Okinawa’s Resistance Reaches a New Height on Falsification of History and U.S. Bases
by Yui Akiko
In 2007, two major issues were the key focus of Okinawa’s struggle against the coercive measures of the Japanese government. It was a year when people of various philosophies, principles, and positions set aside their differences to unite in an “island-wide protest” that takes hold of Okinawa every 10-15 years, in which people come together to raise their voices in protest against those in power: formerly, the U.S. military occupation authorities, but presently, since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, the U.S. and Japanese governments. The Japanese government’s response to Okinawa’s protests has been a repeated pattern of rewards and punishments; and the struggle promises to continue in 2008.
2007 was also a year marking the 35th anniversary of the end to 27 years of U.S. military rule in Okinawa, the year when the prefecture was reverted to the Japanese government on May 15, 1972. In the context of the worldwide reorganization of U.S. military deployment Okinawa, long ago dubbed “the keystone of the Pacific,” has been chosen as a stronghold, which means that the bases here are being enhanced and expanded against the will of the local residents. This year’s events were a warning to local residents that they must expand and enhance their resistance as well.
One of the major issues in 2007 concerned U.S. military bases. After the U.S. and Japanese governments jointly agreed in 2006 to a redeployment of the U.S. military forces on Japanese soil, the U.S. government has been consolidating its bases and making plans for the integration of Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) into the U.S. military, thereby putting into gear the U.S.’s global strategy backed by the U.S.-Japan military alliance.
Plans for the relocation of the Futenma U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, which is located in the middle of a dense residential area in Ginowan City in the center of Okinawa’s main island, to a new location further north on the eastern shores of Nago City, in Henoko, have been in a deadlock since 1999. The original plan for an offshore base was replaced in 2006 by a plan for an airstrip along the coast at U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab, which is located slightly south of Henoko. When Nago City and its surrounding villages were forced to comply with the Japanese government, unexpected tensions developed between their side and the Okinawa prefectural government, preventing matters from proceeding as planned.
The second major issue was the Japanese government’s and the right wing coalition’s falsification of middle and high school history textbooks regarding the Japanese Imperial Army’s coercion of Okinawa civilians into committing “mass suicide” during the last days of the Battle of Okinawa. Such textbook manipulation and other efforts by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by then Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, such as his vision for what he calls a “beautiful Japan,” and his call to “move beyond the postwar regime,” are an attempt to reverse the wheels of history, and have since become the target of a counter-attack by the Okinawan people. It all began when, during the government censorship process for the middle and high school textbooks to be used from the 2008 school year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) ordered a textbook publisher to revise a passage that described the “mass suicides” of Okinawa residents during the Battle of Okinawa as having been conducted under coercion by the Japanese military. When these textual revisions took place, Okinawa residents raised their voices in protest.
The Henoko Struggle
During the fall of 2005, the Japanese government forced Nago City and three surrounding towns to agree to plans for the relocation of the U.S. Marines Corps’ Futenma Air Station, which would entail the construction of a V-shaped runway for takeoff and landing over Oura Bay and Henoko Bay from inside the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab. However, Nago City proposed a change in the plan, pushing the runway 400 meters further offshore, in an effort to reduce disturbances to surrounding residents from plane lift-offs and in order to reduce the potential for accidents.
Futenma Air Base’s Henoko relocation was linked with four other issues: (1) the return of bases located south of Kadena Air Base, in the southern half of Okinawa’s main island; (2) the transfer of 8,000 U.S. Marines to Guam to coincide with the integration of northern area bases; (3) the partial transfer of Kadena base’s functions to the Japanese mainland; and (4) the joint use of bases by SDF and U.S. troops. This was all part of the June 29, 2006 Washington agreement between Former Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi and U.S. President George Bush, called The Japan-US. Relationship: A Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century, which became the road map for the consolidation of bases in Okinawa.
