking at this document I deploy my “analytic imagination” first with a very close reading, making sure I have a good command of the document’s internal facts and external context. I can break these down into three sets of facts: 1) dates, 2) people and 3) a network of other documents.

I can think about the dates of the document. Is there anything particular about March 1949? Seeing as the document bears a red pencil mark rescinding this directive in November 1953, I can also ask whether this four and a half year period has any particular significance, whether, in some way, this document would not have been produced in another time frame.

I can observe something about the people implicated in the document. There is an author (two, in reality) and there are people listed as receiving these documents. There are people whose lives will be affected for as a “directive” this document will compel them to take actions that will, in turn, force others to act as well. As direct as this document is, all of those compelled to act by the directive would likely have asked themselves, “What does this really mean? What am I supposed to do?”

I can observe that this document calls upon other documents for its authority or it calls upon other documents to invoke actions that could be an outcome of its directive.

As I ask these questions of the document, I bring the sheet of paper (or the image file, in this case) out of an inert state, resting in a folder in a box in an access-controlled archive, and reach back to its social existence, to the fact that this is a trace of relationships between people, a trace of political actions, fears and aspirations. These questions remind me that the document is more than just a piece of paper. It was written by someone in order to make people take action and it calls to me today, decades later, to think about those people as historical actors.

So let me run quickly through the clues I can gather in those three areas.

I begin with the dates, because the red pencil markings — the large negating “X” and the words stating that the directive has been rescinded — boldly signal that the document had a birth and a death date. After 19 November 1953, the document was rendered useless. So what is it about this period from 1949 to 1953? In the context of American military rule in Okinawa, this period straddles two different administrations of the island. The document was issued under the “Military Government” and was rescinded by CA, which designates the Civil Administration, or USCAR (United States Civil Administration Ryukyus). In that sense, the document was meaningful under the first administration, but not for the second. Perhaps it is that simple, a transfer of power and authority from one to the next renders some policies moot.

But that doesn’t tell us much about why it was seen as necessary to the first administration. So I have to think about 1949. What was going on that year? The big story in East Asia that year was the Chinese civil war. With major victories in Manchuria and North China and with American officials increasingly expressing grave misgivings about supporting the Nationalists, it was becoming clear by early 1949 that the Chinese Communists would eventually conquer all of China. Meanwhile tensions on the Korean peninsula were high, with chronic provocations across the 38th parallel between the North and South Korean regimes. While this document was in effect, the Korean War broke out, ran through its first year’s wild gyrations, settled into a long-term grind along the current border and ended with an armistice (not a peace treaty) in July 1953. In Japan, an Occupation that had begun in 1945 with a purge of militarists and the far right had, by 1948 and 1949, clearly turned into its “Reverse Course” phase with purges carried by American authorities against leftists.

In other words, as I think about the time frame, I recall that the big concern for American military leaders looking at East Asia at that moment was Communism and a Cold War that was decidedly hot. How might that have factored into the decision to register all cameras and photographic equipment?

What about the people named and invoked in the document? The document is addressed to the “Chiji of Okinawa Gunto.” “Chiji” is the Japanese word for governor, a word that the Americans adopted in establishing a civilian government composed of Okinawans that worked under the military government, and “gunto” is the Japanese word for archipelago. As I consider the effects of this directive, it is worth knowing why this distribution channel was considered important to the issuing commander. Of course, local police chiefs — the men (always) responsible for implementing the directive — served directly under administration of the Chiji, not the U.S. military. So addressing the directive to the Chiji was to address his (always) entire administration and it reminds me to think about the role of a civilian government under military rule.

The list under the word “Distribution” in the lower left is full of mysteries. Why does Rykom PIO (Ryukyus Command, Public Information Office) receive only one and who is included in the mysterious group “A” that receives 76 copies? And who are these “AIMG-G” and “AIMG-Q” who receive copies and seem to intermediate between Major General Eagles and the Chiji of Okinawa Gunto? This list reminds me of both the complexity and obfuscation of a bureaucratic structure. Surely this directive is not the most consequential order issued by the commander, yet a significant number of people are called into action. To resist or question that order means to take on that structure, to risk throwing a monkey wrench into a complicated chain of command.

