ONE of the unresolved territorial questions growing out of the Second World War is to determine what is to be done with a chain of rugged, storm-swept and overpopulated islands in the Western Pacific Ocean that came into American hands in the closing months of the war. Just 100 years ago, these islands, known to the Japanese as the Ryukyus and to the Chinese as the Luchus, were visited by Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry while on his historic mission to Japan. Impressed by the advantages that the Ryukyus offered as a station for refitting American sailing vessels which frequented Far Eastern waters, he recommended to Washington that the United States acquire a foothold there. His recommendation was rejected. When, a few years later, steam superseded sail, the islands were forsaken by the main routes of travel, and they rapidly passed out of significance in international commerce. The Western World forgot them. Today, because they afford valuable air bases in the defense of the Far East against Communist aggression, their importance has become greatly enhanced.

Public American interest in the Ryukyus was awakened in the spring of 1945 when United States forces in their advance toward Japan were landed on the main island of Okinawa. After a bitter struggle with the defenders, in which more than 12,000 Americans and nearly ten times as many Japanese lost their lives, Okinawa was captured on June 25. Since the Ryukyus were to be a forward staging area for the contemplated assault upon Japan, nearly 200,000 allied troops were subsequently massed on the islands.

After the fall of Okinawa, the Ryukyus, as well as all other Japanese islands south of the 29th parallel and north of Formosa, were detached from Japan and placed provisionally under American military government, where they still remain. The present critical situation in the Far East and the protraction of the conflict in Korea make it essential that we give serious consideration to deciding what future political status for the islands will best serve the interests of the United States. Such consideration necessitates taking into account a wide range of factors--strategic, ethnic, historical, cultural, economic and political.

The primary American interest in the islands is strategic. This is immediately apparent from a study of the map. The Ryukyus form a part of the insular chain that extends southwestward from Kamchatka to the Malay peninsula and curtains off a greater part of continental East Asia from the full sweep of the Pacific Ocean. The entire chain, except the Kurile Islands, to the farthest north, which were taken over by the Soviet Union after Japan's surrender, are in hands friendly to the United States. Lying between the main islands of Japan and Formosa, the Ryukyus form an arc measuring about 500 miles from northeast to southwest. They have an area of 1,291 square miles, which is somewhat greater than that of Rhode Island. The island of Okinawa is one-third of the total area, and is easily defensible, being surrounded by well-placed island outposts. Its air bases are within convenient striking range of important mainland targets extending from Vladivostok to Canton. Vladivostok is only 1,200 miles distant, Shanghai a mere 440 miles, and Mukden, Pyongyang, Port Arthur, Tientsin and Canton lie at intermediate distances. Sorties conducted almost daily by Okinawa-based planes are rendering invaluable assistance to United Nations forces in Korea. Okinawa is rapidly being converted into a formidable bastion for the defense of the free world in the Far East. This half-a-billion-dollar project will make the island the key air base in the Western Pacific.


Race, history and culture largely determine Ryukyuan and Japanese attitudes toward final disposal of the islands. The Ryukyuans are closely allied to the Japanese in race and language. They are generally shorter and stockier than the Japanese, and the men more heavily bearded, but these divergencies are probably due to the blending in somewhat different proportions of the racial strains common to the two populations.

During a considerable part of their recorded history, the Ryukyus were under the dual suzerainty of Japan and China. Japanese influences antedated those of China, for the Prince of Satsuma claimed jurisdiction there as early as the latter part of the twelfth century. Two hundred years later, the islands began to feel the effects of Chinese penetration, the impact of which was strongest among the upper classes. Chinese art, literature and political patterns were introduced, and trade developed between the two countries. China exacted tribute from the native government. In the fifteenth century, the Japanese likewise forced the Ryukyuans to pay tribute. In 1609, Japan detached the northern islands, known as the Amami-Oshima group, and added them to the feudal domain of the Prince of Satsuma. The southern islands, while retaining a large measure of local autonomy under their own king, became a Japanese protectorate, though they continued to pay tribute to China also and to retain a Chinese form of government until 1871, when Japan formally annexed the islands despite China's protests. Japan's claim to sovereignty was strengthened internationally by a diplomatic incident involving a Ryukyu vessel which was wrecked on the coast of Formosa where its crew was murdered by tribesmen. The Japanese Government made representations to Peking and eventually obtained a payment of 100,000 taels for the relief of the families of the dead Ryukyuans.

