I have been asked to speak about the American military bases here in Okinawa, and what role our respective churches have to play in regard to those bases. So that we might all begin with a shared understanding of these realities, I will begin with a broad outline of the history behind the present situation here, from three primary perspectives: the history of Okinawa, the history of the military bases, and the history of the Church in these islands. I believe that will offer a better base on which to consider what the role of the church is in making peace.
I want to challenge us all to consider similar situations around the world, and the roles that our respective churches, and the Anglican Communion, might play in reconciliation and peace-making in the face of violence, military force, and war. I know that my telling of this history will be done from perspectives that may cause discomfort or offense. It is not my intent to tell this history in a biased way, and I know that part of the healing needed among us can only come through hearing the stories of each person and part of this deeply painful chapter of history. It is only together as the Body of Christ that we can hope to find healing, reconciliation, and genuine and lasting peace.
Let’s begin with where we are, in Okinawa. This island is part of the Ryukyu arc or chain of islands, or the Nansei-shoto, running some 800 miles between Kyushu and Taiwan. Okinawa is in the middle of that chain, some 400 miles away from the main part of Japan (or the home islands). For several centuries, these islands were in a tributary relationship with China (and Korea), which began to facilitate sea-going trade in the early 15th century. The status of the Ryukyus changed in 1609, when they were invaded and occupied by Japan. For the next 270 years Okinawa and the Ryukyu kingdom were in a dual quasi-colonial relationship with both China and Japan. In 1879 the kingdom was abolished and the islands were incorporated into the Japanese nation as the Okinawa Prefecture. It’s important to note that Okinawa constitutes a very tiny fraction (0.3%) of the land mass of Japan, and about 1% of the nation’s current population.
The people of Okinawa and the Ryukyus are ethnically and culturally distinct from the peoples of the main Japanese islands, and there have been periodic and sustained initiatives for independence from Japan. Americans would recognize similar dynamics in relationships between Hawai’i and the United States, and Puerto Rico and the United States – both territories originally invaded or occupied by military forces and later incorporated into the larger nation. Japanese academics have called Okinawa an internal colony of Japan, paralleling the relationship of Hokkaido. There are further parallels with the American territories in the Virgin Islands and Guam. In both the Japanese and American situations the islands are of strategic military significance because of their geographic location and their ability to provide a critical staging area to support military presence and intervention.
Modern military development in Japan
Japan began to develop a modern military force in 1867; the Imperial Japanese Army, supplied by conscripts, was established in 1873. Japanese victory in the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 resulted in the occupation of Taiwan, a shift in control of Korea from China to Japan, and the occupation of part of the Chinese mainland adjacent to the Korean peninsula. The war also opened Chinese ports to trade. The treaty that ended this war was soon renegotiated at the behest of Russia and with the support of France and Germany, to return the Liaodong peninsula to Chinese control. Once Japan withdrew, Russia immediately entered to occupy the territory, particularly the year-round maritime base of Port Arthur. Japan entered a mutual defense pact with Great Britain in 1902 to protect the interests of each nation.
The Russian occupation soon led to the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5, as the two nations vied for strategic control of Manchuria and Korea. Negotiations failed, probably because Russia did not believe Japan would go to war against its numerically superior forces. Japan again emerged victorious, having shown its military prowess on land and sea.
Japan participated in the First World War with the Allied Forces against Germany, and intervened briefly in the Russian Civil War against the communists.
In the early 1930s Japan began to expand further into Manchuria, and in 1937 vastly increased its control over Chinese territory, including Shanghai and Nanjing. In 1940 Japan joined Germany and Italy in the Axis alliance. In the same year the US began to limit the supply of materiel to Japan, which soon invaded French Indochina. Japan and the USSR entered into a non-aggression pact in 1941. The US and other Allied nations increased the embargo on military equipment and resources, and increased support to China.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 resulted in a declaration of war by the US, UK, and other Allies. Japan achieved remarkable geographic success in the Pacific, occupying Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Dutch East Indies, Philippines, and a number of Pacific islands. They also conducted operations against Australia, Burma, Solomon Islands, and New Guinea.
The final major campaign of the Second World War in the Pacific theatre included a major battle on the island of Okinawa. The American invasion began 1 April 1945 (Easter Sunday) with intense naval bombardment, and the landing of 60,000 troops. Some 3800 tons of ordinance were launched within the first 24 hours, called the “storm of steel” (tetsu no bow). The Japanese Army had 100,000 well-entrenched troops on the island, controlling the high ground away from the beaches. The battle included the deployment of nearly 1500 kamikaze flights against American naval forces. The ground battle was intense and protracted, lasting well into June. The ground had turned to mud by late spring, and the conditions and carnage were appalling. Following the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the final peace agreement was signed 7 September 1945, but American fortification of the island for a planned invasion of the main Japanese islands had already begun months before.
