by Jeffery Kyle
Okinawa is a small island to the south of Japan inhabited by a peaceful group of people. However, their calm island lifestyle has been repeatedly disrupted by unwanted incidences.
Throughout the Pacific War, Okinawa was the scene for some of the bloodiest moments. Around 300,000 populated the island at that time and after many hard fought battles, up to ⅓ of the people were killed.
When the war came to an end, U.S. soldiers occupied all Japanese military facilities. The U.S. maintained their occupation until 1972. Afterwards, the control of the island was passed back to Japan with an agreement that U.S. Military would remain. Today, over 50,000 U.S. personnel are stationed across Japan with more than half in Okinawa.
Some of the Japanese people have accepted the U.S. influence and have even acknowledged gratitude for the protection they provide. However, a series of disturbing events to the Okinawan people has generated a very distressing relationship.
In 1995 there was an incident involving the abduction and rape of a 12-year old girl by three U.S. servicemen. This resulted in protests for the removal of all U.S. presence on the island. The Okinawa Governor, Takeshi Onaga, commented at a rally for not being able to protect the local woman.
“We had pledged never to repeat such an incident,” he said. “I couldn’t change the political system to prevent that. That is my utmost regret as a politician and as governor of Okinawa.”
Then, in 2008 another rape incident by a 38 year old marine to a 14 year-old girl. This sparked even more protests and led to greater restrictions for all U.S. personnel going off base.
However, even with the enforcement of a curfew and drinking bans on all U.S. personnel, this has not provided a complete solution. In 2013 two U.S. personnel were found guilty raping and robbing a 20 year old girl in a parking lot. And, most recently there was an incident in July 2016 with 20-year old girl being raped and murdered.
This ignited some of the fiercest protests during the summer with great advocacy for the removal of U.S. presence in Okinawa. Over 65 000 people attended this protest with signs demanding that U.S. leave their home. Unfortunately, the U.S. persists that their presence is of vital strategic value.
And, in a response to try and restore relations, the U.S. has proposed to relocate a bulk of their personnel to a less populated south easterly island. While this hasn’t happened yet, there is ongoing debate to find a remedy for all the damage caused to the local people of Okinawa. Although such efforts are being made to try and restore relations, ongoing incidents like these keep wounds wide upon for a people from a painful past.