When dignitaries and guests gather on the remote island of Guadalcanal this week to commemorate the epic battle where Japan's relentless advance in World War II was finally halted, one group will be conspicuous by their absence - the Japanese.
The battle for Guadalcanal began on Aug. 7, 1942, and lasted six horrific months. It turned the tide of the war in the Pacific and left a legacy of heroism and resolve for Americans that has endured for seven decades.
But the view from Japan is less clear. Wartime leaders suppressed news of the defeat. The atomic bombings and desperate fighting near the home islands late in the war have come to dominate the historical memory. The horror and sacrifice that Japanese troops endured on Guadalcanal appears little known or appreciated.
"Guadalcanal was a devastating defeat for the Japanese, but it is remembered almost not at all in Japan," says M.G. Sheftall, a military historian and professor of culture and communication at Shizuoka University in Japan. "It was such an awful, dispiriting defeat for the Japanese - just mud and blood and filth and massacre. You can almost understand why they wouldn't want to even think about it."
Guadalcanal was Japan's first defeat on land after an unbroken string of victories in China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. More than 25,000 Japanese soldiers died on Guadalcanal's beaches, dense jungles and steep ravines. Some 7,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines died, as well.
Conditions were appalling. Each side was short of food and supplies. Each suffered terribly from heat, exhaustion and tropical disease. Fighting was racially charged for both sides; prisoners were not easily taken and wounded were often shot where they lay. Combat seesawed on the ground, in the air and in the waters offshore.
Finally, at the end of a long supply line and unable to sustain the losses, the Japanese conceded defeat in early February 1943, and evacuated their remaining troops. With the loss of Guadalcanal and its key airfield, the Japanese also lost the initiative and began a long, tortured retreat that ended in final surrender 30 months later.
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