National

Battle of Okinawa anniversary marked with opposition to U.S. bases, anger over SOFA

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Okinawa on Thursday marked 71 years since the end of the Battle of Okinawa with opposition to a new U.S. facility and calls to fundamentally revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

In a solemn ceremony attended by Okinawan and U.S. officials and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga drew applause when he touched upon the recent murder of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro, allegedly at the hands of Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a civilian worker at Kadena Air Base.

Onaga highlighted the fact that Okinawa hosts nearly 74 percent of facilities exclusively used by the U.S. military in Japan.

“Due to the vast presence of U.S. bases, incidents and accidents have repeatedly occurred over many years. This time, an inhumane and evil act has created shock among Okinawans and people now feel uneasy and resentful,” Onaga said in his annual peace declaration.

“The problem of U.S. bases in Okinawa is a problem of Japan’s security treaty with the U.S., and the burden of the treaty’s structure is something that should be assumed by all Japanese,” the governor added.

Since Shimabukuro’s murder last month, calls have become stronger in Okinawa to fundamentally revise SOFA, which governs U.S. military personnel, their families, and U.S. civilian contract workers such as Shinzato.

Many feel a revised SOFA should grant Okinawan authorities more authority to investigate when someone covered by the agreement is suspected of a crime.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and Japanese governments said they would review and seek new measures and agreements under the current SOFA, but both sides have so far rejected the demands of many Okinawans for a more significant overhaul.

“Are democracy, human rights, equality and freedom, which are protected by the Constitution, also protecting Okinawan people, who are forced to live in the gap between the security treaty and SOFA?” Onaga asked, before calling on both the U.S. and Japan to fundamentally revise SOFA, shrink the number of U.S. bases, and reduce the number of U.S. Marines in Japan.

“And as to the relocation of the Futenma air base to Henoko, it does not have the understanding of the Okinawan people and the idea that Henoko is the sole solution is something that I cannot approve at all,” Onaga said.

Abe echoed Onaga’s comments about Shimabukuro’s murder, calling it an evil act, and saying he acknowledged the resentment it caused.

“The government has conveyed, including directly to the U.S. president, the strong shock and resentment of the Japanese people and, along with a strong protest, we have sought thorough measures to prevent it from happening again,” Abe said.

He also spoke only about the need to reduce the burden of the U.S. bases and did not directly mention either Futenma or Henoko.

This year, another 84 names were added to the Cornerstone of Peace in Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, where the final stage of the Battle of Okinawa took place in 1945. A total of 241,414 names of those who died are recorded there, including military and civilians from Japan and other nations.

More than 100,000 Okinawans and 80,000 Imperial Japanese soldiers died in the three-month battle, which also claimed the lives of 12,000 Americans.

Considered the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War, it led the U.S. to prepare for a long and costly invasion of Kyushu later that year.

But Japan surrendered after two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.