Former Okinawa Governor, Inamine Keiichi, had approved plans to build the base off the shores of Henoko back in 1999, but he did not approve the subsequent coastal V-shaped runway plan. Since the scenario for an off-shore base, which he had been pushing for had by then already failed, Inamine called for the base to be transferred outside Okinawa Prefecture entirely, and held this position until the end of his term. In the November 9, 2006 gubernatorial elections, Nakaitna Hirokazu became Inamine’s successor, beating out Upper House member Itokazu Keiko, whose campaign ran on firm opposition to base relocation within the prefecture.
Nakaima is an old MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry, now Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry) bureaucrat and an Okinawa business elite. Although he was the brains of the former Inamine administration, owing to his professional past and his rank, he has voiced criticism of Inamine’s position, saying that it was not a good idea to “create discord” with the Tokyo government. In the elections, however, he had promised to oppose the government’s acceleration of “the V-shaped plan as it stands now.” His promise, however, was a tactical one, in careful consideration of the facts that: (1) the majority of Okinawa residents were still against the construction of a new base at Henoko; and (2) local municipalities and the business community in Henoko and the surrounding areas were calling for one runway of the V-shaped plan to be pushed further offshore on reclaimed land. As an expert of the business world, his biggest campaign issues were: (1) unemployment, which was hitting nation-wide highs; (2) how to use bases returned to Okinawa from U.S. control; and (3) an economic revitalization based on rejuvenating the tourism industry.
The Japanese government welcomed Nakaima’s election as governor as it was expected that he would “take a realistic route while at the same time safeguarding Okinawa’s future one step at a time” in the U.S. military restructuring. Meanwhile, Nakaima himself claimed to be against the “top-down forced approval” of the Japanese government of U.S. military base realignment in Okinawa, and promised to “close operations inside Futenma Air Station within three years.” Within months, however, he was ready to begin negotiations with the government.
Yet problems erupted once the slipshod strategy of the Abe Shinzo administration and the hawks who stood behind him became apparent, and the Nakaima administration began to take a stance similar to Inmine’s old position, incurring the frustrations of the government.
Cabinet negotiations on U.S. military redeployment in Okinawa had thus far proceeded forward as part of an economic revival strategy under the command of Chief Cabinet Secretary, but have since been transferred to the Defense Agency (elevated to Defense Ministry since April 2007). The Cabinet Office’s Okinawa Minister had taken a strategy of conciliation, with Koike Yuriko, Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, leading a nation-wide campaign pushing Kariyushi summer wear (the Okinawa equivalent of the Hawaiian shirt) as part of an energy reducing campaign called “Cool-Biz.” Also, medical officers from the (former ) Defense Agency were dispatched to provide support to Nago City obstetricians, though only for several months. These were the cabinet’s finagling ways to pander to the minds of the Okinawan people.
On the other hand, the Defense Ministry took a hard-line stance, refusing to deal with Nago City or the prefecture, maintaining its position not to push the V-shaped runway further offshore,. This hardened the Nakaima administration. The Defense Ministry’s strategy is to shut down talks, hoping to force Nakaima’s concession to the Henoko base construction by having Okinawa residents eventually give up on the matter.
The Japanese Government Pushes the Military Base Construction
On April 24, 2007, the contractors for construction of the Futenma base relocation, the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau (now the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, since the Defense Agency’s promotion to Ministry), ignoring the assessment process which is set by Japan’s Environmental Impact Assessment Law (EIAL), began procedures for its “preliminary survey” of the offshore waters. Experts on the EIAL such as Okinawa University President Sakurai Kunitoshi and others indicate that the survey is illegal. Governor Nakaima, who holds the rights to the use of offshore waters, recognized the Defense Agency’s use of the waters as “a public asset,” but has deferred responding to documents describing the methods of the survey. Without negotiating on the offshore plan that Okinawa has been calling for, Okinawa is choosing to reject the government’s steamrolling of the one-sided survey operations. The Committee on Futenma Relocation, composed of representatives of the Government, the prefecture, and local governments, stopped convening meetings, and the situation reached a standstill as the new Fukuda Cabinet took over following Prime Minister Abe’s political demise.
