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Volunteers call for plans to build new U.S. airbase on Okinawa to be shelved

Thousands of tonnes of soil that had been set aside to be used in the construction of a controversial American airbase on the Japanese island of Okinawa is said to contain the remains of Japanese and American citizens. 

Volunteers have been excavating the land in the search for the remains of people killed or who killed themselves during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa and have come across bones fragments and teeth believed to come from civilians who lived on the island at the time.

So far, more than 300 sets of remains have been found over a 40 year period of searching. 

The remains of an estimated 2,800 victims still remain buried, according to the Okinawan prefectural government. 

The conflict at Okinawa lasted three months and was one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war. 

Concrete mixer trucks queue as sit-in protesters block in front of the Camp Schwab ahead of the one year since the reclamation work of Henoko district began in December 2019

Protesters stage a sit-in as the rally against U.S. Futenma Air Base relocation to Henoko district

Protesters stage a sit-in as the rally against U.S. Futenma Air Base relocation to Henoko district

An Okinawa women collecting the remains of some 200,000 soldiers killed in southern Okinawa during World War II. An estimated 190,000 Japanese and Okinawans were killed during the battle for the island and only 160,000 have been recovered. Pictured in 1945

An Okinawa women collecting the remains of some 200,000 soldiers killed in southern Okinawa during World War II. An estimated 190,000 Japanese and Okinawans were killed during the battle for the island and only 160,000 have been recovered. Pictured in 1945

Okinawa U.S. Marines pass a dead Japanese soldier in a destroyed village, during WWII in 1945

Okinawa U.S. Marines pass a dead Japanese soldier in a destroyed village, during WWII in 1945

People pray for the war dead at the the Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) monument that commemorates Battle of Okinawa

People pray for the war dead at the the Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) monument that commemorates Battle of Okinawa

U.S. troops landed on Okinawa’s Kerama islands in late March 1945, then on the main island on April 1, 1945. 

Civilians were caught in the middle of the grueling ground fighting that continued until June 23, 1945, when the commander of the Imperial Japanese Army killed himself and organized resistance ended.  

By the end, 200,000 Japanese and Americans had been killed along with more than a quarter of the civilian population of Okinawa and it is estimated 2,800 victims still remain buried. 

The majority died during the invasion but others while others killed themselves in groups having been ordered to do so by Japanese soldiers.  

They would huddle in caves before detonating grenades. 

A woman pours water over the Cornerstone of Peace where the names of her lost family are engraved. This picture was taken in 2020. The battle that killed more than 200,000 including large numbers of local civilians

A woman pours water over the Cornerstone of Peace where the names of her lost family are engraved. This picture was taken in 2020. The battle that killed more than 200,000 including large numbers of local civilians

Landfill work preparing the area for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa

Landfill work preparing the area for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa

The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is currently located in a crowded residential area of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan. Construction work for the relocation of the base is under way in the Henoko district of the prefecture's Nago city

The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is currently located in a crowded residential area of Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan. Construction work for the relocation of the base is under way in the Henoko district of the prefecture’s Nago city

They include Okinawan civilians, Japanese and American soldiers as well as Koreans who were forced to fight alongside the Japanese. 

The area was the scene of fighting after US forces cornered the Japanese in the southern part of the island. 

The remains found over four decades include a number of American soldiers along with their Japanese counterparts. 

‘The Japanese government’s plans will destroy the dignity of war victims … I can barely believe it,’ Takamatsu Gushiken, 67, who is leading the volunteer effort, told The Guardian. ‘Civilians and soldiers are going to be used to build a military base.

Protesters pictured in 2019 paddle kayaks in waters off the Henoko district of Nago to underscore their opposition to construction of a new U.S. military base

Protesters pictured in 2019 paddle kayaks in waters off the Henoko district of Nago to underscore their opposition to construction of a new U.S. military base

A protester is forcibly removed from the sit-in that saw protests against the construction of a new base at  Henoko. Pictured in December 2019

A protester is forcibly removed from the sit-in that saw protests against the construction of a new base at  Henoko. Pictured in December 2019

‘I asked them if they realized they were going to use soil containing human bones, but they didn’t respond,’ he said. ‘If they go ahead with digging work knowing what is in that soil, it will be an act of betrayal towards the people who died.’ 

The intention is for soil from the sites to be used to construct an offshore runway at Henoko on the north-east coast of Okianawa. 

