MASAHIDE OTA Former governor of Okinawa Prefecture
In Okinawa Prefecture, June 23 is Memorial Day for the War Victims. On that day, all public offices are closed and a great many Okinawans gather before the graves of family members and friends or memorial towers to remember those who perished in the Battle of Okinawa and to pray for their restful sleep.
Every year on this day, the prefectural government holds a commemorative ceremony on Mabuni Hill, the site of the last large-scale and fierce fighting in the Battle of Okinawa. It invites some 5,000 guests both from within and outside the prefecture to take part.
This year, the service was attended not only by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori but also by Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, chief of the U.S. forces stationed in Okinawa, who appeared at the event in uniform.
Given the fact that residents near U.S. military facilities in the prefecture are plagued by base-related problems night and day due to the excessive burden of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, it is unclear what thoughts ran through the U.S. commander’s mind and why he attended.
If he had come to pay sincere condolences to the war victims, soldiers and nonsoldiers, should he not at least have refrained from coming in military attire? Even more unclear is why the prefectural government — for the first time ever — formally invited him to attend the service.
Okinawa’s Memorial Day is a day on which the prefecture’s citizens ponder the meaning of the deaths of some 237,700 people who perished during the Battle of Okinawa, including enemy soldiers, and seriously think about the future of Okinawa and humanity as a whole. It is a day on which we reaffirm the fact that the peace we enjoy today is literally something “bought with blood.”
This blood is not only that of Japan’s 3.1 million war-dead, including the Okinawan victims, who numbered roughly one-third of the prefecture’s population, and the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also that of the tens of millions who died worldwide.
At the same time, June 23 is also a day on which we look back upon humankind’s past misdeeds and strongly vow never again to take up arms against one another.
It is for this very purpose that the Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) monument was built on Mabuni Hill during my term as governor.
Why did we want to leave for posterity a monument which has carved on it the names of all those fallen in the Battle of Okinawa — regardless whether they be friend or foe, soldiers or nonsoldiers?
This was so that we would admonish ourselves, be sure to lend an ear to the voices of the dead and look squarely at the stark fact that war leaves the bereaved family and friends with irreparable scars and unfathomable sorrow for as long as they live, no matter whether they are victor or loser.
Thus, if the governments of Japan and the U.S. and top officials of the U.S. armed forces in Okinawa think that in the name of securing “peace and security” in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, they can reaffirm the importance of the bases in Okinawa and praise the U.S. presence as a “deterrent” in front of the Heiwa no Ishiji monument, I can only say that such an act not only desecrates the dead, but also runs counter to the spirit of the monument, which Okinawans erected with the hope and prayer for peace.
With the Group of Eight summit meeting starting tomorrow, it seems Okinawa is wavering.
The G8 summit is a place where the top leaders of the world’s eight leading countries gather to discuss a wide range of subjects from issues of common interest to a global agenda.
However, from around the time it was formally decided that the event would be held in Okinawa, the central government began to conspicuously disseminate news such as its intention to allocate 10 billion yen every year for a total of 100 billion yen over 10 years in the name of boosting the economy of the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.
Of course, there is no objection to improving the economic standing of the northern area. But from around the time this announcement was made, the feeling swiftly spread among Okinawans that the holding of the G8 summit in the prefecture was in fact an “exchange” for having the northern part of the island accept a new facility to take over the functions of U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station.
This is not surprising. For right around the time the site of the summit was decided, both Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto, on separate occasions, indicated that Futenma’s operations would be relocated to a littoral area of Camp Schwab in the Henoko area of Nago.
It was the first time in Okinawa’s history that the head of any municipal government volunteered a site for a U.S. base. As a result, it only served to deepen suspicions among Okinawans that the decision to move Futenma’s functions to Nago was the result of a “give-and-take deal.”
Okinawa not only has 50 inhabited islands, but the main island itself has three distinct zones — the northern, central and southern areas.
Because of this, while I and my predecessors were governor, we believed that Okinawa’s development would be impossible without the upgrading of life on the more remote islands. Special consideration was given to development in the agriculture, marine and livestock industries in the remote islands, while efforts were made at the same time to strike a balance in the development of the northern, central and southern areas of the main island by utilizing their respective strengths. The overall purpose of this policy was to secure “well-balanced development” of the whole prefecture.
But the development assistance being offered in connection with the G8 summit is, as anyone can see, excessively tilted toward the northern area. Even if the fact that the summit is to be held in the north of the main island is accepted as a given fact, this imbalance still draws grumbles from residents of other areas of the prefecture.
Furthermore, it has led most Okinawans to believe that the summit and the issue of transferring U.S. bases are literally linked and inseparable.
Because such lopsided policies were pursued so blatantly, political leaders all the more seem to have chosen to speak to the Okinawans’ “breadbaskets,” as if to buy out their souls with money, rather than treat their feelings and aspirations with respect.
As a result, criticism is mounting almost daily. I believe it certain that once the summit is over, the Futenma issue will inevitably take center stage, this time intertwined with even more complex matters such as what construction method should be used for the new facility and how large and costly it will be.
The summit itself is just a two- or three-day passing event, but the base issue is one that will determine whether Okinawans will have a happy life or an unhappy life in the 21st century.
Recently, Japan’s legislature has taken such steps as drawing up new guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation, enacting a wire-tapping law, revising the Basic Residents’ Registers Law, which would lead to numbering of every resident in Japan for the sake of administrative control, and enacting a law to formally recognize the Hinomaru as the national flag and Kimigayo as the national anthem. In addition, panels have been set up in both chambers of the Diet to study the Constitution — a move that would lead to the supreme code’s revision.
As a result, concerns are mounting among the public that Japan is veering swiftly toward the right.
Under such circumstances, I feel there are too many issues of concern for the G8 summit being held in Okinawa. The present prefectural government’s voluntary invitation of a U.S. base, as well as the tampering of exhibits at the new Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and its annex in Yaeyama, which features the outbreak of malaria among the residents of the Yaeyama Islands during the Battle of Okinawa, are also being criticized by Okinawans as being along the same line as these other shifts to the right.
Because of this, there are moves among Okinawans to make the prefecture a true beacon of peace upon the occasion of the G8 summit.
So which way will the G8 summit in Okinawa be remembered, as an event that proved of great significance to the people of the prefecture, or as a meeting after which we all shake our heads and wonder for whom and what it was for?
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