Iwo Jima

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Iwo Jima is an uninhabited sulfurous island 650 miles southeast of Tokyo. The Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945, was a victory by 70,000 American Marines over 22,000 Japanese defenders of a small island in World War II. Although the military advantages of winning were minor, the battle became iconic in America as the epitome of heroism in desperate hand-to-hand combat.

Iwo Jima was a small island (only 8 square miles) on the route of the B-29s from Saipan to Japan. Airfields there could provide emergency landing fields for stricken Superfortresses, so Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to take it; the invasion was code named "Operation Detachment." Following a massive naval and air bombardment, 70,000 Marines landed on February 19, 1945.

After the grueling experience of cave warfare on other islands such as Peleliu, the Marines were ready with new tactics and new weapons, especially bazookas and hand-held and tank-mounted flame throwers. Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was ready with his 21,000 soldiers (far more than expected). His strategy was not to win, but to make the Yankees suffer far more than they could endure. He took advantage of the volcanic island's thousand caves and an ample supply of concrete, to build a vast underground defensive network interconnected by deep tunnels. His hidden artillery, mortars and machine guns survived the bombardment and stunned wave after wave of oncoming Marines. Each pillbox in a mutually-supportive grouping had to be destroyed by frontal assault. The last one was easy; it was murder attacking the first one.

The 5th Marine Division's 2nd battalion landed on Beach Red 2 on D-Day and spent 17 days and nights in combat. Of its 954 men, 216 were killed, 538 wounded, and 94 others were evacuated for sickness. Only 106 survived unscathed.

On D+4 the 28th Marines planted the Stars and Stripes on Mount Suribachi; watching in awe, Navy Secretary James Forrestal exclaimed that this dramatic moment guaranteed "there will be a Marine Corps for the next 500 years!" Associated Press reporter Joe Rosenthal's photograph of six soldiers raising the American flag on February 23, 1945 is often cited as the most reproduced photograph of all time. (It was not faked or staged.) The photograph become the archetypal representation not only of that battle, but of the entire Pacific war. Of the six soldiers in Rosenthal's photo, only three survived the battle.

The Japanese fought to the last man, killing 6,000 Marines and wounding 20,000 more. Seven GIs won the Medal of Honor by throwing themselves atop grenades to save their comrades. Should Iwo Jima have been bypassed? Over 25,000 airmen eventually made emergency landings on Iwo, but most would have survived without the island. The battle taught Japan how to deal with Americans: inflict more casualties than the Yankees were willing to bear.

The iconic memory of Iwo Jima comprises the flag raising ceremony and memories of combat; the Japanese perspective was brought vividly to life in the film by Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima (2007). The flag raising is often a theme in editorial cartoons, including both calls for heroism and parodies.[1]


  • Alexander, Joseph H. Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima (1994), short Marine Corps history online edition
  • Bartley, Whitman S. Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic (1954), Marine Corps official history. online edition
  • Hearn, Chester. Sorties into Hell: The Hidden War on Chichi Jima (2003), American prisoners were tortutred on nearby island; online edition
  • Newcomb, Richard F., and Harry Schmidt. Iwo Jima (2002), brief. excerpt and text search
  • Nichols, Chas. S. and Henry I. Shaw Jr.. Okinawa: Victory in the Pacific. (1955) 332pp; official Marine Corps history. online edition
  • Wright, Derrick, and Gordon Rottman. Hell in the Pacific: The Battle for Iwo Jima (2008)


  • Bradley, James and Ron Powers. Flags of Our Fathers. (2000). 376 pp excerpt and text search
  • Buell, Hal. Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue: Iwo Jima and the Photograph That Captured America. (2006). 336 pp.
  • Burrell, Robert S. "Breaking the Cycle of Iwo Jima Mythology: A Strategic Study of Operation Detachment," The Journal of Military History 68.4 (October 2004), 1143–86. Sees a needless battle caused by bureaucratic infighting at the Pentagon; notes the Navy did not expect large numbers of casualties before hand.
    • Hanley, Brian; "The Myth of Iwo Jima: a Rebuttal." Journal of Military History 2005 69(3): 801–808. Says Burrell is engaging in retrospective analysis based on the high casualty rate among US troops, and his arguments draw on no new material.
    • Burrell, Robert S. The Ghosts of Iwo Jima. (2006) 262 pp.
  • Dower, John W. "Lessons from Iwo Jima." Perspectives: American Historical Association Newsletter 2007 45(6): 54–56. Issn: 0743-7021 online edition
  • Marling Karal Ann and John Wetenhall, Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero (1991)
    • Linenthal, Edward T. "Shaping a Heroic Presence: Iwo Jima in America Memory." Reviews in American History 1993 21(1): 8-12. Issn: 0048-7511 Jstor
  • Sandberg, Walt. The Battle of Iwo Jima: A Resource Bibliography and Documentary Anthology. (2005). 254 pp.

Films and fiction

  • "Flags of Our Fathers." Eastwood, Clint, producer and director; Spielberg, Steven and Lorenz, Robert, producers. Color. 2hr., 12min. DreamWorks Pictures, 2006. Distrib. by Paramount; screenplay by Iris Yamashi ta
  • Letters from Iwo Jima (2007) Directed by Clint Eastwood. Produced by Robert Lorenz. Amblin Entertainment, 2006. 141 mins. (Warner Home Video; DVD)

Primary Sources

  • Kakehashi, Kumiko, ed. So Sad to Die in Battle: Based on General Tadamichi Kuribashi's Letters from Iwo Jima (2007), the basis for a very powerful American movie, Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
  • Smith, Larry, ed. Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Sugihara, Kinryu, and Stephen J. Lofgren. "Diary of First Lieutenant Sugihara Kinryu: Iwo Jima, January–February 1945." Journal of Military History 1995 59(1): 97-133. Issn: 0899-3718 in Jstor

See also


  1. Janis L. Edwards, and Carol K. Winkler, "Representative Form and the Visual Ideograph: the Iwo Jima Image in Editorial Cartoons." Quarterly Journal of Speech 1997 83(3): 289-310. Issn: 0033-5630