Addressing disparate viewpoints on war between United States and Okinawa

June 26, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

Special Correspondent Yukiyo Zaha reports from Washington D.C.

The perception of troops in the United States is markedly different from the perception in Japan. Reports by the U.S. government and by television programs concerning military interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere color these actions as: “The American troops fighting for justice in order to protect our country.” As such, servicemen and veterans are admired. However, homeless ex-soldiers can be found on street corners holding signs bearing the words “I am a veteran” and begging for change.

In any country, in any era, the common people fall prey to politically fueled wars. While thinking back on images of people running to escape bombings and internally worrying about the present state of the military industrial complex, I met to speak with Steve Rabson, professor emeritus of East Asian Studies at Brown University. Rabson’s op-ed on the current circumstances in Okinawa was published on June 20 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a local Virginia newspaper.

Professor Rabson was drafted into the U.S. Army for two years of service starting in 1966, one year of which he spent in Okinawa (1967-68). He was stationed at Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot, which is adjacent to Camp Schwab in Henoko, Nago, where the Japanese government is currently forcing through construction of a new base. After his military service, Rabson studied Japanese at Sophia University, using his specialty as a literary researcher to translate numerous Okinawan literary works into English. Looking back on Okinawa under the U.S. military occupation, Rabson said: “I thought it was very unjust. There are similarities between the Okinawan movement for restoration to Japan and the American Civil Rights Movement.”

Rabson claimed that the American people do not know anything about Okinawa, and that he thinks it is important to first teach people about it. Next, Rabson asked a question: “I have heard that Okinawan youth are unconcerned with military base issues. What do you think?”

It is a little embarrassing, as I learned how the U.S. military bases came to be on Okinawa after I became a reporter. In an interview with a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, I heard that an airfield constructed by the Imperial Japanese Army was targeted by the U.S. forces and was turned over like a piece in the board game Othello, changed to a U.S. base, and used to perform bombings. That was the first time I heard a person born before the war tell their story.

When my mother was 12 years old, she and her younger sister by three years boarded the ship Gyoku-maru, which departed Naha Port together with the Tsushima-maru. They watched, shivering, as the Tsushima-maru was hit by a torpedo and went up in flames. A photograph of my mother’s older sister, the little girl whom I should have come to call “aunt,” is on display in the Himeyuri Peace Museum. The Battle of Okinawa and Okinawa’s base landscape first became real to me when I learned about Tsushima-maru and Himeyuri, which I should have learned about in peace studies, through my family’s history.

Reading the article on the front page of Ryukyu Shimpo on June 24 titled in rhyme like a rap song Fusen, Okinawa wa Fuhen (Okinawa renounces war eternally), and viewing my coworker’s first attempt at a video with a Battle of Okinawa survivor produced together with the internet company Yahoo, provoked me to think. I wonder how we are connected through shared experiences and emotions, crossing over generations and geographic lines. Under a sky resembling the humid, blue sky over Okinawa, I dedicated one day to quiet contemplation.

Steve Rabson’s contribution to the Richmond Times-Dispatch can be found at:

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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