With the abolition of feudalism in Japan, the empire was divided into prefectures. The Amami-Oshima group of the Ryukyus was incorporated into Kagoshima prefecture, and, a few years later, the southern islands became the 47th prefecture, which took the name of Okinawa. The entire island group thus formed part of the Japanese political structure, under a policy of eventual economic, social and cultural integration. The king of the Ryukyus was made a marquis in the new Japanese peerage, as the feudal lords in Japan had been given ranks in that peerage corresponding to the importance of their fiefs. Although the governor and his principal assistants were career officials appointed from the Tokyo Ministry of Home Affairs, the islanders enjoyed proportional representation in the Japanese Diet and held many local administrative posts. Also, a locally-elected assembly was advisory to the governor. In the cities, towns and rural communes the people enjoyed a considerable degree of local autonomy. In these respects, Okinawa was no different from any other of the 46 prefectures of Japan, and its citizens enjoyed the same political rights as other Japanese subjects.

The standard Tokyo dialect was taught in the schools and the curricula were prescribed by the Department of Education of the central government. A census taken by the American military government in 1950 showed that 75 percent of the population over 15 years of age could read and write, literacy being conspicuously high for those between 15 and 24 years of age. Japanese cultural assimilation was more complete in the northern islands than in the south where much of the indigenous culture still persists. Following the precedents established in Japan after the break up of feudalism, the Japanese introduced reforms for eliminating class distinctions and for the transfer of agrarian holdings from the landed gentry to the actual cultivators. An economy geared to that of Japan stimulated the production of cash crops and the establishment of small-scale industries. Textiles produced on hand looms found a luxury market in Japan. When it came to religion, however, the Japanese made little impression. Only a small fraction of the Ryukyuans are Buddhists or Shintoists, the large majority having retained their ancient animistic forms of worship.


Many changes have followed in the wake of the American occupation. On June 21, 1945, military government was established under the Deputy Commander for Military Government, subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief, United States Army Forces, Pacific, with headquarters at Tokyo. Except during the period from September 1945 to June 1946, when the Navy was in charge, responsibility for governing has rested with the Army. The staff and liaison officers who assisted the Deputy Commander became the core of the administrative system. In August 1945, an Okinawa Advisory Council was formed, and its members later became directors of 12 separate executive departments. In April 1946, the Deputy Commander selected a governor (chiji) from a panel of three nominated by a convention of Okinawan leaders. Since few Ryukyuans possessed the requisite training for high executive posts and since the people as a whole lacked experience in self-government, the transfer of authority and responsibility to the natives has had to be effected gradually. However, in February 1952, a single chamber legislative assembly was chosen by popular election, and two months later a "Government of the Ryukyu Islands" was formed. These steps represent a long advance toward the assumption by the Ryukyuans of operational control of their government. Eventually the Ryukyuan chief executive is to be an elected official.

Construction and maintenance of the air bases employ a large corps of American engineers, technicians, mechanics, foremen and office workers, in addition to native labor. Americans, civilians and military, dwell in communities of their own which have sprung up, complete with cement-block homes, schools, churches, clubs and shops. Here they enjoy the amenities to which they were accustomed in the United States. American civilization viewed at such close range must have its effect, both good and bad, on the Ryukyuans. When a people whose cultural foundations are so different from our own try to emulate us they often become confused. Moreover, these transplanted American communities are not typical of those at home. Being under military government they provide no example of local self-rule; and the wide extent to which natives are employed in our households abroad is a marked contrast to the almost servantless life in the United States.

