The Japanese considered the island part of their homeland, though the 300,000 Okinawans still preserved some cultural differences. The battle was the last before the nuclear age began at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where about 200,000 died. More people died at Okinawa than the atomic-bombed cities—at least 150,000 of them civilians, 39,000 American Army and Marines, and at least 110,000 Japanese soldiers.
The landing was unopposed, for the Japanese had dug into the volcanic rock, lived in caves and on mountains, and had decided to let the Americans put as many men in the killing zones as possible. It turned out to be an effective strategy. For eighty-two days, the Americans pounded the Japanese positions from air and sea and land, and the foot soldiers captured the island a foot at a time, roasting the enemy in their caves and expending unprecedented amounts of blood and treasure. Some civilians leaped to their deaths from the cliffs to the rocks below, clutching their babies, because they had been told by the Japanese that the Americans would eat their children. Entire villages ceased to exist with living persons.