Okinawa during the Vietnam War
Between 1965 and 1972 Okinawa was a key staging point for the United States, in its military operations directed towards North Vietnam. Okinawa along with Guam also presented the United States military a geographically strategic launch pad for covert bombing missions over Cambodia and Laos. Anti Vietnam War sentiment became linked politically to the movement for reversion of Okinawa to Japan. Political leaders such as Oda Makoto, a major figure in the Beheiren movement (Foundation of Citizens for Peace in Vietnam), believed that the return of Okinawa to Japan would lead to the removal of U.S forces ending Japan’s involvement in Vietnam. In a speech delivered in 1967 Oda was critical of Prime Minister Sato’s unilateral support of America’s War in Vietnam claiming "Realistically we are all guilty of complicity in the Vietnam War".
The United States military bases on Okinawa became a focal point for anti-Vietnam War sentiment. By 1969 over 50,000 American military personnel were stationed on Okinawa, accustomed to privileges and laws not shared by the indigenous population. The United States Department of Defense began referring to Okinawa as "The Keystone of the Pacific". This idea was even stated on U.S military license plates.
As controversy grew regarding the alleged placement of Nuclear Weapons on Okinawa, fears intensified on the possible escalation of the Vietnam conflict. Okinawa was now seen by some inside Japan as a potential target for China, should the communist government feel threatened by the United States. American military secrecy blocked any local reporting on what was actually occurring at such bases as Kadena. But as information leaked out, and images of air strikes were published, the local population began to fear the potential for retaliation.
The Beheiren became a more visible protest movement on Okinawa as the American involvement in Vietnam intensified. The anti-war movement employed tactics ranging from demonstrations, to handing leaflets to Soldiers directly, warning of the implications for a third World War. The Vietnam War forced many Okinawans to address their own recent history, in particular the destruction wrought by the battle of Okinawa in World War Two. Images of devastation in Vietnam, by planes based and armed in Okinawa, led many to see parallels in the two conflicts. This sympathy for a fellow Asian nation only increased public outrage, and calls for a return to what Okinawans called "Absolute Pacifism".
The United States military bases, once viewed as paternal post war protection, were increasingly seen as aggressive. The military build up on the island during the Cold War increased a division between local inhabitants and the American military. The Vietnam War highlighted the differences between the United States and Okinawa, but showed a commonality between the islands and mainland Japan.
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