Millions of cubic tons of soil that will be used to build a controversial US airbase on the Japanese island of Okinawa contain the remains of Japanese and Americans who died in one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War, according to citizen diggers.
Volunteers, searching for the bones of people who died or committed suicide during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, have demanded that Japan’s Defense Ministry end the work to clean up the land, calling it an affront to the dignity of the dead. at war.
The battle, which lasted nearly three months, left 200,000 Japanese and Americans dead, including more than a quarter of Okinawa’s civilian population. Most died during the invasion, while others, on the orders of Japanese soldiers, committed suicide in groups, huddled in caves before detonating grenades.
The remains of some 2,800 victims are still buried, according to the Okinawa prefectural government.
Takamatsu Gushiken, the head of Gamafuya (cave diggers), said the soil, from two locations on the southern tip of the island, likely contained bone fragments of Okinawan civilians, Japanese and American soldiers, and Koreans who had been recruited to fight for the empire. Japan.
“The Japanese government’s plans will destroy the dignity of the war victims … I can hardly believe it,” said Gushiken, 67. “Civilians and soldiers will be used to build a military base.”
The soil from the sites, which have been cleared of trees and cordoned off, will be used in a reclamation project to build an offshore airstrip for a US Marine Corps base being built in Henoko, a village on Okinawa’s pristine northeast coast.
Gushiken, who has recovered 300 sets of remains in the past four decades, including those of a small number of US soldiers, said Defense Ministry officials had ignored his calls to cancel the project.
“I asked them if they realized they were going to use dirt that contained human bones, but they didn’t respond,” said Gushiken, who briefly went on hunger strike this month to draw attention to the problem. “If they continue with the excavation work knowing what is in that soil, it will be an act of treason towards the people who died.”
Volunteer excavators found bones and teeth that they believe belonged to older civilians before they were barred from entering the areas, he added.
Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said no decision had been made on where to obtain soil after the reclamation plan was modified last year amid evidence that the seabed at the new base site it was softer than previously thought. The companies involved in the reclamation work would carry out visual checks of the soil before removing it, Kishi saying.
The Henoko base, which is intended to replace an existing Marine Corps facility located in the middle of a densely populated area of Okinawa, is opposed by most islanders, who say it will destroy the marine environment and will not do nothing to address their demands to reduce the US Military Footprint.
Okinawa, located about 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, is home to more than half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan and about three-quarters of the country’s military bases.
“It doesn’t matter if you are for or against the Henoko base, it is a humanitarian issue,” Gushiken said. “The land from the scene of a bloody battle will be thrown into a beautiful bay, and it must be stopped.”
Under a 2016 law, the government of Japan is responsible for collecting the remains of soldiers and civilians who died in World War II.
At the end of last year, some 500 people who lost relatives in the Battle of Okinawa submitted a petition to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, requesting that the land in the southern part of the island not be used to build the Henoko base.
The island’s governor, Denny Tamaki, has indicated that he will oppose the land removal plan.
“The use of land in a place where the remains of those killed in the war may have been left hurts the feelings of the Okinawan people and the grieving families who lived through the tragedy of the war,” he said after a recent visit to the site, according to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
Tsuyoshi Kitaueda of the Citizen’s Network for Peace in Okinawa said the areas in question had been the scene of fierce fighting after US forces cornered Japanese soldiers defending the southern reaches of Okinawa.
“There were a lot of battles in that part of the island, so we think there are still quite a few human remains buried there,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism