The Guardian April 5, 2000

Okinawa: the people say close US bases

In search of a safe place free of protests and the glare of the world 
media, the Group of Eight major capitalist countries will hold a summit in 
July this year in Okinawa, Japan. Known as the Military Base Island, 
Okinawa is effectively occupied by the US military through the Japan-US 
Security Treaty. It is no coincidence that representatives of the world's 
most powerful capitalist governments chose to shelter there during their 
deliberations. The following is an examination by the Japanese Communist 
Party of the history and current situation in Okinawa.

Until the outbreak of the Second World War, Okinawa was a peaceful island 
without even Japanese military forces stationed there. The only thing 
relating to the military was a conscription office with a commander and a 
few staff members.

Without military bases the people of Okinawa lived in peace and had 
friendly relations with their Asian neighbours.

It was only in 1944 when Japan's defeat became imminent and the Japanese 
Government decided to make Okinawa the place for final "decisive battles" 
that military forces were stationed there on a full scale.

With the defeat of Japan the stationing of military forces in Okinawa 
should have been put to an end.

However, present-day Okinawa is so overcrowded with US military bases and 
facilities that it is said: "The bases are not in Okinawa. Okinawa is among 
military bases."

Stepping onto Okinawa you will realise that this description is not an 
exaggeration. Eleven percent of the land area of Okinawa Prefecture is 
occupied by US bases. This figure goes up to 20 percent in the Okinawa 

In the island prefecture of 1.3 million people, 27,000 US troops are 
stationed. Nowhere in Europe can you find a country with such a province or 

Moreover, these US bases in Okinawa are situated right in the midst of very 
populated areas. For example, Kadena Air Base takes up 83 percent of the 
land area of Kadena Town, forcing more than 10,000 residents to live on the 
remaining 17 percent of land.

The town residents' houses, schools, hospitals and other facilities are 
squeezed in the small areas within only several hundred metres of the 
base's aircraft runways. Such a situation is not limited to Kadena.

There are another two towns, Kin Town and Chatan Town, and the Ginoza 
Village, which have over 50 percent of their land taken up by US bases. And 
there are five more municipalities where more than 30 percent of their land 
is taken (Yomitan Village, Higashi Village, Okinawa City, Ie Village and 
Ginowan City).

How has Okinawa been brought to such a situation? What kind of problems do 
the people of Okinawa have as a result?

History of US bases

With the stationing of the Japanese Army in 1944 Okinawa became the only 
place in Japan during WW2 where a ground battle was fought involving non-
combatants. The battle, which lasted 80 days, from the end of March 1945, 
was named "Iron Storm" because of the amount of naval gun fire during the 

The intensity and severity of the battle was fierce. More than 10,000 US 
soldiers and about 90,000 Japanese troops were killed in the battle. Even 
more notable was the number of noncombatants slaughtered. More than 100,000 
people  nearly one third of the prefecture  were killed.

The US military forces, in occupying Okinawa, sent surviving citizens to 
concentration camps they set up in different parts of the prefecture. These 
continued on after the end of the war.

During the period from the end of 1945 to 1947, the citizens were released 
from the camps. Coming back home they were astonished to find vast areas of 
US military bases stretching before their eyes.

Their homes and farms were bulldozed flat and they were not allowed to step 
onto their own land, which was surrounded by barbed wire.

In Chatan Town there had been a Japanese airfield. Requisition of the 
airfield was not enough for the US military. They took 40 times the land 
around the old airfield to build the present Kadena base.

The townspeople of Chatan were allowed to live only on the worst land. The 
total farming land area shrunk to less than one percent compared with pre-
war days. Even the remaining farms were devastated by the war.

Chatan was not the only example. During the same period in many different 
parts of Okinawa, a total of 18,000 hectares, or eight percent of the total 
land area of the prefecture, was requisitioned by the US in a similar 
manner. Around 40,000 land owners lost their land and 12,000 households 
were forced to leave their residences. No compensation of any kind was ever 
paid them.

International law (The Hague Convention) prohibits the confiscation of 
private property, even during war. Even if the requisition is conducted out 
of military necessity, payment for the loss is obligatory.

What was done to the people of Okinawa by the US was a clear violation of 
international law for which no justification can be made.

