Ten­sions flare in Ok­i­nawa on an­niver­sary of bat­tle


Ja­pan’s premier Shinzo Abe was heck­led Tues­day at a cer­e­mony to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of the Bat­tle of Ok­i­nawa, the blood­i­est episode in the Pa­cific War, as anger flared over the U.S. mil­i­tary’s con­tin­u­ing pres­ence.

In a highly charged cer­e­mony on Ok­i­nawa, Abe was shouted at by lo­cals an­gry at the size of the United States’ pres­ence on the sub­trop­i­cal is­lands.

Cries of “Go home!” could be heard as he took the podium. It is rel­a­tively un­usual for a Ja­panese prime min­is­ter to be jeered by the public.

Abe, who ap­peared rat­tled, told the au­di­ence Ja­pan had for decades en­joyed the div­i­dend of peace af­ter the hor­rors of World War II.

“Peo­ple in Ok­i­nawa have long been asked to carry a big bur­den for our se­cu­rity,” he said. “We will con­tinue to do our best to re­duce (it).”

Gover­nor Takeshi Onaga was warmly ap­plauded by the 5,000-strong crowd af­ter us­ing his speech to de­nounce “the heavy bur­den” of Amer­i­can bases in Ok­i­nawa, host to more than half of the 47,000 U.S. ser­vice per­son­nel in Ja­pan.

“Seventy-three-point-eight per­cent of U.S. mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties (in Ja­pan) are still con­cen­trated in our pre­fec­ture, which makes up only 0.6 per­cent of the coun­try’s land area,” he said.

The cer­e­mony took place in Itoman, at the south­ern tip of Ok­i­nawa, near the spot where ter­ri­fied is­lan­ders had jumped from cliffs or were pushed to their deaths in June 1945 on the or­ders of Im­pe­rial Army sol­diers taught never to sur­ren­der.

Thou­sands of visi­tors, many of them sur­vivors of the war, filed past black mar­ble mon­u­ments in­scribed with the names of the fallen, to pray and leave flow­ers.

More than 100,000 Ok­i­nawans and 80,000 Ja­panese troops died in the 82-day bat­tle for the strate­gi­cally placed is­land chain.

“It was in­no­cent civil­ians who suf­fered,” sur­vivor Takeko Kakazu, 97, told AFP. “Seventy years have passed but the cru­elty of the war stays with me.”

“We fled south from Na ha (the cap­i­tal of Ok­i­nawa), but there were no caves left to hide in,” added Kakazu, who was preg­nant at the time and gave birth on an Amer­i­can war­ship af­ter be­ing caught.

“The bombs kept drop­ping and we had to hide un­der trees. It

was dread­ful.”

En­tire Fam­i­lies Lost

Over 12,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers also per­ished in what many had feared was a fore­taste of the fight they would have to wage for the Ja­panese main­land.

That in­va­sion never came, partly be­cause of the atomic bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, with a cowed Ja­pan sur­ren­der­ing in Au­gust 1945.

En­tire fam­i­lies were wiped out and al­most ev­ery­one on the is­land lost at least one rel­a­tive.

As well as those who com­mit­ted sui­cide by plung­ing off cliffs rather than sur­ren­der, Amer­i­cans found thou­sands more lo­cals dead in caves where they had been hid­ing to es­cape the fu­ri­ous U.S. bom­bard­ment.

The war an­niver­sary comes with feel­ings run­ning high on Ok­i­nawa — a one-time in­de­pen­dent king­dom an­nexed by Ja­pan in the 19th cen­tury.

A con­tro­ver­sial plan to move a U.S. air base from a crowded ur­ban area to the ru­ral spot of Henoko on the coast is prov­ing deeply un­pop­u­lar, with many want­ing it to be put some­where else al­to­gether.

“We strongly de­mand that the gov­ern­ment can­cel con­struc­tion (at) Henoko and re­view its poli­cies of re­duc­ing Ok­i­nawa’s base bur­den once again,” Gover­nor Onaga said Tues­day.

How­ever, Tokyo and Washington have both in­sisted that the plan to move it — con­ceived two decades ago — is the only vi­able op­tion for shut­ting down Futenma Air Sta­tion.

Re­newed lo­cal op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal and a se­ries of an­gry protests have co­in­cided with a push by Abe’s na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment to give Ja­pan’s well-re­sourced, but tightly re­stricted, mil­i­tary more lee­way to act in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Crit­ics say the move runs counter to the coun­try’s paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion, which was im­posed by U.S. oc­cu­piers in the af­ter­math of WWII, but has since been adopted as an ar­ti­cle of faith by many Ja­panese.

1. An el­derly woman prays in front of the Corner­stone of Peace, a mon­u­ment dis­play­ing the names of all those who lost their lives, at Peace Me­mo­rial Park in Itoman on Ok­i­nawa is­lands, south­ern Ja­pan, Tues­day, June 23. 2. U.S. Am­bas­sador to Ja­pan Caro­line Kennedy re­turns to her seat af­ter of­fer­ing a flower on an al­tar dur­ing a me­mo­rial ser­vice for those who died in the Bat­tle of Ok­i­nawa dur­ing World War II at the Peace Me­mo­rial Park in Itoman, in Ok­i­nawa pre­fec­ture on Tues­day. 3. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe de­liv­ers his speech dur­ing a me­mo­rial ser­vice for those who died in the bat­tle of Ok­i­nawa dur­ing World War II at the Peace Me­mo­rial Park in Itoman, Ok­i­nawa, Tues­day.


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