One of the recipients lends further support to our speculation that fear of Communism played a significant role in the production of the document. Among those to receive a copy of the directive was the 526th CIC, the local detachment of the Counter Intelligence Corps. According to James L. Gilbert, Command Historian for the US Army Intelligence and Security Command and author of an official history of the CIC, In the Shadow of the Sphinx: A History of Army Counterintelligence (2005), the 526th CIC Detachment came into being in Okinawa in December 1947, with a staff of four officers, four warrants, and nine enlisted men, replacing a field office of the 1135th CIC Detachment, based in the Philippines. Gilbert describes the 526th as follows:

Based on Okinawa, the largest of the islands, the field office’s mission differed from its parental unit. Rather than serve as a news organization, it focused on traditional espionage, sabotage, and security investigations related to the military. Because of the language barrier, the field office was especially dependent upon informants. The agents also checked lists of passengers and crews of incoming ships against names on prepared black lists. Troublesome issues included the growing presence of Communist agitators and the low morale of US servicemen, factors that caused an increase in criminal acts against the local population.”*

In other words, CIC was charged with preventing the emergence of an open Communist movement in Okinawa. There was no armed insurrection in Okinawa at the time, so the men in CIC understood this as a struggle over propaganda: images and words. Does this explain the desire to control cameras and photographic equipment?

As I ask questions about the recipients of the order, I am reminded of a truism that can often be forgotten when we think about the documentary record of an organization: a government document is not just a statement of policy, it is also a mobilization of people. In issuing this directive, Maj. Gen. Eagles presumes 137 people will receive the order and act upon it. The intensely hierarchical and authoritarian character of the military is meant to produce nearly absolute obedience to command structures so that there is as little gap as possible between an order as conceived by a commander and its execution as carried out by his subordinates. But between the order as conceived by Eagles and its actual effects “on the ground,” are 137 human relationships, 137 opportunities for minor and even major interpretations and decisions. This is what I mean by arguing for treating the documents not as inert facts but as traces of human relationships, as having a social existence. To pursue a basic question about the document raised above — what did it mean? what happened after this directive was issued? — necessarily entails reconstructing these human relationships.

There is one more condition I must consider in order to understand the effect of this document on the people living in the island and that is the way this document exists in a network of other documents, “proclamations” that call this one into existence and “directives” that cancel it. “Pursuant to” an earlier order and “rescinded by” two others, this document appeals to other documents for its authority, evoking thereby a transcendent logic. Although the document was issued by the “command” of a person — the awe-inspiring, all capital lettered MAJOR GENERAL EAGLES — the references to other documents assures its recipients that this is not based on an arbitrary rule of man, but an impersonal rule of law. To understand another aspect of this document’s social existence, therefore, I need to know this impersonal network of documents.

People die, but documents are capable of living long beyond the lives of their authors. For this reason, this impersonal, documentary network should be easier to reconstruct than that social network of human beings, most, if not all of whom, are now deceased.

Yet one of the insights I am gaining in our study of the era of American military rule in Okinawa is how difficult it is to reconstruct that documentary record, at least from my perch here in Santa Cruz. The documents of the American Military Governments (the MG and USCAR) are not available in toto on line. They have not been published and placed on library shelves, at least not in the United States. In searching for United States Naval Military Government Proclamation Number 8 — the document that appears to make this particular directive necessary — the closest I have come to finding it without going to the National Archives is in a book called USCAR Legislation 1957: A Complete Collection of Outstanding Proclamations, Ordinances and Directives with Amendments Thereto Issued by The United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands and Its Predecessors Since 1945. The book was published by the Administrative Section of the Secretariat of the Legislature of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands. As the chief of the Secretariat of the Legislature, Miyara Choei states in the preface, the book was published because the GRI — again, the Okinawan civilian government that operated under the American Military — found the need to have an authoritative collection of the English-language version of all the orders of the military with which they were expected to comply. The GRI tended to operate using Japanese language translations of the American military’s orders, but Miyara observed that between the original English and the translated Japanese versions, gaps of interpretation were likely to open.

