Structural discrimination continuing to the present
In 1879, the independent Ryukyu Kingdom, which had long engaged actively in commerce with China and the other countries of East Asia, was annexed by Japan's Meiji government against a backdrop of military force. Since then, Okinawans have faced human rights violations beginning with Japan's assimilation policies, followed by the Battle of Okinawa, in which more than 200 thousand lives were lost, and then the seizure of their land, compounded by accidents and incidents occurring under US military administration. Administrative rights over Okinawa were returned to Japan in 1972, but massive US military facilities remain to this day.
Okinawa used as a "sacrificial pawn;" 120 thousand civilian lives lost
While Japan and the U.S fought throughout the Fifteen Years War, the series of wars from the Manchurian Incident in 1931 to the Sino-Japanese War and Asia-Pacific War, the biggest battle ever waged between the two superpowers was the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The fierce ground battle engulfed civilians in bombing and bloodshed, killing more than 200,000 people. The toll includes 120,000 Okinawans - one quarter of the population at the time.
It was clear that Japan had no chance of winning from the outset of the battle, but it decided to sacrifice Okinawa in an effort to delay a U.S. attack on the rest of Japan to maintain the national polity.
Many local citizens lost their lives during indiscriminate attacks by the British and American forces. Some people died after being forced out of their shelters by Japanese soldiers who treated civilians as obstructions to the battle. Others were killed by Japanese troops when trying to surrender. Okinawans suspected of cooperating with Americans as spies, were also killed by Japanese soldiers.
Many Okinawans were directed to commit mass suicide by Japanese soldiers, who made them believe there was no other option.
Rainwater collects in holes made by the U.S. military's bombardment of the Japanese Imperial Army's position near the Shuri Castle in Shuri in 1945. (photograph taken by the U.S. military and kept at the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)
Marines with the 6th Marine Division wait after throwing a smoke grenade into a shelter where they suspected Japanese soldiers were hiding in 1945. (photograph taken by the U.S. military and kept at the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)
A boy walks towards a camp while nursing a wounded leg on June 19, 1945 (photograph taken by the U.S. military and kept at the Okinawa Prefectural Archives)
U.S. military charges anti-aircraft fire against the Japanese Army in April 1945. (photograph taken by the U.S. military and kept at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum)
Domination and oppression by Japan and the United States
There is oppression in the form of colonial rule and human rights violations by Japan and the U.S. in Okinawa's recent history.
Okinawa was an independent nation until Japan forcefully annexed it in 1879. Japan abolished the old dialect and customs of Okinawa, and enacted assimilation measures designed to force military conscription and other government policies. It also promoted an imperialized educational system where citizens swore loyalty to the Emperor.
Before they realized it, Okinawan people came to be the very image of Japanese people. As a result, a sense of honor that puts one's country before one's own life took root in Okinawa, which led to mobilized Okinawan citizenry during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
After Japan's defeat, Okinawa fell under U.S. administration. Expansive military bases were established, and with accompanying issues such as crime and U.S. military aircraft crashes, Okinawan citizens' human rights came to be violated.
Okinawan inhabitants aim for a reversion to the Constitution of Japan stipulating pacifism and protection of Okinawan citizens' human rights. Although Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, vast military bases remain, and even now a condition of consistent human rights violations persists.
Land seizures I violation of international treaties
Futenma Air Station, located in the center of Ginowan City, was originally an expansive civilian settlement area. In April 1945 U.S. forces removed inhabitants, occupied the region, and built upon it. U.S. forces took advantage of the disorder of the Battle of Okinawa to force construction of a base upon the region, seizing local inhabitants' land regardless of the fact that this action violated the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of Wars on Land.
After U.S. forces landed on Okinawa Island, local residents were sent to Nodake Refugee Camp and other places, and trespassing on air base grounds was prohibited. As the displaced residents of Kakazu, Ginowan Village were given permission to return in September 1946, they were approved to go back to the regions in which they had lived before. Those who had lived within the limits of Futenma Air Station, however, were not approved to return to their homes, and had to settle with taking residence surrounding the base. Villages such as Kamiyama, Nakahara, and Ginowan are still mostly retained by the U.S. military. Former scenes drom daily life such as abundant fields, local administrative offices, and natural monuments of the prewar days such as Jinon Nanmachi have been lost.
When Futenma Air Station was first established it was a U.S. army facility, but in April 1957 control was transferred to the air force. U.S. marines began transferring from mainland Japan in 1959, and in May 1960 Futenma Air Station became a marine base.
Futenma Air Station during construction, in June 1945 (provided by Okinawa Prefectural Archives)
The United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) tried to sign a lease contract with landowners to continue using the bases after the Peace Treaty was signed in San Francisco in 1952. However, most of the landowners did not sign because the contract period was 20 years and the annual rent was low.
