The American Annexation of Okinawa: an overview of the post-1945 history of the Ryukyu Islands under the US military

Carlton Meyer, “The American Annexation of Okinawa” (Tales of the American Empire, 24 July 2020)

In a little over ten minutes, this documentary presents a good overview of the history of Okinawa under US domination since the 1940s. Essentially the US saw the Ryukyu Islands, lying in an arc from the southwestern islands of the Japanese archipelago all the way to Taiwan, and with Okinawa the largest island smack-bang in the middle of these islands, as an ideal spot to park a massive military base so as to contain China and the Soviet Union, should those countries ever contemplated moving their militaries into Western Pacific maritime territories. To this end, the US not only occupied Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands, to the dismay of local Okinawans hoping for independence from Japan, but also in building its military base on Okinawa and some years later returning Okinawa and other Ryukyu Islands territory to Japan so as to maintain control over the base since Japan’s Constitution forbade that country to build up its armed forces beyond what is necessary for self-defence. The continuing occupation of Okinawa by US forces has had serious consequences for the island chain’s security: as the film notes, stalking, raping and murdering young local women and girls seem to be a common pastime of US soldiers stationed in Okinawa and other parts of eastern Asia where there are US military bases.

Using historical film archives, detailed maps, videos and photographic stills, this film lays out a case for withdrawing all US troops from Okinawa and returning them all to the United States where they might be of better use. The money required to keep military bases in far-flung parts of the planet surely must be a drain on US taxpayers’ money. As in other parts of the world, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, the presence of US troops seems to increase the possibility of outright violence and lessen the likelihood that real freedom and democracy might one day thrive in Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands. The use of visual aids to illustrate narrator Meyer’s points is done well.

The local people’s reactions to US military occupation look quite feisty on film, no matter what the age of the video is. It is probably a pity that Meyer did not include any interviews with Okinawan local people who could have offered their opinion of the impact that US troops have on the Ryukyu Islands, and what should be done. Some of them surely would have proffered their opinions on the movements of jet fighters and other military equipment around the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, and the behaviour of US soldiers. At any rate, Meyer is firmly of the opinion that the Ryukyu Islands and Okinawa particularly belong to the local Ryukyu Island people, and not to the US or to Japan, implying that the islands should be independent. Given the value of the islands to the US as a launch-pad for future invasions of the eastern Asian mainland, the Ryukyuan people need all the support they can get to achieve independence or at the very least self-autonomy.