The death toll over the five months of battle on Okinawa was immense: over 107,000 Japanese and Okinawan troops died; nearly 24,000 were sealed in caves; more than 10,000 were captured; and at least 100,000 civilians died – a quarter to a third of the local population. The death toll on Okinawa was higher than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. American losses were much lower – some 12,000 killed and 36,000 wounded.
Occupation of Japan began in late August 1945, and continued until the treaty of San Francisco took effect in April 1952. Okinawa was handled differently, remaining under US administration for another 20 years. In 1972 the US government returned Okinawa to Japanese administration, having built a number of bases on the main island since 1945. In 1960 Japan and the United States signed a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, designed to foster international peace and security in the Far East, and encourage friendship and economic cooperation between the two nations. It provides for the continued presence of US bases and military forces in Japanese territory, and requires both nations to respond to threats to mutual concerns for peace and security when they occur within Japanese territory.
One of the provisions of the post-war Constitution of Japan is a prohibition on developing or maintaining a standing army, beyond the scale needed for self-defense. Those defense forces are forbidden to wage war against other nations. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and the maintenance of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, have permitted Japan to devote significant resources to needs other than military ones. Japan’s military expenditures have consistently been under 1% of GDP. Public opinion polls clearly demonstrate that Japanese citizens expect the United States to be responsible for Japan’s security, even though that is not the primary purpose of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. At the same time, the JSDF are among the world’s most technologically sophisticated, and in recent years have been deployed for international peacekeeping purposes.
Since 1945, the number of US military bases and troops on Okinawa has grown, and the bases were used to support forward operations during the wars on the Korean and Vietnamese peninsulas, as well as more recently during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US military presence continues to be significant for strategic concerns throughout the Far East, particularly in relation to China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.
Today there are 32 military bases in Okinawa, which occupy nearly 20% of the land area of the island. That represents three-quarters of all Japanese soil occupied by American forces (remember that Okinawa is about 0.3% of Japan’s total land mass). About 25,000 US troops are based in Okinawa, and another 11,000 in the rest of Japan. Fully 90% of all Marines based in Japan reside in Okinawa. Dependents (family members) of these troops, and other associated civilians, represent at least as many additional persons. The bases in Okinawa are used by the US Army, Navy, and Air Force, for naval and air operations, training, bombing and shooting ranges, ammunition depots, as well as support facilities for troops and civilians. There are reports that nuclear weapons may be present or available, as well as the possibility that the US might use them in time of threat to Japan.
The military bases in Okinawa, in addition to occupying one-fifth of the land mass, account for only about 5% of the economy, down from a high of 50%. In several cases the bases occupy land that would be highly valuable for other uses. The most problematic of the bases houses Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. It is in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Ginowan City, north of the capital of Naha. Its use by helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for training operations in a residential area brings strong opposition to the accompanying noise, crash and other hazards, and pollution impacts. Occasional criminal activity by military personnel has also generated significant local outcry.
During the period of US military control of Okinawa there was little space for local political influence. That situation has changed somewhat since 1972. In particular, soldiers who are charged with crimes against civilians are usually subject to Japanese law, rather than facing only an American military response. Indeed, two soldiers were sentenced to lengthy Japanese prison terms in early March of this year. The US military has worked diligently to prevent violence and criminal behavior by soldiers, but has been unable to completely prevent it. There appears to be differential publicity about criminal acts by American personnel, compared to those committed by local residents, and compared to humanitarian acts by members of the military and their dependents.
It is abundantly evident, however, that Okinawa bears a disproportionate burden due to the American military presence and the resultant exposure of Okinawans to hazards, nuisance, and the threat of military retaliation by other nations.
Protests and objections by Okinawans over the last several decades resulted in a 2006 agreement between Japan and the United States to relocate several of the Okinawan bases to other parts of the island and a number of the troops to other places, principally the island of Guam. That agreement proposed to move 8000 troops off Okinawa by the end of 2014, relocate military activity to other bases on Okinawa or elsewhere, and return significant amounts of land to local control. In particular, the land on which Futenma sits would be returned to Okinawa following the base’s relocation. As part of this agreement, Japan agreed to fund about 60% of the costs for facility construction in Guam and northern Okinawa, as well as relocation of personnel. The US government agreed to fund the remainder. This agreement was reconfirmed by both governments in 2009 and in 2010. In 2009, the new Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio vowed to move Futenma out of Okinawa, and when he was later unable to fulfill that promise, resigned in June 2010. The agreement has been repeatedly reconfirmed, once again in February.