In 1953, the USCAR issued land acquisition procedures and forcibly took over the land in the districts of Mekaru and Gushi in Naha, the Isahama district in Ginowan, and the Maja district in Ie. In some cases, the U.S. military destroyed houses and seized land from the people, threatening them with bayonets and bulldozers. Residents protested against the land seizures all around Okinawa. In the Maja district of Ie, Shoko Ahagon was the leader of the nonviolent protest. In 1955, Ahagon and his fellow protesters carried out a protest march known as the "Beggar's March" in various parts of the main island of Okinawa to share the plight and sufferings of the Maja residents who lost their land.
In 1956, the United States aimed for a blanket purchase of the local land leased for bases, made in line with what is known as "Price Recommendations." This led to a struggle against the takeover of new land its permanent use, which became known as the shimagurumi-toso (all-island struggle), all over Okinawa.
In the Isahama district of Ginowan on July 18, 1955, the local residents were ready to protest against forcible acquisition of their land by the U.S. military. Their banner reads "money can be spent for a year; land lasts forever."
Heavy machinery with which U.S.militay built their bases after forcibly taking over the land of the Isahama residents (Photograph provided by Ginowan City Education Board).
Military bases and human rights
Many military aircraft fly over Okinawa, causing anxiety among citizens. A series of aircraft crashes and ongoing noise pollution have put Okinawans on edge both before and after the reversion of the prefecture from the U.S to Japan.
In 1959, when Okinawa was still under U.S. military occupation, a fighter jet plummeted onto private land, bounced on the ground and crashed into an elementary school, killing 18 people, including school children. Aircraft accidents continued to occur even after Okinawa was returned to Japan. There have been 46 accidents, the most recent one occurring in August this year. In April 2008, a helicopter crashed into the Okinawa International University building, which stands adjacent to the Futenma Air Station. There were no civilian casualties, but neighboring houses were damaged by debris from the aircraft.
Noise pollution is also a serious problem. Local residents, especially those living in the cities that host Kadena Air Base and Futenma Air Station, complain of impaired hearing, lack of sleep and other physical and psychological damage caused by the roar of aircraft flying at night and in the early morning. People living near the military bases filed a lawsuit, requesting a ban on military training flights. The court admitted that damage had been caused by the aircraft noise.
Despite the wishes of the Okinawan people to become free from the problems arising from military aircraft, Osprey helicopters were deployed in 2012. The Osprey is said to have a high risk of crashing.
Debris from a U.S. military helicopter can be seen scattered around the Okinawa International University campus after the helicopter crashed, bursting into flames in Ginowan, Ginowan City on August 15, 2004.
Status of Forces Agreemant restricts right
Okinawa's current U.S. military base concentration, 74% of U.S. Forces Japan base land, is allowed by the status of forces agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Japan, which entered into effect in 1960. Although the NATO SOFA Supplementary Agreement of 1959 with Germany (a supplement to the Bonn Agreement) has been revised 3 times (in 1971, 1981, and 1993), by comparison the U.S.-Japan SOFA has not been revised even once, and therefore a great limitation on Japan's rights remains in effect. Another example is the SOFA binding Italy and the U.S. since 1995, which differs greatly from the U.S.-Japan SOFA, in that the U.S.-Japan SOFA guarantees the U.S. exclusive administrative rights, giving the U.S. unrestricted use of military base facilities, whereas the SOFA between Italy and the U.S. has a framework placing U.S. military bases under Italy's command.
The NATO SOFA Supplementary Agreement has in essence adopted U.S. bases into German law. It is U.S. duty to conduct all operations with an evaluation of the environmental impact, and to allow officials of the commonwealth, individual states, and local authorities to enter base compounds for investigative purposes. The U.S. military is prohibited from risky and noisy activity such as low-altitude flying and nighttime training. Even though Japan and the U.S. have concluded a noise-prevention agreement, loopholes such as "operations take priority" are often applied. Low-altitude flights of U.S. military aircraft fall outside of Japan's Civil Aeronautics Act. Member of local administrative bodies must receive permission from the U.S. military before entering base compounds.
In Italy, the U.S. is obligated to announce the times of aviation drills and gives consideration to the custom of taking afternoon naps in the summer by suspending flights between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Additionally, should the U.S. military cause a public nuisance or health risk to daily lives of the people, Italy's commanding officers have the authority to immediately curtail the U.S. military's behaviors.
Never-ending crimes by US soldiers
Heinous crimes have been committed repeatedly by U.S. military personnel in Okinawa, where Japan's U.S. bases are concentrated. The U.S. military promises stricter discipline every time an incident occurs, but the situation remains the same.
