View Point

Saturday, June 13, 1998

Okinawans want
fair treatment

By Tsuneko Takara


I migrated to Hawaii from Okinawa 26 years ago. Recently, I visited my birth island and returned to Hawaii with a heavy burden -- a burden about the Okinawa "dilemma."

To understand my burden, some history is necessary. The Golden Age of the Ryukyuan Kingdom took place between the 15th and 16th centuries. The Ryukyu Islands became the crossroads of cultural exchange for the western Pacific. Okinawa, the main land, is 67 miles long, from 2-18 miles wide and 870 square miles.

The Okinawans underwent difficult times when the powerful Satsuma (the Shimazu clan, from the southern part of Japan in Kyushu) invaded Ryukyu in 1609, and made it a colony until 1879.

Because of a strong, class-conscious society, Japan treats Okinawans as second-class citizens.

During the Pacific War, members of the Japanese military said they were going to protect the Okinawans, and we trusted them.

They told the people that, if the Americans win, they will pull out our eyes, cut our ears, take all men as hostages, and women and children will become GI toys.

So they told the people to fight to the end. On April 1, 1945, the Okinawans went to war for three months. The result was more than 200,000 lives lost, including those of Americans, Japanese military and Okinawan civilians. There were more deaths than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One-third of the Okinawan population was lost.

After the war, we met Americans and found that they were very kind and treated us well. We learned that the Japanese had given us false information about the Americans.

Since the war's end, the U.S. military has occupied Okinawa because of its strategic location as the "Gibraltar" of the Pacific. Its importance to the U.S. as a defensive base grew after the Chinese Communists gained control of China in 1949 and the Korean War broke out in 1950.

Okinawa was finally returned to Japanese rule in 1972, but by mutual agreement with the Japanese government, the U.S. bases stayed in Okinawa.

Today, the concentration of bases and military personnel on tiny Okinawa has become an increasing problem. Okinawa accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan's land area, but 75 percent of U.S. bases are located there. Japan is larger than Minnesota and Iowa put together, but has only 15 percent of bases.

Okinawans highly respect Americans because they strongly defend human rights. We have seen American families attending church services, including President Clinton.

Therefore, I ask: Does the Golden Rule apply to only the American people?

I can understand why Japan can't practice what it says, because the Japanese don't know the Bible. A good example is when, on July 2, 1997, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto visited Okinawa and swore to resolve the U.S. military base matter, the economy and other differences.

He apologized that Japan has not done its best to resolve problems, but said that he would make every effort to share Okinawa's pain and burden.

Now, he has pressured Governor Ota of Okinawa to cooperate with him to establish a new helicopter base near Camp Schwab. How big a contradiction that is.

Didn't the U.S. military hear the Okinawan people's voices during the past 50 years? Could it not see how small the island is and how people are squeezing for living space with more than one million people?

Does it not realize how the noise from planes flying over residential areas day and night are causing people to become tired and irritable?

On May 15, Governor Ota went to Washington, D.C., to persuade the defense secretary and senators not to establish a helicopter base and to move Futenma Air Base elsewhere (it is next to a school), to no avail.

Okinawan people are simply looking for fairness, integrity and respect. He who oppresses another will fall on his own demerits.

Tsuneko Takara is a retired Waikiki tour driver and
guide and now works with Japanese-speaking tourists.

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