WASHINGTON – The U.S. military in 1947 banned the construction of buildings in a zone near an airfield in Okinawa, citing the risk of aircraft accidents, but directed local residents to live in the area during its occupation of the prefecture through 1972, declassified U.S. documents showed Thursday.
The documents are rare evidence that the U.S. military, which built what is now U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in 1945 after landing on Okinawa in the final stages of World War II, apparently used a double standard about the safety of the facility and recognized the risk of accident from the use of the airfield long before Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 to move it from a densely populated residential area to a coastal zone in the prefecture.
Hirofumi Hayashi, an expert on modern Japanese history at Kanto Gakuin University, and Fumihiko Shimizu, a historian working for the government of Onna in Okinawa, made their research findings available to Kyodo News.
The U.S. Army’s air division, a predecessor of the present Air Force, said “no construction can be located” in a zone north of the Futenma base in an Aug. 5, 1947, document.
The zone in question, measuring 3.2 km in length and 450 meters in width, was beneath the north approach of the airfield. “The danger of crashes outside this zone is not probable,” the army said in an Aug. 7, 1947, document.
During the U.S. Occupation, local residents were directed to live in locations near the airfield, including a part of the zone. Okinawa returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1972 and the zone is currently dotted with many houses and other buildings.
The documents were compiled when the U.S. Army considered building new barracks and other facilities as part of an expansion plan of a camp near the Futenma airfield, which was not in use at that time.
The Army’s Ryukyus Command said on June 11, 1947, in a document addressed to superior command in the Philippines that if the Futenma base was reopened, it would affect a plan to build a hospital, officers’ club and housing units.
“It will be necessary to relocate these facilities because of the dangers and disturbing noises which would affect them within the approach lane of an active Fute(n)ma airfield,” it said.
Hayashi called for the immediate closure of the Futenma base, saying, “Areas that the U.S. military regarded as dangerous have been returned to Japan. There is no change in the danger of Futenma from the past.”
The planned Futenma relocation within Okinawa remains contentious, with many locals including candidates for a gubernatorial election next month opposed to it as they want the base moved out of the prefecture. Okinawa already hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
The Japanese government is now engaged in a preparatory work to replace the Futenma base in line with an agreement with the U.S. government.