Okinawa Memorial Day: Specific Measures Vital to Defend Peace

Still today, many lives are being senselessly taken in Ukraine and the Palestinian territory of Gaza. As Japan marks Okinawa Memorial Day to remember the victims of the Battle of Okinawa that occurred toward the end of the Pacific War, the preciousness of peace should be considered anew.

The Okinawa Memorial Service for All War Dead was held in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on June 23, the day when the organized fighting of the former Japanese military is said to have ended in Okinawa. At the ceremony, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “I pledge to achieve a world where everyone on the earth can live in peace and feel enriched.”

The Battle of Okinawa claimed the lives of 94,000 civilians in the prefecture. It is important to remember and pass on to future generations the sorrow of the people in Okinawa 79 years ago and the continuous hardships the prefecture has endured even after the war ended.

However, simply pledging peace is no longer enough to defend Japan’s security.

Last year, China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels were spotted in the contiguous zone off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture for a record 352 days. On a total of 42 of those days, Chinese ships intruded into Japan’s territorial waters. China obviously intends to have CCG vessels stationed in these waters, in an attempt to gain effective control of the Senkakus.

In recent years, the government has deployed surface-to-ship and surface-to-air missile units of the Ground Self-Defense Force mainly to the islands of Miyakojima and Ishigakijima. It is important to enhance defense capabilities in the Nansei Islands, which have been described as a vacuum zone in terms of security.

However, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki opposes the deployment, saying: “With the Self-Defense Forces building a base, it [the prefecture] could become a target for attack. It is extremely dangerous.”

For what reason — and by whom — can it be guaranteed that peace will be better defended without a defense system? Does the situation in Ukraine not prove that lives and territory can be easily taken without adequate deterrence capabilities?

In the Okinawa prefectural assembly election on June 16, with 48 seats being contested, the parties opposed to Tamaki, including the Liberal Democratic Party, gained four more seats to hold 28 overall and have a majority in the assembly. The so-called ruling parties in the prefectural government that support the governor, such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, lost four seats to retain only 20.

With the security environment becoming increasingly severe, the people of the prefecture are probably beginning to question the prefectural administration led by Tamaki, which has been at odds with the central government and repeatedly engaged in legal battles over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the Henoko district in Nago, both in the prefecture.

The central government’s stance is also lacking in some respects. It cannot be said that it is actively engaging in dialogue with the prefectural government. It should consult with local governments on the mainland in an effort to reduce the base-related burden on the prefecture and relocate training sites to other parts of the country.

The prime minister should not just attend ceremonies as a formality, but should proactively visit the prefecture to carefully address the significance of eliminating the dangers posed by the Futenma base and deploying the SDF.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2024)