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#194 沖縄の葛藤思う元琉球列島アメリカ民政府職員 The reversion of Okinawa

Samuel Kitamura 北村サムエル


Title: The reversion of Okinawa


 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to the mainland in 1972 after 27 years of U.S. military rule following World War II. Samuel Kitamura, 95, a Hawaiian-born second-generation Japanese American living in Torrance, spent six years of his youth and 13 years before Okinawa's reversion to Japan as an employee of the U.S. civil government in Okinawa, and is a living witness to the various events surrounding the historic reversion. After the reversion of Okinawa to Japan, he was transferred to Zama Army Base as the Director of Community Relations for the U.S. Army Honshu Headquarters. At the end of 2000, he returned to the U.S. after a 41-year career as a government official.

Mr. Kitamura was born in Hawaii in 1927. He was involved in Okinawa for two reasons. His father was posted to Naha as a Christian missionary, and as a member of the family, he spent six years as a boy in Okinawa, which left a positive impression on him. In addition, his uncle, Dr. Hiyane, was a religious scholar from Okinawa, so he had a strong sense of affinity with Okinawa from childhood.

Six months before the outbreak of the Japan-US War, his father was transferred from Okinawa to a church in Nagoya and left the island. He later graduated from the Nagoya Institute of Technology and returned to his native Hawaii in 1950, serving in the Army for two years before returning to the University of Hawaii to earn his B.A. and M.A. degrees. While in the master's program, he met the President of the University of the Ryukyu and was blessed with favorable conditions that allowed him to teach English at the University of the Ryukyu and continue his research on the Okinawan dialect as a foreign exchange student, so he moved to Okinawa after graduation. His research on Ryukyu dialect as the first foreign student at the University of the Ryukyu was featured in the "Ryukyu Shimpo" newspaper, and the article caught the attention of the US Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Island, which hired him as a US Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Island employee.

After the war, the U.S. military built military bases in Okinawa that is said to be the largest in the Far East. The main reason the U.S. needed Okinawa was to maintain the strategic advantage of the U.S. military base, and the mission of the civil government was to minimize friction with the Okinawan people in order to guarantee 100% utility of the base. Human rights were never equal. Criminal scandals caused by the presence of U.S. military bases were a source of concern for both Japan and the United States. It was unfortunate that some Okinawan victims were not always satisfied with the outcome of trials based on the Status of Forces Agreement.

Therefore, in order to ease the friction between the U.S. military and the residents and to help them understand the benefits of being under U.S. administration, the civil government created the Bank of the Ryukyu and the Electric Power Corporation, improved infrastructure, operated the Ryukyu-U.S. Cultural Centers and opened it to Okinawan residents to provide a variety of cultural services. In 1964, during the Tokyo Olympics, the torch relay around the main island of Okinawa was held, and I was thrilled to see American soldiers accompanying the Okinawan runners around the U.S. military bases in Kadena and Henoko. I was deeply moved.

Everyone thought that the U.S. military would not readily return the Keystone of the Pacific, which it had won at great cost, to the U.S. side. However, the reversion of Okinawa came much sooner than expected. This may have been due in part to the advice of a group of scholars close to the U.S. president. Mr. Kitamura worked for the civil government under the High Commissioner from 1959 until May 1972, when Okinawa was returned to Japan. He attended important meetings between successive High Commissioners and Ryukyuan and U.S. officials, including the Chief Executive of the Ryukyu Government, as an interpreter and helped translate decrees and proclamations. One of the most memorable moments for me was witnessing the final farewell between High Commissioner Lampert and Chief Executive Chobyo Yara at Kadena Air Base on the eve of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. I still vividly remember that historic moment. High Commissioner Lampert held out his hand to Chief Executive Yara, and the two held each other's hands tightly. It was around midnight on May 15, 1972, when the Stars and Stripes flag was lowered and the Japanese Sun flag began to fly over Kadena Air Base.

Mr. Kitamura has seen the process of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan and the various feelings of the Okinawan people toward the reversion to their homeland. There was the question of whether the reversion would be positive or negative for the future of the Okinawan people. There were quite a few residents who sent direct appeals to the High commissioner opposing the reversion. There were also some who openly wrote in the newspapers in opposition to the reversion. The Okinawan people had mixed feelings about the reversion to their homeland, with pride in having been an independent nation in the past, a sense of victimhood amplified by the historical process of being incorporated into the Meiji government, and an unshakeable distrust of the mainland. Even if the U.S. had tried to administer good government for the Okinawan people, it would not have been able to change their minds. When the Reversion Council began to function actively, there was a strange sight of both the Japan flag and the Red flag fluttering in the air. What is it about Okinawa that has been overshadowed by the rising-sun flag since its reversion to Japan? If the reversion had been delayed, it is likely that there would have been more friction between the U.S. military, as the governing authority, and the residents of Okinawa, as the governed. Throughout the history of the world, there have been no examples of a victorious nation being able to maintain the rule of a defeated nation or a colonial ruler being able to maintain the rule of a colonial population for a long period of time. The reality of the reversion to Japan was that the Japanese government pledged to the U.S. to keep the bases on the same level as those on the mainland, and the U.S., in return for the bases remaining in Okinawa, relinquished its headache of the base problem to the mainland government, thus creating a win-win situation.

Although U.S. military bases remain after the reversion, the strategic value of Okinawa's bases remains high considering the international situation surrounding Japan 50 years ago and the current threats to Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands from the Chinese threat and other factors. As such, Okinawa will remain "The Keystone of the Pacific" for US interested in international affairs and US-Japan security. Mr. Kitamura concluded his talk by saying that in light of the many historical events, he is concerned about what will happen to the Okinawan people in the future.

While listening to Mr. Kitamura, I was reminded of Samuel Ullman's poem, "What is Youth?

... Youth is not a period of life, but a phase of the mind... ... One does not grow old just because one grows older...

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