Peace treaty

After the war the Okinawan people started to work on what little farm land 
was saved from the US requisition, and going through great pains they 
managed to restore their land and make it arable again. They believed that 
they could retrieve their old land after the signing of the peace treaty.

However, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed between the allies and 
Japan, allowed the US to continue its occupation and rule of Okinawa.

It was followed by further requisition of people's land on a larger scale 
which was to impose more burdens and suffering on the people.

On Iejima Island a new round of land confiscations started in 1953. The US 
Forces pressed the people of the island to hand over their land, 
encouraging them to immigrate to South America or threatening them by 
sending their officers to the people's homes.

Since the end of the war Iejima farmers had worked arduously on their 
devastated farm land, now devoid of trees, and restored about half of their 
pre-war production. For the farmers further requisition of their land was 
too much to take.

They were resolved to oppose the plan. In 1955, seeing that persuading the 
farmers would be impossible, the US military decided to resort to strong-
arm measures.

On the same beach where they launched the landing operation exactly 10 
years before, the US military unloaded 300 armed troops and vehicles and 
surrounded the village.

Unarmed the villagers sat on their land, believing that "US soldiers will 
understand our sentiment if they are humans". But the US military turned 
deaf ears to the people's plea. They bulldozed 13 houses, burned them and 
confiscated their land.

In this way some 63 percent of the land area of Iejima Island was 
requisitioned by the US military.

In 1972, 27 years after the end of WW2, the administrative rights over 
Okinawa were returned to Japan. However, the people did not doubt at all 
that they could enter their own lands over the fences of the bases and get 
them back.

The Okinawan people's desire was again betrayed.

What underlies this situation is the Japanese Government's assurance to the 
US that the function of the bases would not decline.

In order to fulfill its promise the Japanese Government enacted a special 
law to allow the US to continue using the lands that had been taken by the 
US military by force.

Purpose of the bases

Why has the US clung to constructing and maintaining the military bases in 
Okinawa? Are they necessary for the defence of Japan? Absolutely not. In 
1982 the then US Secretary of State, Casper Weinberger, stated: "The 
marines on Okinawa are not assigned to the defence of Japan."

The US recognises Okinawa as a vital foothold for their operations in the 
Asia-Pacific region. The US deployment is one of three US Marine Divisions. 
Okinawa is the only place outside the US that hosts the Marine Corps on a 
division scale. A total of 17,000 marines are stationed there.

During the 1990s the US organised Marine Expeditionary Units, special new 
forces with increased mobility, including the 31st Marine Expeditionary 
Unit in Okinawa.

The fundamental duty of these troops is to carry out operations widely in 
the Asia-Pacific region.

In 1996, Admiral Joseph W Preuher, at that time the Commander of the US 
Pacific Command, told the US Senate that the Marine Corps and other US 
forces "are ideally positioned to respond to contingencies in the western 
Pacific". The US 7th Fleet goes into action with the Marine Corps stationed 
on Okinawa.

Accidents and crimes

The fear of possible accidents around the bases haunts the residents.

In April last year a helicopter from the Futenma base crashed on the coast 
in an area where an electricity plant was located.

Last June a Harrier attack plane failed to take off and went up in flames.

In Okinawa such accidents are almost daily occurrences.

Okinawa residents have begun legal action against the Japanese Government 
to stop night flights from the Kadena base and for compensation for the 
trauma the US military flights have caused them.

Over the years there have been many accidents fatal to the civilian 
population and many crimes committed by US soldiers.

In September 1995 a school girl was abducted and raped by three US 
soldiers. The Okinawa police demanded that the suspects be handed over to 
Japan, but the US refused.

The incident roused the anger of the people. Rallies were held across 
Okinawa involving 92,000 people. They demanded the eradication of crimes by 
US soldiers, the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (which allows 
US personnel to avoid prosecution in Japan), and the realignment and 
reduction of the bases.

From the rape and murder of a woman in 1972 to the present there have been 
many thousands of criminal offences by US soldiers in Okinawa. 


The US forces are given exclusive rights to administer their military 
bases: Japan's domestic laws cannot be applied to them, nor are they 
answerable to US laws.

In such a situation there is no means to protect Okinawa's natural 
environment from being destroyed.

