Okinawa Calls for a Just Peace:
Speech to the U.S. Congressional Study Group on Japan
OTA Masahide, Former Governor of Okinawa.
Uploaded on 24 May 2001.



Militarization Imposed
Disenchantment with "Pacifist" Japan
Threats to People's Security
Protest Movements and Local Initiatives
The Non-Committal Two Governments
Prospects for A Peace Economy


[Editor's Note]

           This is a speech delivered in April 1997 when OTA was the governor of Okinawa. OTA is a professor emeritus at the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, and has written extensively on the historical and contemporary war/peace issues from the perspective of marginalized Okinawa.

As I stated on numerous occasions as governor of Okinawa, I believe the American military bases in Okinawa remain the most significant issue facing our prefecture.


Militarization Imposed

Okinawa, Japan's southwesternmost prefecture, is an archipelago off the coast of China. Spanning 620 miles from east to west and 250 miles from north to south, it is composed of more than 160 islands, 48 of which are inhabited by approximately 1.28 million people.

As the Kingdom of the Ryukyus, Okinawa flourished for 450 years, starting in the 14th century. Her ideal location relative to mainland Japan, China, and other Southeast Asian nations helped her establish the "Great Era of Overseas Trade," based on prosperous exchange with neighboring nations. A thriving culture developed with it, giving birth to rich Ryukyuan arts and crafts, including vibrant performing arts, beautiful dyed textiles, and exceptional lacquer ware and pottery. But the kingdom's predominant features were devotion to peace and an absence of weapons. The people's wide recognition as an unarmed land of courtesy was stressed by the late Professor William Lebra of the University of Hawaii, whose Okinawan Religion: Belief, Ritual and Social Structure (1966) argues that the cultures of Japan and Okinawa differ fundamentally. In contrast to Japan's "warrior culture," Okinawa's is notable for an "absence of militarism."

Despite our long tradition of peace, however, Okinawa became the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific War, the only one fought on Japanese soil. An immense barrage of American bombs and shells devastated the formerly green and beautiful land. More than 230,000 precious American, Okinawan and Japanese lives were lost - including those of some 150,000 native civilians - together with centuries-old cultural assets.

Even while the battle raged, American forces began constructing bases for spearheading the planned invasion of mainland Japan. Expanding airfields previously built by the Japanese forces, the American authorities also designated vast tracts in Okinawa's central and southern regions as military areas, from which they removed civilians to relocation camps, tiny villages and desolate mountain areas. Continued base building after the battle dislodged even more Okinawans from their fields and homes. After Japan's surrender, the refugees were permitted to return to their native districts - only to find that American forces were requisitioning their farms, towns and villages, and transforming them into a massive web of bases. Okinawa was no longer a peaceful island.

The advent of the Cold War, especially the outbreak of the Korean War in June, 1950, boosted the base building to a furious pace. Fearing loss of their means of livelihood, many Okinawans adamantly resisted the seizure of their land. The American military responded by using bulldozers and pointed guns to expropriate farmlands, rice paddies and village sites. To escape their misery, many Okinawans who had lost their land were compelled to emigrate to Bolivia in search of sustenance - while large American and Japanese construction firms arrived to expand airfields, port facilities, highways, missile storage and VOA (Voice of America) facilities. During the 1950s, Okinawa was transformed into a huge base complex called the "Keystone of the Pacific." It was indeed a key to America's defense structure for the Far East.

Thus it went throughout the 1950s. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the U.S. - Japan Security Treaty were signed in September, 1951 for execution in April, 1952. The Peace Treaty gave independence to Japan while retaining control over Okinawa. Article 3 provided for the island's separation and placement under American military administration - which also meant that the U.S. - Japan Security Treaty did not apply there, since it was under American control. As Okinawa's "legal" government, the U.S. forces could requisition as much land as they desired and build on it as many bases as they wished.

Disenchantment with "Pacifist" Japan

  Unhappy with their military occupation, the Okinawan people sought reversion to Japan for many years. Their struggle ostensibly ended on May 15, 1972, when the island was returned to Japan. Neither the Japanese nor the American Constitution had been implemented there during her occupation. Now many Okinawans hoped that reversion would make the Japanese Peace Constitution, which guaranteed the fundamental human rights of all Japanese citizens, applicable to them. Okinawans also wished that reversion would rid the island of nuclear weapons and that a "mainland level" measure - downsizing military bases in the prefecture to their density on the mainland - would be adopted. 

