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ESSAY: From Yamato to The United States: Okinawa in Flux, by Shinako Oyakawa
Reprinting the essay that appears in the print edition of OKINAWA
Hello readers. Hopefully you’ve managed to track down a copy of Okinawa by Susumu Higa out there in the great wide world. We’ve seen some very happy folks with copies in hand, and we’re so happy and grateful for your support. It’s genuinely emotional to see something we’ve worked on for so long making its way to the general populace. Thank you.
Something a little bit different today, as we bring you a special essay about the contemporary status of Okinawa by Shinako Oyakawa. Oyakawa-san was kind enough to allow us to reprint their essay in the print edition of Okinawa, by Susumu Higa, to give additional context and insight into the situation of contemporary Okinawa, the military bases and occupation, and a history of colonization. Hopefully this essay offers additional insight into these important issues, to Higa-san’s manga stories, as well as the interview included in the book and reprinted here on Substack earlier this week. We’ve made this essay free for all readers here due to the importance of these issues and raising awareness of them. We hope you find it as interesting and important as we did.
Note from the Editors: Higa-sensei’s work brings to life the people of Okinawa, during the War and after. As we were working on bringing this edition together, we talked with him about how the struggles of Okinawa are thoroughly connected to the continuing struggles of other peoples subject to colonization and military violence around the world today. This essay, by Okinawan activist, writer, and academic Shinako Oyakawa, was suggested by Higa as a succinct and important statement on this topic, clearly resonant with his own work. We reprint it here, with her kind permission, in the hopes that it supports a deeper understanding of the geopolitical status of the Ryukyu islands.
From Yamato to The United States: Okinawa in Flux
By Shinako Oyakawa
IN MARCH 1945, when the United States military landed at Okinawa, they issued the Nimitz Proclamation and announced that all powers of Japan were suspended there. The bombardment of Okinawa was so intense, people referred to it as an “iron storm,” and the land battle so bloody that an American war correspondent described Okinawa as a “crucible of Hell.” The fighting was so fierce, in fact, that one out of every four Okinawans lost their lives. The Battle of Okinawa finally came to an official end a month after the receipt of the Potsdam Declaration, when the two armies formally signed the Japan Instrument of Surrender in September. This signified the end of the approximately seventy years of Yamato dominion, from the Ryukyu Disposition to the arrival of American authority.
At that time, the Okinawa Advisory Council — an investigative body of the American military — was established, women obtained suffrage, and the first post-war election took place. Initially, the U.S. asserted that Okinawa should be made a trusteeship to ensure peace in the Pacific region. However, in 1946, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur decided to separate the territory south of 30 degrees north latitude from Japan, and in 1947, having made the Humanity Declaration, the supposedly symbolic Emperor stated his desire for the continuation of the U.S. occupation of the Ryukyu Islands. He announced that the territory would be given to the U.S. on a long-term loan (25 to 50 years or more), with Japan maintaining sovereignty. Adopting a policy of semi-permanent use of Okinawa, the American government began to build military bases in earnest, and in 1952, the Treaty of San Francisco and the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan came into effect.
Before the Covid pandemic overtook the world, I had the opportunity to show some friends from Guam around the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, people who were active in researching and fighting for Guam’s independence, including a highranking official from Guam. Once that official had taken a thorough look at the Battle of Okinawa materials, she shook her head in front of the display on the state of U.S.-governed post-war Okinawa, and said in a quiet, but clear voice, “No, this is wrong. Ryukyu should be on the list of nonself-governing territories, just as Guam is. So why isn’t it? This is American arrogance and negligence, and this injustice should be corrected immediately.”
After we left the museum, my Guam friends kindly explained that the United Nations Charter, ratified by the U.S. in 1945, was an unprecedented tool for global society to recognize that colonized territories around the world should obviously be freed from colonization. The Treaty of San Francisco clearly stated that the U.S. was to place Okinawa under a United Nations trusteeship council, but in 1953, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles decided that America would maintain direct control over Okinawa. From 1957 until reversion in 1972, six high commissioners were appointed while the U.N. Charter was ignored. From the point of view of Guam, which had suffered similarly under colonization, it was surprising that Okinawa had been treated this way, and the feeling was that this must be rectified right away.
The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People of 1960 states, “Immediate steps shall be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, without any distinction as to race, creed or color, in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom.” It also defined three options for acceptable political statuses for the achievement of complete self-governance: free alliance with an independent nation; integration into an independent nation; or independence. Guam is currently on several lists of regions to which the declaration of granting independence applies, and they are studying and debating these three options, in preparation for a referendum to select one.
The year 2022 marked the fiftieth anniversary of reversion to the mainland, and with the many projects to mark the occasion, such as a new TV series on NHK, there is an air of celebration, but I feel deeply uncomfortable with all of it. The word “reversion” fails to express either the idea of “this is a hard-won reversion” or “this is not a desired reversion.” Military bases remained even after this reversion through secret agreement, with no voice given to the citizens affected, and now fifty years later, the military is expanding its footprint even further. Isn’t “reversion” meant to be a return to the original form, rather than an allocation by a suzerain? We don’t have the luxury of asking our “what ifs” to the past, but I do hope we will learn from that past and turn our discussions toward the future with the three options toward self-governance on the table.
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