Immediately following the battle of Okinawa in 1945, the U.S. military not only converted former Japanese military facilities into Kadena Air Base and other bases but also built new bases such as Futenma Air Station by seizing vast area of land from local islanders while they were forcibly isolated in concentration camps.

In 1950, General Headquarters (GHQ) announced that it would “begin construction of permanent bases” in Okinawa. In 1953, the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands (USCAR) imposed the “Land Acquisition Procedure (CA Ordinance 109)”, which allowed the confiscation of land without the agreement of landowners or leaseholders. Subsequently, the U.S. military appropriated land by using “bayonets and bulldozers” to force out local residents.

Local citizens staged an intense resistance movement called “ShimagurumiToso”( island-wide struggle) to protest the US military paying one time lump sums to permanently acquire land instead of leasing land via annual payments. The movement succeeded and the US military abandoned the lamp sum payment scheme.

At the time of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, U.S. military facilities occupied 28,661 hectares, comprising 23% of the main island of Okinawa. In 2013, that figures was 23,176 hectares and 18%. Seventy four percent of the bases exclusively used by the U.S. military in Japan are concentrated on Okinawa while Okinawa comprises only 0.6% of the land area of Japan. The tiny island continues to be overburdened by the disproportionately large military base presence.

The repeated crimes and accidents involving U.S. military personnel over the years have incited and heated opposition to the bases from Okinawans.

The 1995 rape of a 12 year old girl by three U.S. military service members and the 2004 crash of a Marine helicopter into a building on the campus of Okinawa International University are two incidents that drew much external attention to the military base issue in Okinawa. It merely confirmed Okinawan anxiety over the elevated risks posed by the presence of the bases and reinforced Okinawan dissatisfaction with provisions of the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) like the U.S. military retaining custody of service members suspected of and investigated for crimes by Japanese police.

It has been 18 years since Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale agreed upon the complete return of unsafe and burdensome Futenma Air Station in April 1996. With each large turning point in the base issue, the Okinawa people have repeatedly raised their voice at prefecture-wide “kenmintaikai (prefectural citizens’ rallies).” Okinawans have continuously demanded the complete removal of Futenma Air Station from Okinawa, but the U.S. and Japanese governments have stubbornly insisted on sticking to their plan to move it to Henoko in Nago city of northern Okinawa.

Why has the promised return of Futenma Air Station not been realized and the base issue unsolved for 18 years? The underlying reason was the Okinawan people’s heightened awareness of the presence of the U.S. military bases. Although Okinawans have long protested the presence of the military bases, the regime change in 2009 to the Democratic Party of Japan and DPJ’s first Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s vow to move Futenma out of Okinawa caused Okinawans to question the very rationale for the military base presence even more critically.

The Japanese government uses the terms “geographical dominance” and “deterrence” to explain why it needs to keep U.S. military bases in Okinawa. However, the Okinawan people can see clearly that the concentration of U.S. military bases in Okinawa cannot be logically justified by these militaristic excuses. In order to resolve the base issue, both the U.S. and Japanese governments need to seriously and in good faith acknowledge the feelings of the Okinawan people.