However, those wishes were in vain. The U.S. - Japan Security Treaty and the related Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) would have the same application to bases on Okinawa as on the mainland. Thus the treaty, by stipulating that its terms applied equally to installations built on forcibly requisitioned land, ensured continued American freedom to use the Okinawan bases, with little of their hoped-for reduction in size and scope.

Okinawans were also distressed to discover that the application of the Security Treaty and SOFA to Okinawa meant, in effect, that land occupied by the American military could not be returned unless alternative sites were provided. Since finding suitable relocation sites is all but impossible in our small, mountainous prefecture, American bases continue occupying the land whose return was promised soon after the 1972 reversion. Since then, the land controlled by the U.S. in mainland Japan has been reduced by some 60 percent. During the same period, the reduction on Okinawa - where the relative density of territory taken for military use was incomparably higher - was a mere 16 percent.

Today, almost 52 years after the end of World War II, the concentration of American bases on Okinawa remains extremely heavy. The 39 installations camped on our prefecture, which comprises 0.6 percent of Japan's total land mass, represent 75 percent of all installations used exclusively by the U.S. military in Japan. Those military facilities occupy some 11 percent of the prefecture's land area as a whole, and 20 percent on Okinawa Island itself, where most of the population and industries are located. In the island's central and southern regions, where most of the American bases are concentrated, the population density is fourth highest in the country: 5,689 people per square mile. Thus 1.04 million of the prefecture's total population of 1.28 million lives crowded around the unwanted bases. In addition, American military forces control 29 sea zones and 15 areas of airspace around Okinawa, depriving us of the freedom to use our own sea and air as well as our land. Where else do such conditions apply in the 1990s?

The central government in Tokyo leases the land for the American bases. At present, some 67 percent is owned by municipalities or private individuals - some of whom refuse to sign lease agreements because they do not want their land used for activities connected with warfare instead of those that contribute to humanity's betterment. The American military has forcibly occupied the plots of one anti-base landowner whose lease contract with the central government expired last year (1996). Its instrument of coercion is a 1952 Special Measures Law, which enables the U.S. forces to expropriate land owned by Japanese citizens. That law, never invoked in mainland Japan since 1962, has been applied on Okinawa three times since the 1972 reversion. Its discriminatory enforcement generates protest by Okinawans.

The central government's introduction to the Diet of a controversial bill that would revise the Special Measures Law is indication that the protracted discriminatory treatment of Okinawan land expropriation is approaching a crisis. Lease contracts involving another 3,000 anti-base landowners will expire on May 14, 1997. Without adoption of the proposed amendment, the central government is likely to lose its legal basis for continuing to provide land for 12 U.S. military facilities; with it, the central government will enable itself to continue forced leasing beyond the present expiration date. We feel that passage of the bill, expected in the Diet, amounts to a direct violation of Article 29 of the Japanese Constitution, which states that "the right to own or to hold property is inviolable."

[Author's note: Right after I delivered this speech, the central government passed in April 1997 an amendment to the Special Measures Law for Land Used by the American Forces governing U.S. military use of land on Okinawa, in order to prevent American forces from being deemed to be illegally occupying land whose leases were due to expire on 14 May 1997. The Defense Agency described the amendment asea minimum necessary measure for temporary use of landf(The Defense Agency White Paper 1997). The revision was passed by an overwhelming majority in the Diet (90 percent in the lower house and 80 per cent in the upper house). The bill was to revise the existing law so that even if the leases expired before the Land Expropriation Committee had finished surveying procedures, the U.S. military could legally occupy the land under Japanese law.]

Incidentally, the Okinawan people do not regard their land as a mere plot of soil for growing crops. Least of all is it a commodity for buying and selling. For them, land is an irreplaceable heritage bequeathed by their ancestors, to whom it conveys a spiritual link. Okinawans' resistance against the forceful taking of their land is as strong as their attachment to it.

Threats to People's Security

The vast, densely concentrated military bases cause our island many serious problems. Military related incidents and accidents continue to climb. From the reversion in 1972 to 1996, American military personnel and their dependents committed 4,823 crimes, including 12 brutal murders of Okinawan citizens. A total of 127 aircraft accidents occurred, and live firing exercises caused 137 brush fires. Residential communities surrounding the Kadena Air Base and the Futenma Air Station, located in Okinawa Island's central region, must endure the impact of living in close proximity to base activities. Frequent take-offs, landings and engine testings incessantly disrupt their daily lives. 