In response to the Okinawa Defense Agency’s “preliminary surveys,” the residents have taken out their boats and kayaks into the waters to steadfastly monitor the government’s actions. In turn, the Defense Ministry dispatched the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s minesweeper ship Bungo into Okinawa waters, also deploying SDF Marine divers to conduct surveys from the ship that kept out of sight of monitors. The government’s actions were taken up in the Diet for having evaded the watch of the Japanese Coast Guard, antagonized the peaceful resistance movements of the residents, and possibly being in conflict with SDF laws. But the Defense Ministry has continued its boastful talk about action being nothing more than “routine support between government agencies and ministries.” Even more infuriating is their voicing “the fear that the opposition movement’s actions will impede diver surveys with violence,” which has invited the indignation of Okinawa residents. Nakaima has also made public his anger at not receiving prior notice about the government’s actions,
Whole Island Stands Up against the Government’s History Textbook Revision
During this period, the influence of the right wing in the Abe administration revealed itself via the surfacing of the textbook controversy. This, coupled with the national pension debacle, caused Okinawa residents’ distrust of the government to grow deeper.
In the special elections held on May 22, 2007, the LDP- and Komeito-backed female candidate was elected, and Itokazu Keiko’s opposition party seat was taken by the ruling party while she ran in the gubernatorial elections. The tide changed, however, in the July 29 Upper House elections, when Itokazu won in the Okinawa election district in a landslide victory, beating the LDP incumbent by the greatest number of votes in the history of national or prefectural elections: 127,000 votes. She won 60.17 percent of the vote.
In the proportional representation bloc, former Yomitan mayor, prefectural treasurer, and representative for the Citizens’ Committee Against Base Relocation, Yamauchi Tokushin, was elected on the Social Democratic Party (SPD) list, protecting former Governor Ota Masahide (also SPD)’s opposition party bloc seat after his voluntary retirement. As a result, the Upper House seats for Okinawa totaled three for the opposition party bloc and one for the ruling party bloc, giving the opposition party the upper hand. Governor Nakaima, who had endorsed the ruling party’s candidate, Nishime Junshiro, in the Upper House elections, conceded that “with the continued eruptions of U.S. military incidents and the problems of textbook revision, the government is trying the patience of Okinawa residents.”
Exactly two months later on September 29, a mass prefecture-wide “Rally for the Withdrawal of the Textbook Inspection Revision” was held in Ginowan City Seaside Park. This was the same location where 85,000 people from various walks of life came together in anger over the 1995 rape incident of a 12-year-old girl by U.S. soldiers. Protesting against both the American and Japanese governments, they called for the downsizing of bases at the Okinawa Prefectural People’s Rally. The rage of the Okinawan residents did not fail to shake up both governments.
The number of people who gathered for the 2007 September 29 rally surpassed even that historic 1995 rally. Spilling out of the spacious site, they came in droves, one after another “as if like a tsunami,” some surprised observers said. Present were all members of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, the governor, the chief executives of all cities, towns and villages throughout the prefecture, and local Assembly representatives. There were people from all walks of life: children, women, youth, middle and high school students, representatives from the chamber of commerce, and from labor unions, all, that is, except economic interest groups. Participants to the rally came with organizations, with their children, and with their entire families. The Head of the Rally Committee, and also Chair of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, Nakazato Toshinobu, totaled the number of participants at 110,000. Despite the tremendous number of people there, the atmosphere was one of utter stillness as the audience listened intently, while the people at the podium spoke about their experiences in the Battle of Okinawa and denounced the MEXT’s manipulation of history.
The whole affair started on March 30, when the media reported that the MEXT’s text-book inspections officials had rejected a passage in history textbooks to be used in the 2008 school year, which described the “mass suicides” of Okinawa civilians as a response to orders from the Japanese military. The inspectors returned the textbooks to the publishers, demanding a revision of the passage. For several years now, Fujioka Nobukatsu, a leader of various right wing organizations such as the Neoliberalism Study Group, and the president of Atarashii kyokasho o tsukuru kai (the revisionist group whose aim is to make new history textbooks) has focused particular attention on the issue of how “mass suicide” is worded in textbooks. This faction is trying to rewrite postwar Japanese history in terms of emperor ideology, attacking textbook descriptions of the Nanking Massacre and the Japanese military’s use of “comfort women.” They have been in part successful in erasing, or at the very least in rendering less visible, Japan’s guilt for starting a war of aggression. And this time, it is Okinawa to which they have turned their attention.
