Don’t Make Our Islands a Battlefield!

March 4th, 2023 - by Sumie Sato / World BEYOND War

Don’t Make Our Islands a Battlefield!

Sumie Sato / World BEYOND War

(February 29, 2023) — On the 26th of February in Naha City, [Uchinaa, the Island of Okinawa], Okinawa Prefecture, people gathered for a rally entitled “Don’t Make the Islands a Battlefield! Make Okinawa a Place of Messages of Peace! 26 February Emergency Rally.”

In front of 1,600 people at the Okinawa Prefectural Citizen’s Plaza (Kenmin Hiroba) adjacent the Okinawa Prefectural Office, Mr. GUSHIKEN Takamatsu said, “This is not just a political rally. It is a gathering to appeal for the survival of the people of Okinawa. We want you to participate, even if only for a short time, for the sake of your children and grandchildren.”

Mr. Gushiken is the executive committee chairman of Gamafuya (“cave diggers” in Uchinaaguchi, the indigenous language of Uchinaa). Gamafuya is a volunteer group that recovers the remains of those who perished in the Battle of Okinawa in spring of 1945, just before the end of the Pacific War in August 1945.

During the speeches at the Citizen’s Plaza, some 20 people from various groups spoke. We heard the voices of people who have been threatened by war, island residents, religious people, ex-soldiers of the SDF.

And we heard a speech from Douglas Lummis, the Veterans for Peace — Ryukyus/Okinawa Chapter Kokusai (VFP-ROCK) . He is also the author of a new book entitled War Is Hell: Studies in the Right of Legitimate Violence (2023). After the speeches, the participants marched with a chorus of chants, appealing to the people of Naha City to generate messages of peace.

Many of the messages at the rally were addressed to the people of Uchinaa. The majority of the participants were probably Uchinaa residents. Many of them were elderly, but there were a few families with children as well as some young people.

For the elderly people, who actually experienced the Battle of Okinawa, the war has never ended there, with the U.S. military bases and fighter jets flying overhead an everyday sight. They must fear that the flames of war are coming closer and closer. They continue to work resolutely because they do not wish for their children and grandchildren, who have never known war, to experience it.

The real and powerful messages I heard that day are precious to me — I who did not experience the war. The messages weighed heavily on my mind. And I could not help but feel responsible for the indifference of the mainland that has given birth to the current situation.

Yamashiro Hiroji was incarcerated and mistreated for peacefully protesting the violence of the US and Japan governments.

One thing that left a deep impression on me was when Mr. Yamashiro Hiroji, one of the executive committee members, said that in preparing for this emergency meeting, the seniors and young people on the committee had repeatedly engaged in dialogue with each other. There is a generation gap between seniors and young people in terms of war.

The senior generation, which has experienced the war firsthand, has sent a message of hatred and anger toward the Japanese government and the war, but the younger generations do not feel comfortable with that kind of message. How can people of different generations join hands and expand the movement?

Through a process of multiple group dialogues, the senior generation conveyed and accepted the thoughts and feelings of the younger generation, and in the end, the message “Love rather than fight” was made the central slogan of this rally. A symbolic scene was when Mr. Yamashiro bowed his head at the end of the rally to express his gratitude for the participation of the young people.

Sumie Sato is a mother, a translator, and a World BEYOND War volunteer.