In particular, the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station is located in the heart of a densely populated urban area, whose 16 schools suffer its incessant discharge of noise pollution. Since reversion, aircraft stationed in Futenma Air Station have been involved in crashes, emergency landings and other accidents that endanger the lives of nearby residents. If such an accident takes an Okinawan life, it may be impossible to control the anger of the people who live near the base. That would not only undermine the U.S. - Japan Security Treaty but also damage relations between the American military and local Okinawan citizens - which is among the reasons the prefecture is demanding the return of the base. 

Article 3, Clause 1 of SOFA essentially shields the live firing exercises conducted on Okinawa from Japanese environmental laws. Habitual bombardment from Camp Hansen in the island's north has denuded large mountain surfaces in the impact area, and otherwise destroyed much of the natural environment. Even if that area is returned to the people, mere partial restoration of that environment will take many years. Myriad shells have been fired at the range over many decades; countless unexploded ones remain buried there. Contrast that with the live firing exercises on Hawaii, which are conducted in accordance with U.S. environmental regulations requiring immediate removal of unexploded shells after exercises. 

The current live firing exercises are a kind of deadly reminder of an unprecedented rain of explosives during the three months of the Battle of Okinawa. Although most of its unexploded shells were gradually removed during the 23 years since reversion, Okinawa will continue spending $2.4 million a year for their disposal. Some experts estimate that another 40 to 50 years will be needed to remove all the unexploded shells still scattered throughout our island.

More broadly, the extreme density of military bases impedes the prefecture's overall industrial and economic development by hampering the improvement and expansion of transportation networks, blocking systematic urban development and hindering land procurement for industrial use. Major cities in the central region, such as Ginowan City and Okinawa City, developed in sprawls, with no zoning plans around the bases. Narrow, difficult roads keep fire trucks and ambulances from entering sectors of the surrounding, densely populated residential areas. Residents will be severely slowed if they must flee an emergency. Disaster-prevention - and systematic urban development as a whole - simply can't be achieved unless the military bases are returned or realigned. 

Protest Movements and Local Initiatives

Triggering pent-up Okinawan anger, the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen also inspired a "People's Rally" of some 85,000 people in October of that year. Okinawans from all walks of life participated, from teachers, students, and lay people to members of women's organizations, labor unions, and civic organizations, together with representatives of all political parties to the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly. As well as denouncing the rape, the rally called attention to Okinawa's base-incurred problems. A protest resolution containing four demands was adopted:
1) Impose strict discipline on American military personnel and eradicate crimes by them and their American civilian employees 
2) Require swift and complete compensation, including an apology, to the victim 
3) Require rapid revision of the Status of Forces Agreement
4) Promote reduction and realignment of the military bases

In November, 1995, a 100-person delegation, led by the Prefectural Assembly's President, traveled to Tokyo to press those demands. Submitting the protest resolution to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Delegation demanded answers to Okinawa's base-related problems - which were the subject of many meetings between representatives of the Japanese and American governments during the following year. 

In September, 1996, when the representatives were approaching agreement and the talks were entering their final stage, Okinawan residents prompted Japan's first ever prefectural referendum, which polled voters about the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement and the reduction and realignment of the American military bases. Of the 541,638 who voted (representing 53 percent of the eligible public) 482,538, or 90 percent, supported base reduction and realignment, and a revision of SOFA. If more proof were needed that Okinawans want Washington and Tokyo to truly tackle the problems caused by the bases, there it was.

To protect its citizens' lives and property, as governor I repeatedly petitioned the U.S. and Japanese governments to reduce and realign the bases, to revise the SOFA and to prevent base-related accidents. The former Governor and I made many visits to the United States with our petitions; this is my sixth since taking office. Vice Governor Tomon, the leader of the Women's Delegation, and the Okinawa Scholars' Delegation have also appealed directly to the American government - specifically, to the Congress and to key military officials - to reduce and realign the military bases on Okinawa, ending their encroachment on local citizens and communities. We have also used the mass media to plead to American citizens for an understanding of our base-related problems.