In September 1955, a six-year-old girl was raped and murdered. The tragedy is known as the Yumiko-chan Incident. A sergeant of the U.S. Forces was tried by court-martial on charges of rape and murder and sentenced to death. The conviction was reduced to imprisonment after he was transported to the United States.
Despicable crimes targeting women and children have continued even after Okinawa returned to Japan in 1972. In 1995, three Marines raped an elementary-school girl, which prompted a major prefectural rally, with 85,000 citizens coming together to express anger against the case. In 2012, two sailors raped a woman in the central area of the Okinawa Island.
There have also been many hit-and-run cases. A service member who was driving drunk hit and killed a woman in Itoman City in 1970. He was found not guilty at a court-martial hearing, but later a confidential American report referred to the verdict as a "misjudgement." In November 2011, a car driven by an army staff sergeant hit and killed a man in Yomitan Village.
Sexual crimes perpetrated by the US military a threat to women
When US forces landed on Okinawa Island in April 1945, cases of rape by US forces were widespread. Now, 70 years after the end of the war, sexual crimes by US servicemen still occur, violating the human rights of women.
According to a record of sexual crimes committed against women by US military members on Okinawa compiled by the organization Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, in 1946, there were 439 incidents of crime committed against women, including rape, murder, and arson. In 1947, such crimes numbered 242. Suzuyo Takazato, co-representative of the organization, says that after the war, "women faced a new kind of battlefield."
Many of these crimes are perpetrated by groups, and victims have included those of all ages, including infants and children. They have occurred in fields, on roads, within base compounds, and in front of the victim's family's eyes. Some victims become pregnant and give birth. Almost all perpetrators have received only a light sentence, or no sentence at all. The brutality of these crimes became especially striking during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, when one to four victims were strangled to death each year.
Takazato emphasizes that structural violence within the military is behind these sexual crimes. She states, "Soldiers become numb, and in order to run from their pent-up emotions, they take their stress out on those weaker than themselves. There's also a sense of discrimination in which they view Okinawa as a colony."
Suzuyo Takazato, co-representative of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness of sexual violence committed by US service members (September 14, Naha)
[Okinawa Crying Out]
5862 US Military Crimes in 42yrs
After the reversion of Okinawa in 1972 when crime statistics for the prefecture became available, the number of crimes committed by members of the US military reached 5,862 in the 42 years through 2014. Of these, cases involving murder, robbery and other such atrocious crimes account for 571. There has been no end to incidents and accidents victimizing women and children. Over these 42 years, there have been 650 accidents involving US military aircraft, in which 35 people have died, 24 gone missing, and 30 injured.
Although statistics are not available for the days of the US Civil Administration of the Ryukyus prior to Okinawa's reversion, incidents and accidents involving the US military were a frequent occurrence. The prioritization of military affairs has trampled human rights. Ryukyu Police had to hand over suspects, who were soldiers, to the US military. Okinawa could not even exercise jurisdiction over them. Even when the crime was of a heinous nature, many of the court decisions rendered were disadvantageous to Okinawan people, and compensation was also far from satisfactory.
Even after reversion, the Status of Forces Agreement limited Japan's authority to investigate and prosecute crimes, a provision which has inflated prefectural residents' dissatisfaction. In his talks with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on the 9th of May, Governor Takeshi Onaga urged the Minister to have the Japanese government and US military go to concerned municipalities after an incident or accident occurs to offer an explanation and listen to what people have to say.
[Okinawa Crying Out]
History of Protecting Prefecture Residents' Livelihood Originates in "Island‐Wide Land Struggle"
The struggle to protect prefectural residents livelihood from the US military sprang from the island-wide battle to protect residents' land after the war.
Immediately after landing, the US military started to take over land, and issued an official expropriation order in 1953. Armed soldiers removed any resident who resisted. Land was forcefully seized with "bayonets and bulldozers" that flattened houses to confiscate people's land for bases.
In March 1954, in response to the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyus' policy of lump sum payments for military land effectively allowing the USCAR to buy it up, the Legislature of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands set forth four principles the following April to defend people's land against this egregious move. After the 1956 Price Report negated the four principles, residents in 56 of the 64 municipalities simultaneously held rallies, bringing the struggle to a head.
The conflict brought a definitive end to hikes in military land rents and annual payments.
This is the history of popular movements that has led to today's rally.
In 1995, 85,000 people participated in a rally protesting the rape of a young girl by US soldiers. A 2010 rally demanding that MCAS Futenma be moved outside the prefecture and outside Japan gathered 90,000 people. 101,000 people united for a 2012 rally opposing deployment of the Osprey. A combined total of more than 300,000 people have joined rallies in a continuing plea to reduce the burden imposed by the US bases.