Keystone: The American Occupation of Okinawa and U.S.-Japanese Relations

By Carafano, James Jay | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

Keystone: The American Occupation of Okinawa and U.S.-Japanese Relations


Carafano, James Jay, Naval War College Review


Sarantakes, Nicholas Evan. Keystone: The American Occupation of Okinawa and U.S. -Japanese Relations. College Station: Texas A&M Univ. Press, 2000. 264pp. $34.95

In the after-action report on the U.S. occupation of the Rhineland following World War I, Colonel I. L. Hunt wrote, "The history of the United States offers an uninterrupted series of wars, which demanded as their aftermath, the exercise by its officers of civil government functions." "Despite the[se] precedents," he lamented, "the lesson seemingly has not been learned." The military returned to this tradition of forgetting after World War II. Subsequent to that second global conflict, U.S. forces assumed responsibility for over two hundred million people in occupation zones in Asia and Europe at a cost of over a billion dollars a year, yet official military histories barely touch the topic. Texas A&M University professor Nicholas Evan Sarantakes steps in to fill part of the void with a thought-provoking case study of the American occupation of Okinawa from 1945 to the island's formal return to Japanese sovereignty in 1972. Sarantakes's thesis is that bureaucratic infighting shaped the course of the occupation as much as did national security strategy and foreign policy. This finding parallels other research on U.S. postwar operations.

Sarantakes begins his narrative with the 1 April 1945 amphibious assaults launching Operation ICEBERG, an imperfect but ultimately successful campaign. This story has already been well told (particularly in George Feifer's Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb [ 1992 ] ), but Sarantakes's version is briskly written and engaging. His purpose in beginning with the fight for the island is to illustrate the interservice disagreements that marred operations-difficulties, he argues, that foreshadowed future problems.

The fundamental obstacle, Sarantakes finds, was that the United States lacked an overarching strategy for what to do with the islands. Normally, the military wanted to jettison occupation duties as quickly as possible; Okinawa was a rare exception. Both the Army and the Navy saw the island as a potential base from which to guard against a resurgent Japan or uncooperative Soviet Union. After a few typhoons demonstrated the vulnerability of harbor facilities, the Navy dropped its interest in Okinawa. The Army, however, saw utility in staging troops and bombers on the island and assumed overall control of the occupation. An Army commander was appointed high commissioner, making him the senior U. …

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