Douglas Lummis
Former Marine, stationed on Okinawa in 1960–61
Born 1936 in San Francisco
Retired professor of political science at Tsuda College (Tokyo)
Lives and teaches in Okinawa

In 2004, Friday the 13th of August, a CH-53D Marine Corps helicopter crashed into the administration building [of Okinawa International University]. No one was surprised by that. People were of course shocked and terrified, but everybody knew that with a base like [Marine Corps Air Station Futenma] in a crowded city like this, there would be an accident.

But what was extremely remarkable about it was what happened after that. Marines came streaming over the fence, as if they were prepared to do so, and they occupied this campus, in what is Japanese national territory. And here are these kids, 18, 19 years old in Marine uniforms shouting orders at their elders, the newsmen, and putting their hands over lenses and saying, “Get out of here. Look, I told you get out of here. Get out,” as if they had the authority to come into this foreign country and order the people to do this, that, or the other thing. It’s quite remarkable to see that.

I’m not sure if they would do the same kind of thing in mainland Japan or in Germany or in Italy or in Great Britain. I rather doubt it. Maybe in Korea, but certainly in Okinawa.

Part 1: The Battle of Okinawa (1945)

Donald Dencker
Former US Army gunner
96th Infantry Division Association historian
Born 1924 in Minnesota (then 20)

The first evening on Okinawa, I had an experience with Okinawan civilians. We were digging in in this area, and there was a hill that went up, maybe 50 yards behind us. There was a cave up near the top, and I noticed some Okinawans came out and looked at us, said something among themselves, and then disappeared back into the cave. And they did that about three times in total.

So, maybe rather foolishly, I thought afterwards, I took my .45-caliber pistol and went up there. They were in the cave; I couldn't see them. And I yelled, I think it was "Dete koi." Do you know what that means? "Come out." Well, about the fourth time, some older lady sticks her head out. I kind of do like this. She goes back in, brings out seven civilians. Fortunately, there were no Japanese soldiers there. And there were three or four old men, a couple of older ladies, and maybe three children. Well, I said, "Down." I wanted them to go down the hill.

What the man did, he must have done it 20 times. He pointed at my pistol; then he pointed to his head. And I said, "I'm not going to shoot you." And he kept doing that. He wanted me to shoot him in the head. Well, I didn't shoot him in the head. But that really stuck in me. He was so indoctrinated that I am convinced he wanted to be shot in the head.

So, the battle was still going and the noise of it had moved south when the Japanese retreated to the southern end of the island. I went back up on Dick Hill one day; this was probably about May 25 or 26. And what a god-awful mess Dick Hill was. Some weapons lying around. I went to where our mortar was set up, and there were the cases for them still lying there, soaking wet. Mud and dead Japanese bodies decaying, flies. I ended up stepping on a Japanese soldier that had been kind of buried, and his chest caved in and I got the muck on my boot. It stunk. I went over to a shell hole and washed my boot off and called it quits snooping around. I saw the post-battle immediate battlefield, and it was a total mess.

KONDO Hajime
Former Japanese army corporal
Born 1920 in Mie Prefecture (then 25)

In Okinawa, we were assigned quarters in private homes, and we saw firsthand how the Okinawans lived. I don’t know if it’s true today, but back then the staple foods were sweet potatoes [instead of rice] and tapioca, along with pork, those were the three main foods. We were ignorant soldiers, but we observed their daily lives... We knew nothing about the local culture, and we looked down on Okinawans. “We’re of the Yamato race, and Okinawans are entirely different.” Without saying so explicitly, that impression took hold among the soldiers. Later there were many incidents between Japanese soldiers and civilians, and this attitude was the root cause, I realized after the war. We committed many abuses here in Okinawa.

[The Okinawa student corps were ordered to] run at the tanks, over 20 or 30 meters, then throw a mine under the tank. The battle on the front line pitted one solitary soldier against a giant tank. There’s no place in the world where the fighting was so futile. Soldiers in that battle… they knew they were sure to die, but still they went. They were made to.

Leonard Lazarick
Former US Army sergeant
Born 1923 in Pennsylvania (then 21)

On May 10, we relieved the 7th Infantry Division that was on the eastern side of the island. I guess they had been in combat since April 1st, and it was their turn to get a rest. And, well, we went through their ranks and you could see some of the fellows, looking into their eyes, they had that thousand-mile look. But some of them said, “Good luck. Good luck.” They knew what we were up against. Because on the next day, May the 11th, when we were asked to attack, we lost half our platoon, within minutes. We crossed over a hill and there was a Japanese machine gun on the other side. It opened up and just wiped us out.

Q: Over the years, you must have thought a lot about Okinawa. Did you tell stories about Okinawa after you got back?