The American authorities have tried to recast the educational system of the islands, and despite the early handicap of few school buildings, few suitable textbooks, and few qualified teachers, much has been accomplished. By December 1, 1950, 97 percent of the children between 5 and 14 years of age were in school. For higher education, a Ryukyu university has been built. As in Japan during the Allied occupation, there is a reorientation program to explain democratic concepts. It includes sending Ryukyuan leaders to the United States for short periods of study and observation, enrolling promising students in American schools, assigning American experts to the islands as technical and cultural emissaries, and supplying documentary films, musical recordings, books, exhibits, and material for local radio broadcasting stations, newspapers and periodicals. It is obvious, however, that such efforts can be valuable only to the extent that they serve Ryukyuan needs. A relatively high standard of living is required to support our way of life. The adoption of American democratic concepts and practices by the Ryukyuans is handicapped by the wide disparity between their per capita production and ours. At the same time, the islands afford little opportunity for the inhabitants to better their lot materially, however industrious and ambitious they may be.

The best evidence that we have not been as successful as might have been hoped is the native sentiment, everywhere expressed, for the restoration of the islands to Japan. For example, one of the first measures passed by the Ryukyu legislature called for such restoration. Later, the three major parties proposed a similar bill, which contained a provision for petitioning the Japanese and the American authorities to seek some agreement in that direction. The desire was also expressed for repeal of Article 3 of the Japanese Peace Treaty. Meanwhile, Ryukyuans at a conference of the Institute of International Education thanked us for our generous aid but affirmed that, because of racial and cultural ties, they would make more rapid progress if reunited with Japan. Ryukyuan leaders have made representations on this matter directly to the Japanese Government. There it was brought out that, though they were grateful for the American aid received, a source of considerable dissatisfaction was the rental which landowners were paid for land expropriated by the American military authorities. The Ryukyuans assert that it is lower than prevailing private rentals and that adequate compensation is not paid for the resettlement of the dispossessed families.

The agitation for the return of the islands to Japan is echoed in that country. There, the emphasis has been upon the recovery of the northern islands, which are more closely linked to the homeland. Last January, the Japanese Foreign Minister presented the American Ambassador with a petition from a group of Japanese educators which called attention to the need for improving education in the northern islands and asserted that it could best be done through their return to Japanese administrative control. Prime Minister Yoshida has publicly expressed the hope that a satisfactory solution of the problem of the Ryukyus would be reached. And both Japanese and Ryukyuan leaders have indicated to Americans that they would willingly let the United States retain necessary military bases on the islands.

Economics must necessarily play a large part in determining the attitude of Ryukyuans toward the question of the future political status of the islands. It also must be taken into account by the United States in weighing the advantages and disadvantages of continuing the American occupation indefinitely. With a population of 917,000 and a density of 709 persons to the square mile, the islands are more crowded than Rhode Island, which has a population of 792,000 and a density of 652. The island of Okinawa has a density of more than 1,000. When one considers that in the Ryukyus as a whole less than one-third of the land is arable and only one-sixth under cultivation, and that nearly three-quarters of the population is agrarian, the acuteness of the problem of overpopulation becomes clearly apparent. The diminutive farms, averaging less than two acres, however intensively tilled, cannot provide more than bare subsistence. One-half the tilled land is in sweet potatoes, which is the staple article of diet. Sugar cane is the principal cash crop and black sugar the leading export. Rice and other cereals and many varieties of vegetables and semi-tropical fruits are also grown. Small numbers of goats, hogs and cattle are raised.

Under Japanese administration many Ryukyuans were forced to emigrate to find livelihood. They went largely to the Japanese Mandated Islands, and to Hawaii and Peru. After the American occupation, those in the Mandated Islands were repatriated. The total number of all repatriates was 132,000. Today, some 36,000 Ryukyuans, or 9 percent of the working population, find employment with the American occupation forces. Except for this, and for direct aid from the United States in the form of processed grain foods, building material, petroleum products and fertilizers, it would be extremely difficult to sustain the present economy of the islands. In fact, the economic outlook for the Ryukyus is not at all promising. Such arable land as has not been cultivated is of inferior quality and would scarcely raise the crop supply substantially even if planted. The so-called cottage industries manufacture only for local consumption, and are incapable of expansion for want of markets. Whether they could be converted into handicraft industries catering to American tastes is problematic. Generally speaking, there are few advantages, other than cheap labor, for developing export industries to pay for needed imports. Exports, largely to Japan, had amounted to $14,000,000 in 1940. In 1950, they did not exceed $3,400,000. The production of black sugar dwindled from 229,000,000 pounds in 1940 to one-tenth of that in 1950. For the time being, employment is being maintained by the activity in housing and defense projects, and by the manufacture of building materials, such as lime, cement, bricks, tiles and lumber. This is hardly a permanent solution. A better prospect for the ultimate health of the islands would seem to lie in restoring them to Japan. As long as the Ryukyus remain an American responsibility we shall have to continue economic aid, either direct or indirect.


