Okinawa – Proud to Call it Home

The U.S. presence on Okinawa has been fraught with challenges since the U.S. invasion of the island near the end of World War II. The 82-day battle for Okinawa began April 1945 and called upon all U.S. services to take an island that would be the last territory the U.S. would return to Japan in 1972. Post-war recovery from the devastation went well. Agreements dating to 1960 give the U.S. rights to Japanese land and facilities. In return, the U.S. has promised to protect Japan.

But who would protect Okinawa from the Americans?

Okinawans have not been happy with U.S. presence (and with good reason), and tensions on the populous island have been high for some time. In 1996, the U.S. agreed to move some of its forces. In 2006 the ruling parties throughout Japan were swept out of office and with them much of the tolerance for the Americans.

That year, the U.S. finally moved 8,000 military personnel to the U.S. territory Guam. But the precious air base at Futema has remained another matter. The U.S. had planned to move the base to the less populous city of Nago, still on Okinawa.

But there is a new sheriff in Nago. Mayor Susumu Inamine ran on a platform opposing the new base. This has put Okinawa on a collision course with the 4-month-old government of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. On the larger stage, few seem worried that this latest battle for Okinawa will hurt U.S.-Japan strategic relations. While many Japanese want stronger ties with economic powerhouse China, revered elder statesman (and U.S. friend) Yasuhiro Nakasone warns of the looming threat posed by China.

Can the Japanese and Americans put their differences aside? The Marines are watching this closely. The Third Marine Expeditionary Force is the only such force in the Far East and calls Okinawa home. It needs the air assets a base like Marine Corps Air Station Futema affords to train and remain, well, expeditionary. Without Okinawa, can it remain, the “on-call force” it has been? Will III MEF be lookin’ for new digs? (We’re sure their homepage highlighting the Iwo Jima flag raising is a hit with locals.)

Okinawa is home to more the 75 percent of the U.S. forces in Japan. Once a cash cow, the American GI has lost its luster. The very dark but emotionally charged side to this story is a number of high-profile criminal incidents involving military member acts against locals – violent stuff, like rape and murder.

The U.S. forces can be blamed for wearing out their welcome. Should the U.S. look at Plan B, or continue to grovel?

Recent Posts