The relocation of Futenma to another area of Okinawa has been the source of considerable controversy. Even before the agreement was signed in 2006, Prime Minister Junichiro noted that no other prefecture in Japan was willing to take the relocated military base, even though the government recognized the undue burden on Okinawa. When first proposed, that replacement base was planned as a floating facility adjacent to Camp Schwab, off the Henoko Peninsula. That initial proposal has been replaced by a plan to build on filled lands, reclaiming portions of the marine environment. That in turn has provoked major controversy and objection from those who consider the environmental effects to be unacceptable. The site includes dugong habitat as well as significant coral beds and fisheries.
History of Episcopal/Anglican Church in Okinawa
After Japan’s expulsion of the Jesuit mission and the suppression of Christianity in the 16th century, the first evidence of Christian presence in Okinawa was the immigration of French missionaries to the Ryukyus in the 1840s, who kept vigil hoping to eventually enter Japan.
The Episcopal Church sent the Rev. Channing Moore Williams from China to Japan in 1866, but there is no evidence he got to Okinawa. The Episcopal Church’s presence and ministry was apparently limited to the main islands of Japan, as was that of the Church of England’s mission societies.
The first Anglican presence in Okinawa dates from the early part of the 20th century. An English woman and former CMS missionary, Hannah Riddell, founded the Kaishun Byoin, the first Japanese leprosarium or Hansen’s disease hospital, in Kumamoto in 1895. A young man named Keisai Aoki entered another sanatorium on Oshima as a teenager around 1911, and was baptized in 1918 at the age of 25. He wrote to Riddell, who later sent him to Okinawa to work with other lepers. He found them living in caves on Iejima and Okinawa, and worked to feed and clothe them, and pray with them. The local people feared and rejected the lepers, and after having their shelters burned down and being forcibly evicted, Aoki eventually established a community on the small island of Yagaji. In 1938 this community became the Airaku-en Okinawa Sanatorium. Aoki was a lay catechist and instrumental in organizing a worshipping community, which became a central part of the facility as “The House of Prayer.” During the war the sanatorium was mistaken for military facilities and bombed by American forces; a number of people were killed. After the war Aoki became a deacon, the first ordained person with Hansen’s disease in the Anglican Communion. During the US occupation of Okinawa, military members helped to rebuild the sanatorium. Today it is the largest in Japan, and the chapel community is the largest congregation in the Diocese of Okinawa.
After the war, the NSKK’s primate, Michael Hinsuke Yashiro, went to The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 1949 and asked for particular assistance for Okinawa. The Episcopal Church took pastoral responsibility for Okinawa that year. In March of 1951 two American Episcopal priests arrived, William Hefner and Norman Godfrey. Both were veterans whose war experiences motivated them to seek ordination; Hefner had served on Okinawa. The NSKK sent priests and church workers. Canada sent an interpreter, the Rev. Gordon Goichi Nakayama. A congregation was begun in Naha which became the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Military personnel and dependents formed the initial English-speaking congregation in 1958, which built the church of All Souls, dedicated to all who died in Battle of Okinawa. Kindergartens were begun, a convent was founded, as well as an orphanage for children of lepers, a dormitory for junior high school students from other islands, and other new congregations.
In 1967 Okinawa became a missionary district of TEC, and Edmund Browning was elected bishop, having served All Souls and St. Matthew’s, as well as military bases and leper colonies in northern Okinawa.
In 1971 the NSKK asked that the church in Okinawa might become part of it, and as Okinawa returned to Japan, the church joined the NSKK in 1972, and a new bishop was elected. Paul Saneaki Nakamura was a suicide pilot who survived WW II because there were no more planes or torpedoes to pilot. His shame at having encouraged other Okinawans to volunteer for those missions left him unable to return. While he was in seminary, he met that Canadian priest, Fr. Nakayama, who convinced him he must return to Okinawa with the good news of new life in Jesus.