The legal basis for the presence of the United States in the Ryukyu Islands rests on the Potsdam and the Cairo Declarations, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, and the Peace Treaty with Japan. The Allied peace terms were laid down in the Potsdam Declaration (July 26, 1945), to which the United States, the United Kingdom, China and the Soviet Union expressly committed themselves. For one thing, that declaration stipulated that Japanese sovereignty would be limited to the four main islands of Japan and such minor islands as the Allied Powers might determine. The Cairo Declaration, issued December 1, 1943, had announced it to be the purpose of the "Three Great Allies" (China, the United Kingdom and the United States) to expel Japan from territories "which she had taken by violence and greed." No specific mention was made of the Ryukyus. In the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, signed September 2, 1945, Japan accepted the Potsdam terms. Article 3 of the Peace Treaty with Japan deals expressly with the Ryukyu Islands together with all other Japanese islands south of the 29th parallel of latitude. In that Article Japan agreed to concur in any proposal that the United States might make to the United Nations to place these islands under its trusteeship, with the United States as the sole administering authority. The Article further provides that pending the making of such a proposal the United States shall have the right to exercise the powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of the islands. The Treaty was signed on September 8, 1951, by the United States and 47 other members of the United Nations and by Japan. It was not signed by the Soviet Union, its satellites, and a few other member states, including India and Indonesia.

To date, the United States has made no such proposal to the United Nations. If we were to do so, we would presumably wish to insist that the islands be declared a strategic area, since their chief international--and therefore American--importance is strategic. We might also wish to insist upon a trusteeship agreement similar to the one adopted for the Japanese Mandated Islands in a resolution of the Security Council of April 2, 1947. Those islands, now known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, were taken by Japan from Germany during the First World War and were mandated to Japan by the League of Nations. The Trusteeship Agreement of 1947 designated the United States as the sole administering authority and entitled it to establish military bases and fortifications in the trust territory. The stationing of armed forces in the territory was authorized for purposes of fulfilling obligations to the Security Council, for local defense, and for maintenance of law and order. The Trusteeship Agreement also places United States nationals in a preferred position in the "Pacific Islands" over the nationals of other members of the United Nations. If a similar agreement were reached with regard to the Ryukyus we would enjoy as complete freedom of action there as we now possess for taking any steps we deem necessary for the islands' defense and security.

The chief advantage claimed for such a disposal of the Ryukyus is that the United States would thereby be morally supported in having the sanction of the United Nations. Yet, however fine a line of moral distinction may be drawn between holding a conquered territory as an internationally recognized "trust" and as an outright annexation, Asians would tend to regard it as a difference in name only. This is especially so because they object in principle to the presence of Western military forces on their soil and to the subjection of fellow Asians to Western political control. Indeed, one of the reasons given by India for her refusal to sign the Japanese Peace Treaty was that the treaty did not provide for the return of the Ryukyus to Japan. However, last but not least, a strategic trusteeship for the Ryukyus would require the approval of the Security Council of the United Nations, and there is no reason to believe that the Soviet Union would fail to exercise its right of veto.

There are three other choices open to the United States: 1, to continue to administer the islands as at present, pending a general Far Eastern settlement; 2, to hold only the southern islands where the best base-sites are located and return the northern islands to Japan; and 3, to declare recognition in principle of Japan's sovereignty over all the Ryukyus and to offer to conclude with Japan arrangements for military bases and for restoring the islands to Japanese rule.

