Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Two Important Dates for US-Japan Ties

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Two Important Dates for US-Japan Ties

Article excerpt

TWO anniversaries coincided in Japan this month - one dark, the other light. Not many remember the dark one, but it was a key event in Japan's slide into the militarism and territorial expansionism that led to World War II.

On May 15, 1932, a group of young naval officers shot their way into the prime minister's official residence, a gloomy structure in the heart of Tokyo. Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, a respected elder statesman, calmly told his assailants, "Let's sit down and talk." They killed him forthwith.

Now for the bright anniversary, which got all the publicity, including a visit by Vice President Dan Quayle. On May 15, 1972, the US formally returned Okinawa to Japanese rule. Okinawa, also known as the Ryukyu Islands, was the scene of some of the bitterest fighting of World War II. Thousands of American and Japanese soldiers died, as well as thousands of Okinawans.

After the war, Okinawa became a bristling fortress from which American military might was projected into an Asian landmass dominated by communist powers - Moscow, Beijing, Hanoi. The first US Marines to land in South Vietnam came from Okinawa. So did some of the B-52s that cratered suspected Vietcong strongholds. In 1969, when President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato began the negotiations that led to the return of Okinawa, the Vietnam War was still going on. Okinawa was also part of the nuclear umbrella the US held over Japan, since Japanese antinuclear sentiment did not permit US nuclear weapons to be stationed in Japan itself.

Many commentators, Japanese and American, did not think that, under these circumstances, Okinawa could be returned to Japan. But Sato persevered, saying that for the people of Japan, the postwar era could not end without the reversion of Okinawa; Mr. Nixon responded, recognizing that for long-term US-Japanese friendship, the islands had to return to Japan.

Okinawa's return was a symbol of American trust in Japan as an ally, of American confidence that Japan's democratic transformation was complete. That confidence led to the concept of global partnership affirmed in the Tokyo Declaration signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa last January. …

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