Okinawans have been fighting to prevent a new US Marine airbase at Henoko, in the northern part of their main island, since the day it was first proposed in 1996. Their opposition does not come out of an abstract pacifism, but is rather grounded in their history. To understand the passion, the courage, the stubbornness of that opposition, one needs to know something about that history.
The once-independent Ryukyu Kingdom conquered and colonized by Japan, its people subjected to compulsory Japanization, the scene of the horrific Battle of Okinawa followed by 27 years of despotic rule by the US military, “returned” to Japan in 1972 only to find that the US military bases increased as a result – all these experiences and more lie behind the determination to prevent yet a further increase in the US military presence in their land.
The 73 Year History of Okinawa and the U.S. Military Bases
Okinawa, one of the hardest fought field during World War II. More than 200 thousand lives inclusive of civilians and U.S. and Japanese military personnel were lost in the fierce battle which was fought on land between the U.S. led allied troops and Japan over 3 months.
The battle of Okinawa was the only ground battle of World War II fought on the Japanese islands, and the land was so damaged that its islets were seriously disfigured.
Okinawa which was taken as a war trophy had been put under U.S. control for 27 years after the war. The U.S. troops drove people away from the land which was passed down from generation to generation at the bayonet point, destroyed their houses and farms with bulldozers, and then built the bases one after another.
Even today when 73 years has passed since the war, approximately 10 % of the land of Okinawa has been occupied by the U.S. military bases. Due to the discriminatory treatment of Okinawa by the Japanese Government, 70% of the total U.S. bases located in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa.
An assault on a young school girl occurred in 1995. It was the case that 2 marines and 1 sailor abducted an elementary schoolgirl of 12 years old and gang raped her. The anger of the people of Okinawa exploded and it resulted in the base reduction/removal campaign.
In response to the growing protest, the U.S. Government eventually sat in the seat of negotiation. As a result of the negotiation, the governments of the U.S. and Japan reached the agreement for large scale return of the land taken for the U.S. bases.
However, the same “trick” was employed here again. In return for the closing of Futenma Air Station which is a dangerous base located in the middle of the residence area, the U.S. and Japanese goverment required to reclaim the beautiful sea of Henoko and build the most advanced multi-function base.
Henoko-Oura Bay is a precious area known as one of the most biodiversity rich areas in Japan. With its coral reefs, seagrass beds that the dugong feeds upon, and sandy mud bottom, the area supports and sustains various forms of life and is Okinawa’s treasure. Okinawa’s treasure was faced a crisis.
People rebelled. An opinion poll showed that 70 ~ 80% of the people were against the base construction. The people of Okinawa rejected the intervention in the elections and “carrot or stick” offered by the Japanese Government that is a faithful follower of the U.S. Government, and got the candidates elected in most of the elections by which the issue of the new base construction was contested. And they have been sitting in to stop the construction based on the spirit of non-violence and disobedience.