The first choice is reasonable in that the United States seems justified in retaining the islands until a stable peace has been fairly assured in the Far East. It might also afford the United States a measure of bargaining power as we attempt the herculean task of bringing the Soviet Union and Communist China into a negotiated Far Eastern settlement. Meanwhile, Japanese dissatisfaction might be somewhat allayed if the United States were to declare itself prepared to turn the Ryukyus over to Japan on condition that the Soviet Union did likewise with the Kuriles and South Sakhalin. However, if the Soviet Union failed to accept the offer, which is practically a foregone conclusion, the resentment felt by Japan might be increased. And since a general Far Eastern settlement now seems entirely remote no advantage would appear to be gained in holding the islands as an anti-Soviet lever.

The second alternative, a compromise between the first and the third, would satisfy our present and future requirements for bases without the necessity of negotiating for them with the Japanese Government. If an unfriendly government should some day rise to power in Japan and we were forced to relinquish our bases there, those in the Ryukyus would still be ours. But this is a dubious advantage, for with both Communist China and Japan unfriendly, even hostile, the United States would find its position in the islands most precarious, possibly untenable. Moreover, to attempt to hold them under such circumstances would be locking the stable door after the horse had been stolen. Returning the northern islands might soothe Japanese feelings temporarily, and the people of Amami-Oshima would be entirely placated, but discontent would be inevitably heightened in the southern islands.

The third choice seems to be the best solution: an American declaration of Japan's sovereignty over the Ryukyus linked with an offer to conclude an arrangement whereby Japan would grant military bases in the islands to the United States and the United States would restore the islands to Japanese rule. Most urgent is a clarification of American intentions that will put an end to present uncertainties in the minds of the Ryukyuan people, encourage them and the Japanese to start preparing for their common future, and remove a source of serious dissatisfaction with the United States. There can be little doubt that such a proposal coming from the United States would be welcomed by Japan if it did not sound like an insistence by us on having the bases first before we promised to let the islands go. Japan would probably agree even to deferring the actual transfer until the present emergency in Korea is over, or at least for a specified period of years. Assurances have been given by Japanese and Ryukyuan spokesmen that such an arrangement would be acceptable to them. The Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Yoshida, informed the Diet last July that he expected that the islands would continue to be held by the United States as long as military necessity required and would then be restored to Japan. Mr. Yoshida's statement was apparently deliberately evasive and intended to put off the raising by the opposition of an embarrassing issue.

There have been Japanese suggestions that once Japan's sovereignty over the islands was recognized, mutually satisfactory terms could be reached for United States military bases, at least until Japan was ready to assume responsibility for them as a part of the defense of the western Pacific. It would be strange indeed if Japanese attitudes were otherwise, since the apparent alternative to granting us bases would be a loss to Japan of the islands altogether. Moreover, it would be illogical to expect that Japan would withhold from the United States rights on outlying islands that she had freely granted in the home area. Officials of the Ryukyu Government, on a tour of the United States last August, declared that their people would have no objection to the maintaining of bases by the United States. As long as we pay reasonable rentals for the land used, the Ryukyuans have much to gain by our presence in the islands, for our forces there spend money freely, give employment to natives, and guarantee external security.

From the American standpoint also there are many advantages in this choice. It would relieve the United States of a longterm economic burden. It would greatly improve our moral stand. At present our position in the Ryukyus appears little better than that of the Soviet Union with respect to the Kuriles and South Sakhalin. The United States has many times declared that it supported the principle of self-determination. The Ryukyuans do not want independence, and a Ryukyuan nation could not hope to become a going concern. But they do want to be reunited with Japan. The return of the islands to Japan would be hailed by the Ryukyuans and the Japanese as giving heed to their aspirations. It would tend to cement their friendship with us, to instill confidence, and to dispose the Japanese Government to wholehearted coöperation in the defense of the free world in East Asia. Japan's united, disciplined and patriotic people, 85,000,000 strong, can be a potent force on our side. The American people are becoming more and more insistent that Asians assume a greater share in their own defense, and have heartily supported measures for arming them. But it is just as important to give Asians a cause to fight for as arms to fight with. To return the Ryukyus to Japan would be concrete proof that we meant what we said in the Atlantic Charter. It would strengthen the cause for which we fight and would give our allies in Asia and elsewhere renewed spirit and hope.

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