In Camp Hansen, for example, US forces carry out live-fire exercises 
regularly, often causing fires at the impact areas, destroying forest and 
vegetation, laying the mountains bare.

On several occasions red clay has flowed out of the mountains into Kin Bay, 
causing the accumulation of mud which pollutes the coral reef.

Pollution from toxic PCBs is also serious. Trunks containing PCBs have been 
found piled up out in the open in Kadena Air Base.

In 1995 after the Onna Communications complex was returned to Japan PCBs 
were detected on the site.

Although PCB-polluted soil was removed in containers, no one knows when 
this sludge, weighing 20 tonnes, will be disposed of.

When part of the Kadena Ammunition Storage area was returned in June last 
year, the landowner was not informed until the day it was handed over that 
toxic substances such as hexavalent chromium and lead in excess of 
environmental standards had been detected.

The US Forces Northern Training area is a treasury of rare plants and 
animals, such as the pryer's woodpecker. But neither the government or the 
relevant municipalities have the right to inspect the area.

Protection for criminals

The US has primary jurisdiction under the Status of Forces Agreement. 

More than 45,000 crimes and accidents involving US soldiers on duty have 
occurred, causing 512 deaths. But none of them have been tried by court 

Even when local police try to hold US soldiers responsible for violations 
of traffic regulations, the US forces use the Agreement and deliver a 
certification that the culprits were "on duty".

In the cases where crimes are committed by off-duty soldiers, it is common 
in all countries that the primary jurisdiction belongs to the host country, 
with a mechanism allowing for the host country to abandon its jurisdiction 
in special cases.

Japan uses this mechanism more than any other host country.

What the people want

The 1995 rape of the Okinawa schoolgirl by US military personnel prompted a 
sharp increase in the number of Okinawan people calling for the reduction 
and removal of US bases in Okinawa and for a review of of the privileged 
position the US forces enjoy in Japan.

The huge Okinawa Prefecture Rally in October of that year adopted a 
resolution which demanded the immediate revision of the Status of Forces 
Agreement and the reduction of US bases.

In a referendum on these questions soon after, in which almost 60 percent 
of Okinawan people voted, 91.26 percent were in favour. The Okinawa 
Prefectural Government then drew up an Action Program which called for the 
closure of the US bases in three stages to achieve an Okinawa that would be 
free of military bases by the year 2015.

The program included economic and social development by using the land 
returned to the people, with the first stage being the closure of Futenma 
Air Station, located in the midst of a densely populated area.

Exploiting this call the US and Japanese Governments are planning to 
construct a more powerful military base in Nago City as a condition for the 
closure Futenma Air Station.

This would be a state-of-the-art base where the new Osprey military 
aircraft can be deployed as a replacement for helicopters.

A US Department of Defence report stresses that the Osprey "is necessary to 
conduct ... forcible-entry operations" and "allows Marines to strike 
rapidly at objects located deep inland". 

They want to deploy the Osprey because, compared to the present 
helicopters, its cruising speed is twice as fast, its payloads three times 
as much and its flying range is five to ten times further.

The Osprey would allow US forces to deploy troops directly from Okinawa to 
the Taiwan Straits and to the Korean Peninsula. It can also conduct 
horizontal flights like fixed-wing aircraft, as well as vertical landing 
and take off.

This plan is part of the US attempt to keep its bases in Okinawa 

The US Department of Defence final draft document for the Futenma 
Relocation states: "The SBF (sea-based facilities of the new base) and all 
associated structures shall be designed for a 40-year operational life with 
a 200-year fatigue life."

In other words, the US plans to construct a military base that can be used 
well into the 21st century.

The people of Nago city have already expressed opposition to the 
construction of the base in a referendum. Despite this opposition the 
Japanese and US Governments are trying by all means to have the 
construction go ahead.

The Group of Eight summit meeting will be held in July when the relocation 
plan is at its crucial stage.

The Japanese Communist Party is campaigning for the scrapping of the Japan-
US Security Treaty and the building of a peaceful Japan  without US bases.

"But we believe the suffering of the Okinawan people must be immediately 
ended even before the Security Treaty is ended. We hope that the world's 
people will come to know Okinawa's situation, and its desire to be free of 
its predicament."

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