The “mass suicides” refer to the scenes witnessed by U.S. military forces on March 26 and 27, 1945, when they landed on the Kerama Atoll, west of Naha, before landing on Okinawa’s main island. On the islands of Zamami, Tokashiki, Geruma, the troops encountered the gruesome sight of women and children civilians killing one another with hand grenades, swords, and sticks, even strangling each other with string. This news was reported back to the United States by the journalists who moved with the US troops, and spread widely. The harshest fighting took place on Okinawa’s main island, but it is the “mass suicides” that occurred on the outer islands of Tokashiki and Zamami that have become the most well-known cases of all the notes and records that have been written about these events.
The term “mass suicides” was coined only after the war; and in fact, it was the Ministry of Education that ordered the expression to be included in textbooks. Back in 1981, textbook inspectors took issue with sections that described cases of Japanese military forcing Okinawans out of bomb shelters and subjecting them to enemy fire, as well as to the description of the Japanese military’s massacre of civilians who were suspected to be spies. The Ministry’s textbook inspectors claimed that “the cases of ’mass suicides’ were more numerous and therefore should be included.” The inspectors wanted to present these group suicides as praiseworthy, by depicting the people as having “willingly sacrificed themselves in order not to become a burden to the soldiers.”
Historian Ienaga Saburo, the author of the 1983 history textbook, took the state to court over the revisions, asserting that the textbook inspection system was unconstitutional. In Okinawa meanwhile, heated movements were taking place that were calling for the textbooks to include an accurate description of the massacres of Okinawans in order to convey the truth of the war as it deteriorated on civilian soil. They pointed out the dangers in glorifying the suicides as praiseworthy acts. The debate deepened, and the consensus now among historians of modern Okinavvan history is that the “mass suicides” were carried out under military coercion, for the orders to the Japanese military which forbade surrender or being taken captive were understood to apply to civilians as well.
The authors of the textbooks have written about these “mass suicides” based on years of data collection and interviews, and on their close analysis and research. These accounts were being revised before our very eyes by the MEXT, under the Abe administration. The Inspection Committee, composed of MEXT hired experts, gave these reasons for their demand for revision:
(1) Documents that attest to both scenarios exist, proving neither the presence nor the absence of military orders.
(2) The former military commanders who headed the Japanese military in Tokashiki and Zamami have filed lawsuits demanding compensation for damages for being vilified as perpetrating the deaths of innocent civilians.
(3) Recent studies are shifting focus away from the issue of the presence or absence of military orders, but to the psychological state of the civilians.
In August 2005, at Fujioka’s urging, the surviving former military commander at Zamami Island and the family of the now deceased Tokashiki Island military commander filed a lawsuit with the Osaka District Court against Nobel laureate author Oe Kenzaburo, whose writings have dealt with the Tokashiki and Zamami “mass suicides,” as well as against the books’ publisher, Iwanami Shoten. Although the court case takes the form of a libel suit seeking the restoration of their names, since their principal claim is that “no military command was given,” it is clear that the claimants’ larger point is to erase the actions of a military that protected the emperor and the state, but not the people. Fujioka and his people have argued that these accounts of “coerced ’mass suicide? at Tokashiki and Zamami are a scheme employed by those who seek to receive a special pension from the state, for which one must show proof that one was a “war cooperator” under military orders. He has spearheaded a movement, called the Okinawa Project to expel the subject from the textbooks, and has organized study groups for teachers centered mainly in the Tokyo area. He has also gone to Tokashiki to dig out testimony that “there were no such orders from the military” Meanwhile, Japan’s right-wing politicians released an ad in the United States denying the Japanese military’s participation in coercing women to become military sex slaves, or so-called “comfort women,” which drew intense criticism from the U.S. House of Representative International Relations Committee, led by a Japanese-American Congressman. That these moves occurred about the same time, reveals that they were all part of the same scheme.