It seems necessary to point out that this is an immensely complicated history, with overlapping threads of racism, militarism, colonialism, and fear of the other. Okinawa has been treated as a colony for centuries. Its residents feel their exclusion and commodification by the larger Japanese public and by the American military. The United States has its own history of racial exclusion toward Japanese Americans before and during the Second World War, a history that has not been fully explored or reconciled. The United States and Japan governments have a common interest in maintaining an American military presence to provide defense for Japan as well as strategic deterrence in the Pacific and East Asia. That military presence comes primarily at the expense of Okinawans. Proposals to remove some of that military presence are likely to simply shift the burden to other island populations – either in other parts of Okinawa or on Guam, another “colony” which governments believe can be used for such purposes. Even the proposal to relocate Futenma northward to Camp Schwab involves colonizing an environmentally sensitive area.
The larger theological questions in the midst of this thorny dilemma have to do with the right use of creation, the burden any one community or people (particularly an oppressed or marginalized one) can be asked to bear for a larger community, the place of military force either as deterrent or aggressor, and the baptismal charge we share to build a beloved community and society of peace.
The underlying motivator for military presence or occupation in Okinawa is fear. Japan fears retribution from neighboring nations for old wars of aggression. Governments throughout the region fear aggressive territorial expansionism from more powerful neighbors. North Korea fears its wealthier neighbors’ ability to challenge its apparently oppressive social policies, as well as the scarcity experienced by its own people. Okinawans fear death and destruction as a result of the military forces lodged in their midst. The United States fears having its other territorial possessions (colonies) attacked by Asian powers, increased military access to the Pacific by those nations, destabilization and the possibility of escalated violence migrating out of the region, threats to its economic interests, and the loss of strategic military outposts.
The ancient and most central part of the Christian gospel is about answering fear with love. Our task can be none other than challenging military responses to fear with non-violent and peaceful approaches. We proclaim that loving the enemy is the only ultimately life-giving response. That is why the Archbishop of South Korea took the group gathered for the first TOPIK conference into North Korea. That is why Japanese, Koreans, and Americans continue to ask and offer forgiveness for the sins of old wars that continue to infect our world and diminish the possibility of embracing more abundant life.
Until we begin to examine our own participation in those varying kinds of fear, we have little hope for reconciliation. Why does the wider Japanese society permit Okinawa to bear an inequitable burden for the nation’s self-defense? It undoubtedly has at least something to do with many people’s unwillingness to have greater military presence in their own neighborhoods – what English speakers call NIMBY (not in my back yard!). Why does Japan rely so heavily on the United States for defense? I can’t pretend to understand the complexities of that question, but undoubtedly the people who live here can share their own theories. Why do Americans permit and encourage ongoing colonial occupation of other lands? That has something to do with the captivity of my government to business interests, some of them related to the military-industrial complex.
Underlying all of these is a fundamental fear of the other, of people who seem different from me and my kind, and fear that they will take from me what I most want and need. Those fears grow out of a sense of scarcity – that there is not enough land to live on, not enough food to eat, not enough economic possibility, not enough hope for the future. The church’s role must be about proclaiming the good news of God’s creative encouragement of new possibility, about engendering hope, and proclaiming the vision of abundant life for all God’s creatures.
Our hope is based on the reconciling love of God – and reconciliation requires vulnerability. Without some openness to a future different from the present entrenched reality, there is little real possibility for lasting peace. It’s interesting to consider how challenging it is even to find words and metaphors for that lifeless reality of being stuck that aren’t violent or evocative of war. Trench warfare is often used to describe this kind of immovability. It evokes those crushing stories of dug-in troops lobbing projectiles toward each other, and never seeing the enemy’s face except in the sights of a sniper’s rifle. That’s what a lot of the battle of Okinawa was like. But those images also evoke stories of profligate possibility – the German and English troops of World War I who listened to their enemies singing Christmas carols, recognizing the tunes but not the words, and then crawling out of their muddy holes for a few hours during the Christmas Eve ceasefire. They exchanged signs of peace with the few luxuries they had – cigarettes or shots of schnapps – and shared pictures of their sweethearts. And then those precious hours drew to a close, with officers calling their troops back to duty and the work of killing the enemy.
Reconciliation just might require sitting in the trenches long enough to hear the song of other human beings, both lament at what is lost and yearning for what might be. Reconciliation requires sitting in the mud, knowing despair and depravity, and daring to dream of a different future. When we know the depths of our helplessness, that we are made of dirt and cannot ultimately save ourselves or fix the emptiness, we just might begin to welcome the stranger as an essential part of our own salvation. When that recognition begins to be mutual, reconciliation becomes possible.