A: Not at first, no. Not at all. I had nobody to talk to. And some of the things that I would talk about were somewhat unbelievable. Who would believe that we did some of the things that we did? Who would believe, for instance—it was the third night we were on the front lines, where we killed a man and a woman, elderly persons, a younger woman with a baby. They were traveling around at night, even though fliers had been sent out. Leaflets were dropped on the island, “Don’t move around at night.”

Our own soldiers were told, don’t move around at night. We killed a guy in my own company. He wanted to get a message to Captain Fite. And he was crawling around in the middle of the night. One of our cooks was sharing a hole with Captain Fite, shot him. Killed him. It broke him up so bad he just lost it all. Never saw him again.

Nobody ever talked about this episode with the baby. How did I know about it? Okay. Old Laz, always being the perfect soldier, was assigned to burial detail. And I helped bury them. By the time we got to them rigor mortis had already set in. It’s a sickening sight. And it never leaves you. Believe me, John, it never leaves you.

Former member, Deigo Student Nurse Corps
Born 1927 in northern Okinawa (then 17)

While we were [in the field hospital] at the Shikina cave, on May 13, my friends were killed. We slept in a row, a girl named Maekawa, me, Noha, then the others. Always in the same order. That night I was on duty, and when I came back, I was supposed to eat and then go to bed. But that night I didn’t want to sleep. So I took my sewing kit and went deeper into the cave.

After a while, a soldier came and said, “The entrance has been hit.” I asked, “What’s it like?” He said some were killed, many injured. I hurried through the dark, feeling my way.

It was a terrible scene. I was speechless. The girl who slept on my right was killed instantly, the girl named Maekawa. The girl on my left died about 30 minutes later. Many were injured. I couldn’t cry, I was just speechless. The girls who slept by my side had both died.

Part 2: The Occupation (1945–1972)

David Crews
Former Army photographer on Okinawa 1970–71
Born 1950 in Baltimore

[At the Army photography school,] there was a main bulletin board, and towards the end of the school time, you started going up there looking for your next duty station. And all you do is look down for your name, and then you look across to see the V for Vietnam. And you just didn't want to see the V for Vietnam.

I went up there and I looked down and I saw Okinawa. And this is the truth. I walked away from there and this jingle came into my head. It was from a commercial, a TV commercial. And I was going, "Okinawa’s really great, Okinawa just can't wait. Hooray for Okinawa."

So, there you are. We're happy to be on Okinawa. And there was a lot of great stuff. I was a drinking man at the time. I'd drink beer and lots of different mixed drinks and all. And you had the bar districts. You could buy a beer at the PX cheap. And you'd get drunk with your friends and swap a lot of stories.

A lot of guys mostly get over there, it's like they can get as drunk as they want, they can go as crazy as they want. They walk out of the bar, their aunt, their uncle, their grandmother is not going to drive by and see them drunk out of their mind over there. So, some guys just got crazy.

Buddhist priest, community activist
Born 1948 in Yomitan, Okinawa

We thought the only way to escape from the humiliating control of the US was for Okinawa to return to Japan. We couldn’t elect our representatives, and when we could, the US could veto any laws they passed. No matter what crime an American committed, Okinawan police could not arrest him or try him in court. In this hopeless situation, we demanded reversion to Japan.

Japan was a wonderful country, it seemed to us. Under Japan’s peace constitution, it did not fight wars, it did not have a military, and fundamental human rights were guaranteed. It was also booming economically.

Around 1964, when the Tokyo Olympics took place, we were at an impressionable age. Okinawa was not part of Japan, but the Olympic flame was brought here. We were passionate about it. Yomitan High School cancelled classes, and we lined up on Hwy 58, and we waved flags to greet the flame, with passion.

Then in 1969, there was the Nixon-Sato summit meeting, and they agreed to reversion. “Ah, we’ll be part of Japan!” We were so happy. It was decided that reversion would happen in 1972, they even set the date. But we had demanded reversion without the bases, without nuclear weapons, on an equal footing with the mainland. As reversion neared, people began to say, “What kind of reversion is this?” “It’s all screwed up.” The bases would remain after reversion.

The US would simply turn over administrative and political rights to Japan. Japan and the US had gone over our heads, to determine Okinawa’s future. The bases would remain intact. “This is what we get?” we thought, after fighting so hard for reversion. Now the reversion became an antiwar movement. We had waved the Japanese flag for reversion with all our hearts. But now the flag disappeared from the reversion effort. It became a movement against the bases.

Born 1948 in Shuri, Okinawa

[In high school], we’d talk about the Americans, what it meant to live under a military government. I was already going to demonstrations, to the Okinawa-wide mass rallies. Those years in high school played a big role in forging the spirit I carry with me today.

