TOKYO (AP) – Okinawan residents prayed for peace and remembered loved ones Tuesday on the 75th anniversary of the end of one of the deadliest conflicts of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa.
Speaking at the ceremony on the South Japanese island in honor of the more than 200,000 who died in the end-of-war battles, Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki said the accounts of the tragedy should be accurately remembered and passed to younger generations handed over.
Many people live in conflict areas or face poverty, discrimination and environmental pollution. Fear and economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic have further divided societies, Tamaki said. That makes tolerance, mutual trust and cooperation more important than ever, 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.
Okinawa was Japan’s only home battle in World War II, and the island remained under American occupation for 20 years longer than the rest of Japan, until 1972.
Resentment over a continued heavy presence of US troops is deep, with more than half of the approximately 50,000 US troops in Japan based there under a bilateral security treaty.
Many Okinawans believe that the post-World War II Japan-American security alliance was built on their sacrifices during the war and then after Japan’s surrender in 1945, when US troops seized the Okinawan land for their bases.
Okinawa has asked the central government to do more to reduce the burden of countless US military facilities, but changes have slowly come. 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.
Okinawans have faced US-based crime, pollution, and noise for the past 75 years since the war ended, Tamaki said.
“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 the sincerity we have inherited from our ancestors.” Tamaki said.
Added to the friction over US troops on the island are age-old tensions between Okinawa and mainland Japan, which annexed the islands, formerly the Ryukus’ independent kingdom, in 1879.
A major disagreement is the over-decades-old plan to move a U.S. Marine Corps Air Force station from the densely populated Futenma area of southern Okinawa to the less crowded Henoko region of the east coast. Many Okinawans want the air station to be completely removed from the island and object to environmental damage caused by the construction of the new facility, which is already underway.
Tamaki renewed his promise on Tuesday to protect the environment in Henoko and block the move.
Tuesday’s ceremony was phased out significantly as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new corona virus. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said remotely from Tokyo that the government would do its utmost to ease the burden on Okinawa. He did not respond. Ideally located as an Asian gateway, scenic Okinawa has “immeasurable” potential for future growth, he said, and promises more government support.
Tuesday also marks the 60th anniversary of the conclusion of the security treaty between Japan and the US. While the alliance remains strong, President Donald Trump has urged both Japan and South Korea to increase spending to cut costs to the US due to their security in the region.
Foreign Minister Toshiitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday that the Japan-US alliance is “stronger than ever and indispensable” today. Japan wants to work closely together, he said, and will consider ways to do more to strengthen its defense capabilities as an American ally.
___ Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.