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Facts of history of MCAS Futenma

By: Peter Simpson

Date Posted: 2007-08-16

Last weekend marked the third anniversary of the helicopter crash into Okinawa Kokusai University campus in Ginowan City. As the controversy surrounding the future and relocation of MCAS Futenma continues, Peter Simpson, an assistant professor at the university, submitted this article detailing the history of the MCAS Futenma (Editor).

I would like to provide a few facts regarding the history of Futenma Air Station and its location in the middle of Ginowan City. (pop. 91,363)1

Contrary to US military make-believe, before the US invasion of Okinawa in 1945 there were no Japanese military bases on the land now occupied by MCAS Futenma, or anywhere else in what is now Ginowan City.2

The area rather consisted of the settlements of Aniya, Aragusuku, Futenma, Ginowan, Isa, Kamiyama, Kiyuna, Mashiki, Oyama and Uchidomari, with a combined population in the region of 13,000.3 These were surrounded by, and depended upon, some of the most fertile agricultural land in Okinawa.

Much of what was not obliterated during the Battle of Okinawa was, in subsequent months, bulldozed by the US military to make way for Futenma auxiliary airstrip.4 As well as priceless agricultural land, this included sites of historical, cultural and religious importance.5

I have so far been unable to establish whether the airstrip was used for any military purposes from 1945-1960.

As newspaper reports from the period indicate, however, it is clear that the unfenced runway and surrounding areas were used by Okinawans for the more or less auspicious purposes of racing cars, foraging for scrap metal or furtively re-engaging in attempts to grow their own food.6

The base only came into full operation in 1960, following negotiations between US and Japanese governments which remain shrouded in secrecy. These provided for the relocation en masse of the US Marine Corps from Japan, where they could be held democratically accountable for their actions, to Okinawa, where they could not.7

The question of accountability remains central to those of us who consider the continued existence of Futenma Air Station an affront to the values the US flag is supposed to symbolise.

As well as rewriting history, the US military and its protagonists often resort to comparing the safety of vehicles in the skies over Ginowan with those on the ground.

While I think some comparisons are reasonable - the CH-53D and E helicopters, for instance, are of similar dimensions to buses which travel on the city’s roads – I think this is otherwise another dismal distraction from the ongoing contempt for democracy in Okinawa which the Futenma base encapsulates.

Ginowan City residents have some degree of democratic control over what happens on the ground outside the base, but none whatsoever over the US military dictatorship which remains a fact of life over their heads.

Until and unless this dictatorship is ended, I consider any peaceful protest which remains within the law nothing short of a civic duty.


  1. Source: Ginowan City website: http://www.city.ginowan.okinawa.jp/

  2. This is made abundantly clear from US aerial reconnaissance photographs of the area taken from January to December 1945, reproduced in the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s series Visual History of Okinawa. (Vols. 5 and 10). Published 2000 and 2002 respectively.

  3. Source: Ginowan City Office population records, 1944. (No records available for 1945).

  4. For photographic evidence, see Visual History of Okinawa. (Vol 10). (See note 1.)

  5. This is graphically revealed in the Averys’ award winning documentary Why Okinawa: Messages from the People, as well as in the Okinawa General Bureau DVD Kichi ga na ka ta koro (When the base wasn’t here).

  6. Atsushi Toriyama, “Okinawa's 'postwar': some observations on the formation of American military bases in the aftermath of terrestrial warfare.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 4, Issue 3 (December 2003), pages 400 – 417. (Trans. D. Buist).

  7. This point was made explicitly with regard to the storage and use of nuclear weapons in the 1956 Price Report, and more generally to US military operations in a number of memoranda from various senior US officials published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume XVIII, Japan; Korea. http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/FRUS.FRUS1958-60v18. Nevertheless, many paragraphs from this correspondence remain classified.

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