Why Is Okinawa Forced to Continue to Live Under De Facto U.S Martial Law?

25 Jun

I was watching NHK World News and was reminded that memorials were held in Okinawa, Japan to mark the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa which had lasted for three brutal months from April 1 to June 23, 1945.  One in four Okinawans died in this battle.  The Imperial Japanese military government made Okinawa the front line of defense to fight the Americans in World War II.  Almost six weeks after the Battle of Okinawa ended, the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to put two  exclamation points that would mark the end of the war in the Pacific.

And yet despite so many years since the war’s end, the Okinawan people continue to live under a modified version of U.S. martial law
in which they are forced to be exposed to more than 25,000 U.S. Marines and U.S. Air Force personnel, whose presence on the island essentially results in obstructing the Okinawan people’s right to self-determination.  The irony is that the principles of the United States, which are supposed to be enshrined and espoused by the US Department of State, are completely lost when it comes to putting them into practice.  The further irony is that the Okinawan people are some of the most peace-loving people on the planet; they had maintained exceptional relations with China over hundreds of years of tributary relations.  In fact, the Okinawans kept peace between Japan and China through their expertise in commercial and
political diplomacy.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has been closely involved with the US base problem on Okinawa.  His web site describes the Okinawan people’s opposition to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to another part of the island:

The issues related to downsizing the US presence on Okinawa and transferring some of these functions to Guam are militarily complex, potentially costly, and politically sensitive. The US and Japanese governments have been working for fifteen years to come up with an acceptable formula. A general framework has now been agreed upon, whereby the US will relocate many of its bases from the populous southern end of Okinawa, moving some forces to the less populous north and also rebasing 8,000 US Marines on Guam. However, a stalemate has ensued, with many in Okinawa growing intransigent and, to a lesser extent, many on Guam losing their enthusiasm.

On Okinawa, the most difficult issue regards the long-standing dilemma of relocating the US Marine Corps air facility at Futenma, now operating in a highly populated section of the island and the subject of numerous protests. The Marine Corps insists that any relocation must remain on Okinawa due to the unique air / ground partnership that is characteristic of Marine Corps operations. One option – moving Marine Corps helicopter and other functions from Futenma to nearby Kadena Air Force Base – has been opposed because it would bring increased noise levels to Kadena. Many Okinawans, including many leaders, are adamant that the facility should be relocated off-island.

The present compromise reached between the US government and the Government of Japan calls for the construction of a contiguous, partially offshore replacement facility to the far north at Camp Schwab. The US government and the GOJ seem determined to pursue this option in order to bring final closure to the debate, but it is rife with difficulties. This would be a massive, multi-billion dollar undertaking, requiring extensive landfill, destruction and relocation of many existing facilities, and in a best-case scenario, several years of effort – some estimate that the process could take as long as ten years. Moreover, the recent earthquake and tsunami around Sendai in the north of Japan is creating an enormous burden on the Japanese economy and will require years of reconstruction.

If they move the Marines to the northern part of the island, they will be disturbing virgin habitat that is home to some of the rarest species in Asia.  In effect, they will be creating new ecological disturbances that will surely have harmful side effects.  What’s more, Okinawa has already been forced to rely far too heavily on the US Military for its economic survival.  Okinawa’s economy is largely a Base Economy, just like the Philippines was until Subic Bay was vacated.  I think that is what Okinawa would like to see happen for its own situation.   With the US Military on the island of Okinawa, all it does is paint a gigantic target symbol over every Okinawan living on the island.  If the Chinese wanted to attack, they could take out the island fairly quickly and the people who are going to suffer the most are of course the Okinawans, who want nothing to do with war.    This is a debate that is ongoing, full of hypocrisy and lacks total respect for the rights of others.  A previous referendum has shown that the Okinawan people want the US Occupation on Okinawa to end.  How the U.S. Department of State can continue to claim to represent the values of America and Americans stands in stark contrast to the reality that is Okinawa.

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