The fact that we have depended solely on the translation of such important USCAR laws, has been a factor which often caused us to entertain doubt in the intent of the law.”**

And in any conflict between versions, the English language prevailed in Okinawa.

I was overjoyed to find this resource in a search on WorldCat, but dismayed to find such few copies available. Harvard Law School had one copy, according to WorldCat. So did Google. Los Angeles County Law Library had one as well. Of these, only Harvard participated in our system’s Interlibrary Loan program. Yet when Harvard was contacted about loaning us the book, they reported it was missing from their shelves. I was on the verge of requesting a copy of the book from the library at Waseda University in Tokyo, when the Interlibrary Loan staff at UC Santa Cruz convinced the staff at L.A. County Law Library to loan me the book for one week. Yet when I received the book, excited by the words “complete collection” and “since 1945” I found that the most important word in the title was “outstanding.” In fact, the much anticipated book contained neither United States Naval Military Government Proclamation Number 8, nor the rescinding directives, CA No. 12 and CA No. 7.

The network of documents that called forth and cancelled this directive continue to evade me. The documents that elude me must surely reside in the files of the American military governments in our National Archives. The network of human relations that were mobilized to implement the order also remain, for the moment, beyond my reach.

And so my question — what did this mean, in fact, for people who had cameras and photographic supplies? — remains as yet unanswerable. But I now see the contours of a fascinating research project, a contribution to several big questions in modern Okinawan history. When the Gail Project team starts to build answers we will contribute to bigger questions. How will this affect our understanding of the history of photography in Okinawa? How will this contribute to our understanding of the construction of the American base system in Okinawa? If this directive, in fact, contributed to the suppression of civilian photography in Okinawa between 1949 and 1953 (a hypothesis that I have neither confirmed nor disproved), what might this mean for the significance of photographs taken by men like Charles Eugene Gail, whose photographs of Okinawans and their landscape taken in 1952 launched my team’s historical research project?

One other, larger, question also remains. What was it that the military did not want photographed? Given that the order coincided essentially with the Korean War, it is reasonable to guess that they did not want military bases photographed. But if we think of the Korean War as being not just the military conflict on the Korean peninsula, but also a part of a larger ideological struggle between the two superpowers, then I can begin to imagine a much broader range of subjects that would concern the military. Could Okinawan poverty or certain forms of fraternization be used against them?

These are questions to keep in mind as the Gail Project team continues to dig through our document cache. I suspect we will return to these again and again.

(Thanks to Conner Lowe for editing and feedback.)

— — — — — — — — — — — — — —

*James L. Gilbert, John P. Finnegan and Ann Bray, In the Shadow of the Sphinx: A History of Army Counterintelligence, History Office, Office of Strategic Management and Information, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Fort Belvoir, VA, 2005, p. 105.

**USCAR Legislation 1957: A Complete Collection of Outstanding Proclamations, Ordinances and Directives with Amendments Thereto Issued by The United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands and Its Predecessors Since 1945, Administrative Section of the Secretariat of the Legislature of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands, 1957.

The Gail Project

A collaborative, international public history project…

Thanks to Conner Lowe

Alan Christy

Written by

Prof. at UCSC. Japanese History.

The Gail Project

A collaborative, international public history project exploring the American occupation of Okinawa through the photographs of Captain Charles Eugene Gail

Alan Christy

Written by

Prof. at UCSC. Japanese History.

The Gail Project

A collaborative, international public history project exploring the American occupation of Okinawa through the photographs of Captain Charles Eugene Gail

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store