We Shall Overcome
We Shall Overcome
戦場ぬ止み Ikusaba nu tudumi
A hundred thousand non-combatants—one in four Okinawans—died in the brutal Battle of Okinawa at the end of World War II. Postwar, the U.S. military forcibly constructed military bases throughout Okinawa. Even today, 43 years since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan and 70 years since the war, 74% of all U.S. military facilities in Japan are crowded onto the Okinawan islands.
We Shall Overcome reports on what is actually going on right now in Okinawa. Today there are plans to construct a brand new military base that requires reclaiming a portion of a beautiful ocean where rare coral and the vanishing dugong make their home. Most Okinawans are opposed to this base, and have launched protests, on sea and on land, to somehow stop construction. Okinawa’s rage has boiled over. In November 2014, Takeshi Onaga was elected Governor of Okinawa in a landslide victory on a platform opposing new base construction. But the national government refuses to budge. It uses subsidies to buy off some Okinawans and uses the Okinawan Prefectural riot police against others, pitting Okinawans against Okinawans. Tensions build daily at the scene of the protests, with injuries and arrests.
Violent confrontations are not the only subject of this documentary. It also reveals the rich culture and way of life of people who have had to live alongside the U.S. military bases, the music and humor they have carefully nurtured in spite of Okinawa’s harrowing history. The film conveys to the world Okinawa’s wish that an end be made to seventy years of conflict.
Our islands of Okinawa are situated on the southernmost end of Japan–closer to Taiwan than to mainland Japan. Today, the archipelago’s beautiful coral reefs make it a tourist destination. However, this was the site of an intense ground war that took the lives of one out of every four local civilians at the end of WWII. Okinawa was returned to Japan after twenty seven years of U.S. occupation, but a heavy presence of Japanese and American military forces remains stationed here to this day.
In 2014, the building of a new U.S. military base in Henoko began, amidst strong protest from Okinawans. People have rushed daily to the gates of the base and to the sea to demand a halt to the construction, but the Japanese government dispatches riot police and coast guards to forcibly expel them. For seventy years since the end of WWII, Okinawa has had to accompany the U.S. in its war-mongering. The Okinawan people have continuously expressed their weariness with war and called for peace at last, but their voices have always been silenced, with the Japan-U.S. security treaty as an excuse.
Then in 2014, people joined across political party lines. They rose up in a showdown against crushing authority, unleashing the generous and resilient power of song, dance, and laughter to conquer a painful struggle–often singing We Shall Overcome.
All around the world, there are people fighting against absolute authority. But we have found that human ties can be reclaimed, even when geography divides us or someone tries to silence us. When the powers that be try to turn us against one other, it is hope that allows us to come together as a human race. Our battle in Okinawa is rich with such stories of courage. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to communicate this truth to the world, to an international audience who may know Japan but not Okinawa.