Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States

In recent years, the main source of friction in the U.S.-Japanese defense relationship has been local opposition to the basing of U.S. marines on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The resistance is motivated partly by the environmental and social effects of the presence of U.S. military facilities and also by public anger over crimes committed against Japanese citizens by U.S. servicemen. But McCormack and Norimatsu lay bare the resentment’s deeper historical roots. Okinawans see themselves as an ethnic minority, historically separate and geographically distant from the Japanese. Japan took possession of the Okinawan island chain in the late nineteenth century and later forced its inhabitants to bear terrible burdens during World War II. From 1945 to 1972, the territory was a U.S. military colony without any form of self-rule, and many Okinawans believe that even after the islands’ reversion to Japanese control, their interests have continued to be sacrificed on behalf of Tokyo’s relationship with Washington. The larger frame for McCormack and Norimatsu’s analysis is their sharply worded indictment of the U.S.-Japanese relationship, which they believe is constructed not so much to defend Japan as to serve a U.S. forward deployment strategy aimed at Southeast Asia and China.

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