Photo/IllutrationOkinawan residents offer prayers at the Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) monument in Itoman on June 23, 2018, Okinawa Memorial Day. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Okinawa Prefecture will commemorate “Irei no Hi” Memorial Day on June 23, an annual occasion to remember the Battle of Okinawa and console the spirits of those killed in the conflict.

The Battle of Okinawa raged for more than three months and involved ferocious ground warfare in the subtropical island in the waning days of World War II in 1945.

More than 200,000 people lost their lives. Of the 188,000 Japanese killed, local residents accounted for 122,000. It is said that one in four Okinawans perished.

A confluence of factors set the stage for the gruesome conflict.

They included Japan’s wartime education, which inculcated militaristic and totalitarian values, such as the importance of individual sacrifices for the nation, and delays in evacuations of civilians caused by false information about the state of the war provided by the Imperial military headquarters. The Japanese military’s war strategy was to sacrifice Okinawa so as to delay the U.S. invasion of Japan's main islands, thereby putting the interests of the government and the military before the lives of the people in Okinawa.

Even 15-year-old boys and the elderly in the southernmost prefecture were called up for military service, while female students were formed into nursing units to take care of Japanese soldiers on the front line.

It amounted to total mobilization of all local residents without any legal grounds. A law to expand the age range for military service and oblige women as well to join battling units was promulgated only in late June 1945, after the end of organized fight by the Japanese military in Okinawa.

Seventy-four years later, Okinawa is still suffering from the central government’s high-handed attitude to the prefecture. The Japanese government is blatantly ignoring the local people’s wishes in pushing through policy measures, justifying its actions as vital for national interests even if they violate established rules and procedures. This posture is also reflected in the way the government is dealing with work to reclaim land off the Henoko district in the Okinawan city of Nago to build a new U.S. military facility to take over the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

When former Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima gave formal official permission to go ahead with the reclamation work, the central and the prefectural governments agreed on a set of conditions, including advance talks between the two sides. But the central government has effectively broken these conditions.

The state has kept ignoring the prefectural government’s request to check earth and sand used for the reclamation work as part of environmental protection efforts.

Starting this month, the administration has begun to unload dirt and sand from vessels using an unauthorized pier. The pier is different from the one cited in a document to describe the work plan that was submitted to the prefectural government.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki has rightfully criticized the move as a sign of the central government’s “lack of a law-abiding spirit.”

Henoko is not the only example of the raw deal people in Okinawa have been getting.

In early June, a piece of rubber that came off a U.S. Marine helicopter landed on the tennis court of a junior high school in the Okinawan city of Urasoe. Although the U.S. military insisted the item posed no threat to the safety of people or objects, the prefectural assembly unanimously adopted a written opinion and a resolution of protest. The assembly members of the Liberal Democratic Party, which currently rules Japan, also supported the motion.

The U.S. military has not kept its promise to avoid flying over schools in Okinawa as much as possible. There have also been a series of accidents in the prefecture.

The Japanese government has taken no effective action to rectify the situation and simply accepted the U.S. military’s decisions to resume flights, even in cases where the cause of the accident has not been identified.

The written option adopted by the prefectural assembly encapsulates the anger and disappointment at both the U.S. military and the Japanese government shared widely across political lines and policy positions.

Publisher Iwanami Shoten reissued a book this month by the late Kotaro Kokuba, who was involved in the fight against the U.S. military’s brutal campaign to build bases in Okinawa on land seized from local residents with “bayonets and bulldozers” in the years following the end of World War II.

Kokuba wrote the book with young readers in mind immediately after Okinawa was returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1972.

In the preface to the book, titled “Okinawa no ayumi” (history of Okinawa), Kokuba wrote, “Knowing the history of Okinawa ... is necessary also for casting light on Japan as it really is and thinking about its future.”

His words pack an even more powerful punch today.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 22