OKINAWA: Half a Century of American Military Bases & the Okinawan People
Tetsuo Maeda, Military journalist
Fifty years ago in March marked the beginning of 80 days of fighting on Okinawa. These were days that would be remembered as those of the 'Iron Typhoon,' and ever since the island has been tied to the military.

The battle of Okinawa was the only battle on Japanese soil that was conducted in a location that was home to civilians. Over 100 thousand civilians--a third of the island's population--died in the fighting. There were far more dead civilians on the island than soldiers.

After Japan lost the war, this island was cut loose from occupied Japan, and was placed under the military rule of the Far East US Military. This was because America needed Okinawa as a 'keystone' for its security policies in the region. For the people of Okinawa, however, the end of the war meant they had changed from being a 'pawn' to being a 'keystone,' and nothing more. This separation policy continued until 1972, when the US and China came to terms.

'There is Okinawa Among the Bases'

Even after the right to rule Okinawa was returned to mainland Japan, the massive groups of American bases were permitted to remain. Even now, 75 percent of American military bases in Japan are on Okinawa. On 11.1 percent of the greenest portions of the prefecture are banners of the four US military forces. There are many self governing entities which have to deal with more military area than residential. People describe this situation in a somewhat self ridiculing manner as 'Okinawa existing among the bases.'

Uninterrupted aircraft noise, rounds being fired over prefectural highways, accidents, environmental destruction, high incidents of crime, are just some of the things citizens must face as part of their everyday lives. It is true that after the island reverted to Japan a great deal of capital was brought in and that the area became a tourist attraction, but there was no real change in the structure of the 'military and the bases.' This was also proved in the Gulf War. The first US soldiers to be sent to that conflict from the Pacific left from Okinawa.

'Base Reduction Requests' That Are Not Accepted

When the Cold War ended, it seemed the time Okinawa residents had been waiting for had finally come. According to public polling, over half felt that 'the bases were no longer necessary.' Governor Masahide O'ta, who spent time in the military in the 'Iron and Blood Royal Division' at the age of 19 when he was in Normal school, approached both Japan and America (where he had once studied) with a request to use this opportunity as a way to greatly reduce the bases.

But it looks like citizens' hopes will not be realized again. The high ranking officials insist on 'co-existence with US bases on Okinawa.' They stress that Okinawa is still important as a sign that Japan retains its commitment to the Japan-US Security Pact. In the 'East Asia Strategy Report' [Feb 27, 1995] which was put out by the US Department of Defense, it is pointed out that Okinawa makes it 'cheaper to keep forward deployment than in the States.' It seems that all that will happen is the return of three small facilities.

What Are the Bases For?

Toward the end of the 60's, when debating the return of Okinawa, Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, stated strongly that 'The end of the war is not over for Japan until Okinawa is returned.' It is true that Okinawa has become part of Japan, but its citizens have yet to feel this. The reduction of the American military and the folding of the bases is not reflected there. It seems that the 'Pacific Keystone' is to be supported by the Japanese government's 'token budget' since the American government is not spending as much as before. Even the three facilities which are to be deleted are being phased out on the condition that some other facilities will be provided to replace them. However, there is no answer provided to questions of for what purpose, and to what end. The 'definite damage' suffered by the Okinawan people in dealing with this 'indefinite threat' continues. The people who lived through the fighting a half century ago, and their children, still do not have a place to settle down.

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