We formed a group called Finding Okinawa. Isn’t that strange? Here we are in Okinawa, “Finding Okinawa”? Back then, and even today, the more I think about Okinawa, the less certain I am. Who was I, this person living in Okinawa? I wasn’t certain of where my identity lay. That’s why we were “finding Okinawa.”

It must have been my last year in high school. I heard on the news that well water in Kadena [near the US airbase] was burning. I got on a bus in Shuri, all on my own. There was no direct line, I had to go to Naha and transfer to the Kadena bus. It was a long trip.

There I found a couple of older men, just back from tending their fields, sitting on a veranda. I approached them, total strangers. “It’s terrible that the well water is burning,” I said, filled with righteousness. Their response was extremely calm. “Well,” they said, speaking Okinawan, “Ii, nuwaran. Wattaa naritose.” “It’s no big deal. We’re used to that around here.

Former Koza bureau reporter for the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper
Born 1943 in Naha, Okinawa

The Koza riot [on December 20, 1970] was ignited by a number of factors. One was a traffic accident down in Itoman, where a GI had struck and killed an elderly woman. He had been acquitted in a military trial. That kind of political discontent was festering in Okinawan society as a whole.

Another factor was the discovery that poison gas was being stored at the Chibana ammunition dump north of Kadena. The Wall Street Journal had run an expose that summer. The day of the riot, there was a protest rally near the Chibana ammo dump. Lots of trade union and peace activists who had participated in the rally were drinking in Koza that night, before going back to Naha and other towns.

A number of us were in a taxi headed for Naha. Just as we left Koza, we passed a line of trucks carrying armed American troops heading the other way. We quickly turned around and went back, and the riot had already started. It was like a scene from a movie. There were angry crowds, throwing rocks and tearing up the asphalt and throwing it. On both sides of the street were MPs and armed troops in formation. Then there were explosions in the middle of the street, as American cars were burned. And the smoke…

Photographer, began shooting in base towns in 1975
Born 1953 in northern Okinawa

I started working [at a bar] in Koza shortly after Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. It was around 1975, so we weren’t very familiar with Japan yet. The bar was named 777, and we called it “Three 7.” Black Panthers used to gather there, and it was the largest club in the area.

There was still tension then between blacks and whites, but it was also a time when people were saying, “Black is beautiful,” and the civil rights movement had increased black pride. There was this confrontation between blacks and whites, and my pride as an Okinawan and distrust of Japanese: Okinawa vs. Japan. I realized that the structure was similar. It hadn’t occurred to me before. But when I heard them talk, my boyfriends and other black men, I thought, “It’s just like here.” That was one of the reasons I felt close to them.

The bases are too dangerous to have at home, but if they’re on a distant island, it’s OK. Put ‘em on Okinawa, and only Okinawa suffers if there’s an accident or an incident. Yamato itself will be spared. That’s what it comes down to. The Japanese government and the people still see Okinawans as a separate race. That’s why they shove everything on us. That’s what you call discrimination.

Part 3: The Afterburn

Tanka poet
Born 1944 in Ishikawa, Okinawa

sadness or anger tears at my breast
tonight a small insect writhes

That’s one of my poems. It happens often. Facing the present situation in Okinawa, many people get sick during the anniversary of the Battle. Their spirits fall. Particularly for those who lived through the Battle of Okinawa, many memories come to mind and their health falters. It happens to me too. I can’t sleep for nights on end, and my head is always spinning with thoughts of Okinawa’s problems. No matter how hard we try to build peace, this reality is forced upon us. The bases don’t shrink, they expand. What can we do? We raise our voices, we write our hearts out, and it does no good. Those are the thoughts... like writhing insects, they eat away at you from the inside.

Survivor of the group suicide at the Chibichiri-gama cave, Yomitan Then 26

Even in private, we were always talking about it. [The American soldiers] will cut off our ears and our noses, so don’t let them capture you, never be taken prisoner. That’s all. It’s better to die. It’s better to die than to be treated like that. That was all. We couldn’t think about anything else. Die, die, die. Just dying. How should we die? What should we do? That’s all we thought about. We only thought about dying.

Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace

Okinawa was made the “sacrificial stone,” The strategy was to delay the American and Allied invasion of Japan. Okinawa served as a bulwark to hold back the invasion. To do this, Japanese troops were brought in from various fronts. It was standard Japanese practice to build “comfort stations” wherever troops appeared, so many stations were built on the islands of Okinawa, wherever the army was stationed. Okinawan women began research in 1992, and have found 146 places where there were comfort stations.

However, for Okinawa, the end of the war did not mean the end of sexual violence.

Cynthia Enloe
Research Professor (international relations)
Clark University

A lot of young people, when they are sent abroad by the US military, may never have been much out of their hometowns. And the question is, What are they told and retold about what their relationship is to the local people? Are they told, for instance, that all the local people welcome you? You are their protectors, they are so happy and grateful, so appreciative for you coming to protect them. If that’s the message, then you can misread a smile. And you can certainly misread a smile from a woman who’s been hired to serve drinks at a bar, or a woman who is working in a massage parlor.

