June 23 marks the 73rd anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, the only ground battle in Japan during World War II, which lasted for nearly three months. The battle claimed the lives of about 200,000 people, some 94,000 of whom were civilians. We must not forget that it was a bloody battle that took the lives of one in four Okinawa residents. Many were even forced by the Japanese military to take their own lives in large groups.
U.S. forces' postwar occupation of Okinawa was also extremely tough for island residents. Many were temporarily detained at U.S. internment camps. Numerous citizens were evicted from their land in order for the U.S. to build its many military installations across the island prefecture.
Generally, Japanese people regard the end of the war as a turning point in modern history. However, the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty in 1972 is the real milestone for the islands' residents. Separated from the mainland by the U.S. occupation, Okinawa did not get to reap the rewards of Japan's rapid economic growth from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. Even now, a wide income gap between people living on the Japanese mainland and those in Okinawa remains. Furthermore, 70 percent of the total land area exclusively used by U.S. military facilities in Japan lies in Okinawa Prefecture, though it accounts for only 0.6 percent of the country's total land area.
Professors from the University of the Ryukyus and others released the "Okinawa Initiative" in 2000, when the annual G-8 summit was held in the prefecture. The report proposed that if reduction and integration of U.S. bases in the prefecture steadily progressed, then Okinawa should play a certain role in Japan's security. Through such measures, the prefecture could then take advantage of the characteristics of the region to sustain its growth in a self-reliant way.
The report acknowledged the significance of the presence of U.S. bases in the prefecture. However, while it distanced itself from anti-U.S. base campaigns and a move for Okinawan independence from Japan, the report had a huge influence on subsequent conservative prefectural administrations.
The report acted as a proposal by Okinawa to narrow the gap between the Japanese mainland and its southernmost island prefecture. However, the national government has stubbornly stuck to its position to force Okinawa to accept the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture. The decision was made by Tokyo and Washington, completely disregarding the concerns of the people of Okinawa. It is in this manner that Japan has continued to sacrifice Okinawa in exchange for security guarantees for the whole country.
There is no doubt that those making their opinions known both online and off, who choose to turn their eyes away from the history that unfolded after the Battle of Okinawa and regard those opposed to the base relocations as the enemy, obviously originated from how the central government has chosen to handle the issue of the base relocation.
Mainland Japan's lack of understanding of the situation in Okinawa has built up prejudice against the island prefecture, and widened a gap in perception between the mainland and Okinawa as well. It is necessary to honestly examine Japan's history in order to break this vicious circle.