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.

米軍、島を70年占拠

 1945年の沖縄戦後、米軍は住民を各地の収容所に強制隔離しつつ、旧日本軍の施設を利用して嘉手納基地などを置いたほか、必要な土地を確保して普天間飛行場など広大な米軍基地を建設した。

 50年に連合国軍総司令部(GHQ)が沖縄に「恒久的基地の建設を始める」と発表し、米国民政府は53年、地権者の同意なしに土地取り上げを可能にした土地収用令(布令)を公布。米軍は「銃剣とブルドーザー」による強制的な土地接収で軍用地を拡大させた。

 基地の恒久使用を狙い、毎年払う軍用地料の一括払いを打ち出した米軍の方針に対し、住民側は「島ぐるみ闘争」と呼ばれる激しい抵抗運動を展開。米側は一括払いを撤回し、譲歩せざるを得なかった。

 72年の本土復帰時、米軍施設面積は2万8661ヘクタールで沖縄本島の23%を占めていたが、2013年時点でも2万3176ヘクタールに上り、本島の18%を占有。米軍専用施設に限ると、日本国内の基地の74%が集中している。沖縄県の面積は日本の0.6%にすぎず、狭い県土に広大な基地が存在する過重負担が続いている。

 米軍関係者による事件・事故も繰り返され、県民の反発を招いてきた。

 1995年の米兵暴行事件と2004年の沖縄国際大学ヘリ墜落事故が象徴的に取り上げられるが、容疑者の身柄引き渡しに代表されるような日米地位協定の不平等性や、基地が存在することの危険性を県民は再認識させられてきた。

 橋本龍太郎首相(当時)とモンデール駐日米大使(同)が1996年4月、普天間飛行場の全面返還を合意してから今年で18年目を迎える。この間、基地問題で大きな節目を迎えるたびに全県規模の「県民大会」が繰り返され、沖縄側の声を上げてきた。普天間の県外移設も訴え続けてきたが、日米両政府は名護市辺野古に移設するという現行計画を堅持している。

 18年もの間、なぜ普天間返還は実現せず、基地問題は長引くのか。背景として、基地の存在をめぐる県民意識の高まりがある。

 元来、基地に対する県民のまなざしは厳しいものがあったが、普天間の県外移設を掲げた民主党への政権交代(2009年)を契機に、米軍基地が沖縄に存在する根拠をこれまで以上に求めるようになった。

 日本政府は「地理的優位性」や「抑止力」を用いて沖縄に基地を置かなければならないと説明するが、そこに軍事的合理性が伴わないことを県民は見抜いている。基地問題の解決には日米両政府が県民の思いに真摯(しんし)に向き合う必要がある。(西江昭吾)