Bruce Lieber
Former Army MP, in Okinawa 1970–71
Born 1949 in Ohio

There seemed to always be a rape. They just didn't seem to matter. There was a 12-year-old girl, I believe, killed when I was there, just outside the MCAS Futenma airbase. And I remember the GI being put on trial, but I don't think he served any time in a local prison. Another MP I know investigated a hotel girl who had been raped and violently murdered, actually. [The rapes] either weren't investigated or -- I very seldom heard of any GI [being punished]. We knew of one GI. It was just an old wives' tale, some GI sitting in Naha Prison, and he was the only one that ever got convicted of anything. Whether that was true or not, I don't know. It just didn't happen.

Rodrico Harp
Former Marine, then 21
Convicted (with 2 others) of raping a 12-year old girl in 1995 Served 6.5 years in prison
Born and raised in Georgia

So we went back to Record Tower, we went clubbing, we just rolled around the barracks and everything. And that’s when [the main perpetrator, Marcus] Gill started talking about committing a crime. When we were at the Record Tower, he was picking out girls. “How about that one right there? How about that one?” [Kendrick] Ledet and I went into the store, and he stayed outside, just sweating [scrutinizing] girls. And we went from there, after we came out. And that’s when it all happened. That night was the worst night of my memory.

I still think about it. When I was in my room, in my cell, I wished I could tell her how sorry I was. It changed my life. I know it changed her life even worse, because she has to go through this, thinking about it, and I think about it every day.

I go to church. And I ask for forgiveness. But really, why should I ask for forgiveness? Because I’m still going to Hell. That’s the way I feel.

Part 4: To the Future

Morton Halperin
Former US diplomat
Negotiated the reversion of Okinawa to Japan

When I first started working on Okinawa, Okinawa was run by the American military as if the whole island was an American military base, and the million or so Okinawans who lived on the island were treated as foreigners who happened to live on an American military base.

For the American military, they still don’t believe that reversion took place. And there’s still a lot of conduct, and a lot of the base structure that still exists, that is a reflection of the previous period.

And I think the blame here is with the civilian side the American government and the Japanese government. It left in place a base structure that no sovereign government would have ever permitted any other country to build on their territory.

OTA Masahide
Former governor of Okinawa
Member of the Blood & Iron Student Corps during the Battle of Okinawa (then 18)
Born 1925 on the island of Kumejima

I am always trying to figure out how we can break through the thick wall of the Japanese and American governments, how we can appeal directly to the American government. When you approach the American government, they tell you, “This is a domestic problem, take it up with the Japanese government.” But unfortunately, the Japanese government treats Okinawa as a sacrificial stone. In order to achieve its ends, the government is willing to sacrifice Okinawa.

From our perspective, there is no democracy in Japan. We all need to learn what democracy truly is, and to make Okinawa a true island of democracy. Not the military keystone of the Pacific, but an island that shares with the world the Okinawan tradition of peace.

Okinawa International University

Some say that Okinawa can’t survive, economically, without the bases. Many people believe this. There was a time when that was true. During the Battle of Okinawa, nearly all buildings were destroyed. This area [Futenma] was a wasteland, all the fields and homes destroyed. While people were in detention camps, they bulldozed it and built a base. When people came back, they couldn’t farm, they had no homes. What could they do? Work on the bases and get paid.

That was the start of the postwar Okinawan economy. 50 percent of the economy was dependent on the US bases. But the private economy began to recover. People got out of the camps and rebuilt their lives. So that ratio dropped. By the 1972 reversion, base dependence fell to 15 percent. The economy continued to grow, and the dependence dropped further. Now the rate of dependence is 5 percent. That’s less than the sales tax.

Governor Onaga represents a major shift that began 5 years ago. Opponents of the bases appeared within the conservative camp. Their economic plans showed that Okinawa is stronger without the bases. That formed a groundswell. So the catchphrase in the election that Gov. Onaga won in 2014, “Identity over ideology,” was very telling. It is no longer a matter of antimilitary or anti-US sentiment. It’s now “All-Okinawa,” a spirit of joining together for the sake of Okinawa.

Okinawa Peace Movement Center

The Okinawan people have all come together to stop the expansion of the base at Henoko. And the government has mobilized all its force to crush us. Okinawans have seen this for 70 years, so they know from experience. This will lead to war, the cruelty of war will come again, so the new base has to be stopped.

The postwar movement in Okinawa has been steadfast, it’s not going to bend or break just because they try to suppress it. It’s rooted in an incredible history. It’s our generation now, but our elders always persevered. We witnessed that from the time we were children. So, why do we persevere? Because they did before us.

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