Preliminary construction is already appears to be underway with trees cleared and the area cordoned off.  

Gushiken claims that officials within the defense ministry have ignored calls by him to cancel the project.

Protesters continues a in front of the Camp Schwab as they marked the 2,000th day of protest against the relocation of Futenma Air Base. Pictured in December 2019

Protesters continues a in front of the Camp Schwab as they marked the 2,000th day of protest against the relocation of Futenma Air Base. Pictured in December 2019

Protesters try to block to delay the passage of construction vehicles loaded with rocks, sands and soil mobilized by the Japanese government for the relocation of the on-going construction of the new U.S Marines Airbase Station in Henoko. Pictured in January 2019

Protesters try to block to delay the passage of construction vehicles loaded with rocks, sands and soil mobilized by the Japanese government for the relocation of the on-going construction of the new U.S Marines Airbase Station in Henoko. Pictured in January 2019

Protesters stage a demonstration in front of Prime Ministers residence to protest against the proposed US base in Henoko, Tokyo. Pictured in March 2019

Protesters stage a demonstration in front of Prime Ministers residence to protest against the proposed US base in Henoko, Tokyo. Pictured in March 2019

Anti-U.S. air base relocation protesters shout their slogan at a beach next to Camp Schwab on March 25, 2019 in Nago, Okinawa, Japan

Anti-U.S. air base relocation protesters shout their slogan at a beach next to Camp Schwab on March 25, 2019 in Nago, Okinawa, Japan

In this aerial image, the reclamation work of Henoko district continues in December 2019

In this aerial image, the reclamation work of Henoko district continues in December 2019 

Preliminary construction is already appears to be underway with trees cleared and the area cordoned off. Landfill work is pictured taking place in December 2019 as the construction of a new U.S. air force base takes place

Preliminary construction is already appears to be underway with trees cleared and the area cordoned off. Landfill work is pictured taking place in December 2019 as the construction of a new U.S. air force base takes place

A quarry for the reclamation work of Henoko district is seen in December 2019

A quarry for the reclamation work of Henoko district is seen in December 2019

Work to pour dirt and sand in a new section of the building site, pictured in March 2019

Work to pour dirt and sand in a new section of the building site, pictured in March 2019 

‘It doesn’t matter if you are for or against the Henoko base – this is a humanitarian issue,’ argues Gushiken. ‘Soil from the scene of a bloody battle is going to be dumped in a beautiful bay, and it needs to stop.’   

The base’s relocation on Okinawa was agreed more than two decades ago as a way of reducing the US military footprint on the island following a surge in local opposition over the 1995 abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three American servicemen. 

The island, situated around 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, plays host to more than 23,000 American troops, more than half of the total stationed in Japan. 

Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s defense minister, has maintained no final decision has been made after the seabed at the site was found to be softer than first thought which might put an end to any kind of building work.

He also attempted to calm fears by stating how visual checks of the soil would be made for any remains before any of it is removed.

Anti U.S. Base protesters stage a rally outside the gate of Ryukyu Cement Co. pier in Awa district of Nago, Okinawa prefecture, Japan. Pictured in January 2019

Anti U.S. Base protesters stage a rally outside the gate of Ryukyu Cement Co. pier in Awa district of Nago, Okinawa prefecture, Japan. Pictured in January 2019

A protester is removed as the rally against U.S. Futenma Air Base relocation to Henoko district continued in December 2019 in Nago, Okinawa, Japan

A protester is removed as the rally against U.S. Futenma Air Base relocation to Henoko district continued in December 2019 in Nago, Okinawa, Japan

A drone photo taken in February 2019 shows land reclamation work continuing at the Henoko coastal district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

A drone photo taken in February 2019 shows land reclamation work continuing at the Henoko coastal district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

Denny Tamaki, the island’s governor, has stated that he will oppose the plan for soil removal. 

Environmentalists are also unhappy at the plans for new base, which would be built on an area that is still pristine and undeveloped while islanders are unhappy generally that it would destroy the marine environment. 

Even the country’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, appears to be against the plan.

‘The use of soil from a place where the remains of the war dead may have been left hurts the feelings of the people of Okinawa and bereaved families who experienced the tragedy of war,’ he said after visiting the site recently. 

A petition from 500 people who lost relatives in the battle have also submitted a petition to the PM in the the home that soil from that particular part of the island will not be used to build the new base.


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