The media in Okinawa were the first to report on the right wing’s targeting of the “mass suicide” issue. The response to this was the formation in 2006 of Susumeru kai (the Society against the falsification of the history of the Battle of Okinawa, and to spread Peace Education from Okinawa), composed of educational organizations such as high school teachers’ unions, peace groups, and human rights groups. Not much time was needed before Okinawans came together in anger at the MEXT’s revision order. In a rally called by the Susumeru kai, the municipal assemblies voted one after another to demand the withdrawal of the revision order, along with a replacement of the original wording on the military’s coercion and participation. Before long, all 41 municipalities had resolved similarly Although resolutions took more time in areas where the LDP held the majority, the fact that the Chairman of the Assembly was himself a war orphan united the people under a common purpose. Furthermore, at the non-responsive stance able Ministry and the government to the Assembly Representative’s demands, the Prefectural Assembly twice resolved to appeal for a withdrawal of the revision order. Although Governor Nakaima at first held back from participating in the prefectural rally, the voices united in anger against the MEXT moved him, and in the end he did make a speech at the September 29 rally criticizing the Ministry’s position.
At the rally, survivors began to recount their memories of being ordered to commit “mass suicide,” memories so difficult that they had suppressed for more than half a century. But they began narrating their stories from their own lips, at this last opportunity. It is the grandchildren who listen to these experiences, and in this way, the memories of war are passed on to the next generation. Attendees learned that many of the people around them had similarly suffered inhumane experiences but had remained silent, and were surprised to learn of famous figures who were war orphans. The reason such bi-partisan action became possible was that Okinawans sensed behind the textbook revisions the danger of Prime Minister Abe’s vision of a “beautiful country” and of “moving beyond the postwar regime.” Furthermore, they sensed the perils looming behind the historical refutation of Japan’s invasion into China, a return to tradition and an emperor state, as well as imposed patriotism in the schools. Raising a generation of young people willing to die for their country, and making Japan a country able to fight war, requires the erasure and cover-up of the ugly chapters of the nation’s history.
“Do not glorify the ugliness of that war,” and “We want to know the truth, and learn from it, even if it is ugly” were the messages that the male and female high school representatives gave at the rally: these are words for all residents of Okinawa and beyond. The joint resolutions of the more than 110,000 attendees at the rally included these demands: (1) the withdrawal of the revision order; (2) the inclusion of a description in textbooks on the truth of “mass suicides,” which were not possible without the order, demand, and guidance of the Japanese military; and (3) the use of these descriptions in education about peace. Yet, despite the fact that the Fukuda Cabinet has taken somewhat of a more flexible stance following Abe, the MEXT still has not approved the inclusion of the overt description of the presence of military orders to commit “mass suicide” or its coercion by the military.
Okinawa’s assertions go beyond merely the issue of history textbooks; they challenge the awareness of the Japanese government and its people toward its history. This struggle promises to continue for many years to come.
Okinawans’ Battle Continues
During the time that this huge island-wide protest has been taking place, the redeployment of U.S. military forces continues to progress steadily forward. While combat planes have been removed from Kadena Air Station and transferred to U.S. and SDF bases in Kyushu and other areas of mainland Japan, the Patriot Interceptor Missile (PAC-3) has been deployed in their place. The missiles were transported by 30 large trucks, which moved down National Highway Route 58 to Kadena. Six hundred U.S. marines from Iwakuni Marine Corps Base and 30 F-18 fighter jets will also arrive to conduct joint “readiness training” with the personnel at Kadena Air Station. For the local community, this means early morning air traffic of oversized planes bound for the U.S., and thousands of shots fired from the water reservoir training ground located in the north. Marine Corps training is encroaching into the lives of residential areas, and the accidents and incidents will not cease.