The trench around here is almost literally the ground on which these bases lie, the runways and berths and silos for tools of war, set in the midst of cities which are supposed to be signs of creativity and the possibility of peace. There are some hints that the conversation about constitutional change in Japan, that would permit a standing military with greater capability than defense, is garnering support from unlikely partners. There are some stark realities that cannot be ignored, but just might be provocative of creative response if they can be met with vulnerability and hope:
That list is exceedingly challenging, but it might also be the prod that is necessary to get people out of the trenches. It is time to climb out and tell the stories of lament and hope. Build relationships with the other, and go search for opportunities to tell the truth of your own experience, using surprising, novel, or humorous methods to destabilize old habits, expecting creative results – and keep showing up for this radically vulnerable work of reconciliation.
And finally, expect that what is birthed and learned here might offer creative possibilities to other systemic conflicts, like Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Syria, and the Middle East.
The hard work of reconciliation requires an openness or vulnerability to being transformed. The cosmic transformation we claim in the paschal (Easter) mystery is a result of divine vulnerability. We won’t experience a different outcome or a shift in the status quo without that vulnerability. Our own efforts at reconciliation must echo or imitate that same relinquishment of power, privilege, and fixity of position.
Reconciliation here is going to require dreaming that emerging future and moving toward those we see as enemies. The fear that separates us is a symptom of frustrated yearning for that different future. Interacting with our differences creates possibility, and it requires the ability to climb out of the trenches of despair that anything will change. That is another definition of hell! We must walk into the division and conflict to find a new possibility – like joint administration of those China Sea islands, or cooperative security efforts that relieve colonized peoples and places. Reconciling work creates a different future, something that would never have existed without the tension that called forth our journey across that boundary of fear.
The question is only where and when and with whom to begin. Practice here, with those who advocate different avenues toward peace. Discover that the tension of difference will create an alternate future to what any participant expected. That is the kingdom of heaven at work in our midst!
A brief example. TEC adopted a new calendar of saints in 2009, and we continue to encourage local congregations and dioceses to propose additions to it. The Diocese of Nebraska proposed Hiram Hisanori Kano, who came to the United States in 1916 to study agricultural economics. He was born in Tokyo in 1889, and baptized as a teenager before he left Japan. In the United States, he worked to improve farming methods, especially in the Japanese community, which was facing enormous discrimination. He challenged the state legislature about racist land ownership laws and immigration policies. The bishop of Nebraska stood with him in the legislature and eventually persuaded him to become a pastor to the Japanese community; he was ordained deacon in 1928 and priest in 1936. He was arrested the same day war was declared in the Pacific, and he was the only Japanese person in Nebraska to be interned. While imprisoned, he ministered to German prisoners of war and American soldiers facing court martial. He continued that pastoral work after the war, and died in 1988, just short of his 100th birthday. His witness continues to draw together the frayed edges of human community in the heartland of the United States and in The Episcopal Church.
As we begin this conference, it may help to consider where we have learned to cross boundaries or climb out of trenches in pursuit of reconciliation. How have you chosen vulnerability? Who has forgiven you, and how have you received it? How have you disconnected from the spiral of fear, retribution, and violence? Those choices flow from a deep well of hope, sometimes deeper than we can express in words. In the darkest time of crucifixion, as Jesus hung on the cross, feeling abandoned, God was still at work. The creative and unexpected response to that particular entrenchment is what we call resurrection. Do we have faith enough to dream that God’s creative possibility might yet emerge from this seemingly intractable conflict?
Can those of us caught up in this web of interconnection dream of being drawn more closely and deeply into the ties that bind us? Will we, like Jesus, pray for the fellow on the next cross, and the ones who set the cross into the earth? Peace and harmony in every part of the world ultimately depend on discovering our common humanity, our shared yearning for a meaningful place in this life, the hopes we have for our children and the world around us. No one, no other, is beyond God’s love – or else we are all beyond that possibility. Our task is to continue to plant and nurture hope in the face of fear when threat arises. We must confront our own fear and move toward the human beings behind the threat, rather than retreat or dig deeper trenches. That is what it means to run to the empty tomb; that is the direction of more abundant and resurrected life. May resurrection begin again in this place, in the hearts of these blessed people – those we fear and those who fear us.
Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church
 For a current example of the conversation about independence for both Okinawa and Guam (or the Chamorros): http://minagahet.blogspot.com/2013/03/okinawa-independence-4-dealing-with.html
 Engelhart, K. (2010). The Battle for Okinawa. Maclean's, 123(10), 29–30
 Members of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris. Handbooks on the Missions of the Episcopal Church: Japan (1934) http://anglicanhistory.org/asia/jp/missions1934/01.html
 Zechariah 8:4-5 Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.