During the Second World War in Okinawa, local governor Denny Tamaki called for the expedited departure of the United States Armed Forces on the island. The anniversary was held on Okinawa’s main island in Itoman City and attended by some 300 individuals, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Tamaki referenced the ongoing war in Ukraine, saying the destruction of settlements, buildings, and local culture, coupled with the Ukrainian’s constant fear for their safety, “remind us of our memory of the ground battle on Okinawa that embroiled citizens 77 years ago.”

“We are struck by unspeakable shock,” he added. In his address, the Japanese governor pledged to continue pursuing nuclear non-proliferation and renouncing war so that Okinawa will never become a battlefield again.

At the end of World War II, from 1945 to 1952, the US-occupied Japan constructed military bases in Okinawa. An agreement in 1952 noted the Japanese gave up control of the prefecture in exchange for ending the American occupation of the rest of the country. However, the island was kept under US control until 1972. Since then, the Japanese government has allowed the continued operation of US bases in Okinawa under the 1960 US-Japan Security Treaty.

 

The Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa, which lasted from April 1, 1945, to June 22, 1945, was one of the bloodiest fighting seen during World War II. On April 1, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and over 180,000 US Marines and US Army soldiers advanced on the island and began the final push to Japan.

The attack was part of Operation Iceberg, a complex strategy to capture the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa. Despite its success, the plan resulted in surmountable losses on both sides, including Japanese civilians. On the Japanese side, it was known as an attempt by the Japanese forces to delay the US advance into the Japanese mainland, which resulted in the death of thousands of Okinawans.

Marines of the US 10th Army in camouflage battle dress storm out of a landing craft to establish a beachhead, March 31, 1945 on Okinawa, largest of the Ryukyu (Loochoo) Islands, 375 miles from Japan (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marines_land_on_Okinawa_shores.jpg
Marines of the US 10th Army in camouflage battle dress storm out of a landing craft to establish a beachhead, March 31, 1945 on Okinawa, largest of the Ryukyu (Loochoo) Islands, 375 miles from Japan (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marines_land_on_Okinawa_shores.jpg

The Allies were met by the 130,000-strong Japanese 32nd Army led by Lt. Gen Mitsuru Ushijima. The force also featured an unverifiable number of conscripted locals (also known as Boeitai). 

Given the belief of the Japanese that Americans took no prisoners (which the Americans did take POWs), many took their own lives. Upon realizing that defeat was a certainty, General Ushijima, along with his Chief of Staff, General Cho, committed ritual suicide (also known as “Seppuku” or “Hara-kiri” in Japan), effectively ending the hard-fought battle.

The American side took over 49,000 casualties, with 12,520 dying in action. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., who led US troops in the invasion, lost his life in action. Japanese losses were even greater, with around 110,000 Japanese troops dead and 40,000 to 150,000 Okinawans killed.

Bad Reputation

The residents of Okinawa have spent decades protesting the presence of American forces in their local communities. Currently, there are 31 US military installations on the island, accounting for around 70% of American bases in the country, housing around 50,000 US military personnel.

The anti-base sentiment is fueled by pollution and noise concerns associated with the bases. There were also alleged reports of violence perpetrated by US personnel against the locals. In January of this year, the base received further flak after news broke out that the COVID-19 Omnicron variant was detected on military base personnel, which was treated as the source of COVID-19 spread to the Okinawan community.

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Another unfortunate instance was in 2016 when a former US Marine employed as a civilian worker was arrested for the rape and murder of a local 20-year-old-woman. The case sparked protests, with tens of thousands of demonstrators gathering on the island to oppose US military presence.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaking at the remembrance ceremony of the Battle of Okinawa (岸田文雄). Source: https://www.facebook.com/kishdafumio/posts/pfbid02pqERqNp7nGPhdD66C22zy5HodcedQN6r4b2BcPSMm5tpvc21cxg2g9W7H2KGY36Jl
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaking at the remembrance ceremony of the Battle of Okinawa (岸田文雄). Source: Kishda Fumio]

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was present at the ceremony, offered a moment of silence. He also acknowledged the lack of support from the national government to reduce the strain on Okinawa brought by the US facilities. He also recognized the need for more support to boost the island’s economy.

Despite the issues, it is essential to note that the US presence in Okinawa provides much-needed security guarantees for the country. Primarily during the current geopolitical tensions with China, Japan dramatically benefits from having the US on its side to keep Chinese aggression at bay and further regional threats from North Korea and Russia. In addition, Japan, which follows a pacifist constitution, greatly benefits from the enhanced security and US commitment to defend the country in the event of an external attack. Unfortunately, this has resulted in cases of repression of anti-base sentiment by the Japanese government, including arresting activists without trial.