Also proceeding at an alarming rate is the building of bases and the infiltration of the SDF into Yaeyama and Miyako Islands. In June of this year, two mine sweepers operating out of Sasebo naval base pulled into Port Sonai at Yonaguni in the Yaeyama Islands, the westernmost point of Japan, via the White Beach Naval Facility in Uruma City. This is the first time a military vessel has called at a civilian port since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. Yonaguni town mayor Hokama Moriyoshi, union members, and residents, protested. Governor Nakaima also joined in voicing protest, but as often happens, the local Chamber of Commerce welcomed the chance to reinvigorate the area’s shopping district and the residents became divided. In the Miyako Islands, citizen’s voices have been raised against the U.S. military and the SDF setting their sights on the private training facility on Shimoji Island, hoping to use it as a supply base. Meanwhile further up north in Kincho city, where Camp Hansen is located, residents had protested against the SDF and U.S. military joint training and construction of a firing range, but these protests have been quelled by the threat of cancellation of special U.S. military restructuring grants that the city had been promised.
And finally, there is still the on-going issue of the construction of a new base at Camp Schwab in Henoko, and of a helipad to accompany the partial return of training facilities in the north. The Defense Agency has continually rejected Nago City’s and the prefecture’s demands to move the V-shaped runway further off shore, claiming environmental concerns. In order to build the offshore base in the Henoko waters, the (then) Defense Facility wasted 6.4 billion yen to lay the grounds for the preliminary surveys, but in the end, the plans became obsolete before any construction began. Since then, cameras have captured sightings of dugongs in Oura Bay and the surrounding waters. The Defense Ministry had turned a deaf ear to the repeated assertions of experts regarding the area’s importance as a habitat for the dugong, but now they are changing their tune and touting environmental concerns in order to assert the correctness of the coastal plan previously agreed upon with the United States.
A court case has been brought in the U.S. against the U.S. Defense Department by the Dugong Network, the Dugong Foundation, and other conservation watchdog groups formed through the local resistance movement in Henoko. The results of the case concern the Japanese Defense Ministry, too: not only in considering its relations with the U.S., but because the court case will reveal materials and documents provided by the U.S. side detailing the jets that are to be deployed to Henoko base, and construction plans for the new base, which may uncover the government’s falsehoods.
The man who held the most influence in the Defense Ministry for four years under the Koizumi and Abe administrations was Deputy Defense Minister Moriya Takemasa, who has since been arrested on suspicion of taking bribes. It was under his command that the hard-line approach toward Okinawa was taken, but since Prime Minister Abe’s downfall the Fukuda Cabinet has opted for a new strategy in the Okinawa base issue, transferring leadership from the Defense Ministry to the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and also resurrecting the Committee on Futenma Relocation. In turn, Mayor Nakaima has finally accepted the documents on the Camp Schwab area preliminary surveys to be conducted by the Defense Agency, which he had been rejecting until recently. Also, consultations with the prefecture’s board of review on the environmental impact have begun.
The deadline for submitting the Governor’s opinion was December 21. The board of re- view had sent the Okinawa Defense Agency a 35-page inquiry with 76 questions requesting further information on the surveys. On December 17, after seven rounds of hearings, they concluded that “necessary items are not sufficiently described, making it impossible to make a ruling.” Asserting the inadequacy of the document’s contents, they demanded a redrafting of the documents to be submitted to the Governor. In their report, the board stated concerns that the surveys being presently performed will affect the coral reef and the dugong, citing the need for a more thorough consideration of the survey methods.
The Ministry of Defense is poised to conduct the Assessment tests in February of 2008, but we must watch carefully to see whether Governor Nakaima will respond with a report reflecting the board of review’s opinion.
(Translated by Endo Mika)
Yui Akiko: Born in Naha City in 1933. In 1951, came to Tokyo using a passport issued by the U.S. military authorities. In 1955, began working for the Okinawa Times. In 1990, moved back to Okinawa after 30years to work in the head office. Reported on changes in Okinawa and women’s activities. Was a chief editor and editorialist from 1991 to 1992. In 1997, retired and became a freelance writer. From 1997 to 2002, acted as chair of the Unai Festival organizing committee. From 2003 to the present, has acted as joint representative of the Okinawa Network on the Hansen Disease Problem.JAPONESIA REVIEW, No.4, 2007-08