Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki yesterday marked the 77th anniversary of the end of one of the harshest World War II battles fought on Japan’s southern islands by calling for a further reduction of the US military’s presence in the prefecture amid growing fears of being embroiled in regional tensions.
The southern island group was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, known as the Battle of Okinawa, which killed about 200,000 people, nearly half of them Okinawan residents.
It was the only World War II ground battle fought on Japanese territory, and the country’s sacrifice of Okinawans is remembered as Japan’s attempt to delay a possible US landing on the mainland.
At a ceremony marking the end of the battle in 1945, about 300 attendants — including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other officials — offered a moment of silence at noon and offered chrysanthemum flowers for the war dead.
The number of attendants was scaled down due to COVID-19 concerns.
In his peace declaration at yesterday’s ceremony in Itoman city on Okinawa’s main island, Tamaki compared the battle to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the destruction of towns, buildings and culture, as well as Ukrainians living in fear, “remind us of our memory of the ground battle on Okinawa that embroiled citizens 77 years ago.”
“We are struck by unspeakable shock,” he added.
Tamaki also vowed to continue efforts toward abolishing nuclear weapons and renouncing war “in order to never let Okinawa become a battlefield.”
In May, Okinawa marked the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan in 1972, two decades after the US occupation ended in most of the country.
Today, a majority of the 50,000 US troops in Japan under a bilateral security pact are stationed in Okinawa, which accounts for less than 1 percent of Japanese land.
Because 70 percent of US bases in Japan are in Okinawa, the prefecture faces burdens such as noise, pollution, accidents and crime committed by troops, Tamaki said.
Kishida acknowledged the need for government efforts to reduce the related difficulties faced in Okinawa, and to provide support for the islands’ economic development.
Resentment runs deep in Okinawa over the heavy US presence and Tokyo’s lack of effort to negotiate with Washington to balance security burdens between mainland Japan and the southern island group.
Adding to Okinawa’s fears is the growing deployment of Japanese missile defense and amphibious capabilities on outer islands that are close to geopolitical hotspots like Taiwan.
Kishida, citing a worsening security environment in regional seas in the face of threats from China, North Korea and Russia, has pledged to bolster Japan’s military capability and budget in coming years, including enemy attack capabilities that critics say interfere with Japan’s pacifist constitution.
Kishida yesterday renewed his pledge to maintain Japan’s post-war effort as “a peace-loving nation.”
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