The Non-Committal Two Governments

In 1995, the American and Japanese governments established a Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO), which was charged with seeking solutions to those problems. SACO's final report, issued in December, 1996, revealed sympathy for the Okinawan people, who have so long carried the burden of military bases in their midst. The two governments agreed to return 23 percent of the land area, including the highly disturbing Futenma Air Station, occupied by the U.S. military facilities.

However, most of those facilities must first be relocated to others, or to other areas, on Okinawa. But the municipalities where the facilities might be relocated are mounting strong resistance, arguing that the "change" will lead to enforcement of military base functions and permanent placement of American bases on the island. To solve that predicament, the Okinawan Prefectural Government drafted a "Base Return Action Program," which calls for a phased return of, ultimately, all American military installations on our island.

As governor, I called for a reduction in the Marine Corps garrison, which accounts for 75 percent of the land area used by all military bases stationed on Okinawa. Of the 28,000 American military personnel assigned to there, some 17,000 - approximately 60 percent - are Marines. Reduction of those numbers would facilitate a general reduction and realignment of the military bases as a whole, minimizing the number of crimes and accidents, lessening the destruction of the environment and lightening Okinawans' trials.

No provision of either the U.S.- Japan Security Treaty or the Status of Forces Agreement requires American military bases to be on the island. Okinawans feel that if the American and Japanese governments believe the U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty is important to both nations, all Japanese should share Okinawa's current burden more or less equally. The Okinawa Prefectural Government isn't calling for abrogation of the U.S. - Japan Security Treaty: only asking that base-related problems be resolved in order to protect Okinawan lives and property.

Prospects for A Peace Economy

But what of the supposedly irreplaceable revenues from the bases? In 1995, they included $500 million from land leased to them, $400 million from local civilian employment on them, and another $400 million from direct consumption by military personnel and their dependents: a total annual revenue of $1.3 billion. However, that figure testifies to a sharp drop to five percent of the gross prefectural product from 16 percent in 1972. Clearly, base revenues effect Okinawa's economy less significantly than before, especially since the bases now employ only 8,200 local citizens, down from 40,000 earlier. Okinawans are no longer highly dependent on the American military presence for employment.

By contrast, tourist earnings have steadily increased, from $260 million in 1972 to ten times that, or some $2.8 billion in 1997. The tourist industry - currently producing revenues double those generated from the bases, and growing - is the economy's primary pillar in Okinawa Prefecture.

Other aspects of the prefectural economy are relevant. The per capita income of $16,952 - 71.2 percent of the average on the mainland - is the lowest in Japan. The unemployment rate of 6 percent is double the mainland's, and much more disturbing because it rises to 13.6 percent among the younger generation. Reducing unemployment, which goes hand-in-glove with promoting Okinawan industry and other aspects of the economy, requires immediate action.

To address those problems, Okinawa Prefecture devised the "Cosmopolitan City Formation Concept," a grand design rooted in commitment to peace, co-existence and self-reliance. Re-establishing Okinawa as a peaceful, dynamic and rich region, the concept provides for promoting the economy in ways that will give our people a solid foundation for their livelihood in the 21st century. Okinawa has sought to work with the central government to implement - worldwide recognition as a core information and communication center, using the most modern multi-media techniques, new international industrial centers, and a Naha Airport transformed into a major international hub. 

Okinawans also want to use our tradition of peace and openness to all to transform our birthplace from a military "Keystone of the Pacific" into an island of peace and natural beauty for bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. To demonstrate our faith in international harmony, we erected a "Cornerstone of Peace" in 1995, marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The memorial monument bears the engraved names of all who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, including 14,005 American servicemen. We hope it will help secure global peace by passing on our hard lessons about the horrors of war to all the world's peoples.

Let me conclude by stating that Washington and Tokyo, which regard Okinawa as a strategic asset for enhancing their military security, lose sight of 1.2 million people who call it home. Simply stated, that's my point. Real people with real families live on the "strategic" islands, which have long shouldered more than their share of the hardships of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. That injustice must be remedied soon. After 52 years of enforced coexistence with the gigantic military bases, the Okinawan people feel entitled to a dividend of peace.

With the permission of the author, this article has been reproduced by the JPW Editorial Committee from OTA Masahide: Essays on Okinawa Problems, 2000, Yui Shuppan Co., Okinawa.