TOKYO (AP) – Okinawa residents prayed for peace and remembered their loved ones Tuesday on the 75th anniversary of the end of one of the deadliest conflicts of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa, on the South Japanese island that is still a heavy presence of US troops.
During the ceremony commemorating more than 200,000 people, many of whom were civilians, who died in the end of the war, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said that tragic history must be accurately remembered and passed on to younger generations.
Today, many people live in conflict areas or face poverty, discrimination and environmental pollution, and the fear and economic impact of the coronavirus have further divided societies, he said. It’s more important than ever for everyone to tolerate differences, trust each other, and work together, he said.
“We need to gather our wisdom and strive forward to achieve a ban on nuclear weapons, denial of war and lasting peace,” said Tamaki.
Resentment over the continued heavy presence of US troops is deep in Okinawa.
“Since the end of the war, even when Okinawa was deprived of human rights and self-government under the American occupation, we have steadily followed the path of reconstruction and development while protecting our culture and sincerity that we inherited from our ancestors,” .
The majority of U.S. military facilities in Japan are located in Okinawa, and more than half of the approximately 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan.
Okinawans are still affected by grassroots crime, pollution and noise 75 years after the war ended, Tamaki said.
Okinawa has asked the central government to do more to reduce their burden, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government repeatedly says it takes their feelings into account, but the changes are slowly coming. Many Okinawans also want a revision of the Status of Forces agreement with the United States, which gives U.S. military personnel certain legal privileges.
A major disagreement is a decades-old plan to move a U.S. Marine Corps air force station from the densely populated area of Futenma in southern Okinawa to less crowded Henoko on the east coast. Many Okinawans want the air station removed from the island instead.
Tamaki renewed his promise on Tuesday to protect the environment in Henoko and block the move.
Many Okinawans consider Tokyo’s post-war defense under the Japan-US Security Alliance as built on Okinawa’s sacrifice, dating from the US seizure of Okinawa land after World War II’s defeat in Japan.
The dispute over Futenma’s move also reflects age-old tensions between Okinawa and mainland Japan, which annexed the islands, formerly the independent kingdom of the Ryukus, in 1878.
Okinawa was Japan’s only home field in World War II, and the island remained under American rule for 20 years longer than the rest of Japan.
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