“The Vietnam conflict was an undeclared and limited war, with a limited objective, fought with limited means against an unorthodox enemy, and with limited public support,” said William Westmoreland. “The longest war in our history, it was the most reported and the most visible to the public – but the least understood.”
Probably the least understood part of the war had to do with how America used the islands of Okinawa and Ogasawara as leverage against Japan in an effort to get Japan to somehow maintain the partition of Vietnam. You can see how this all played out if you look at what happened when America returned Ogasawara to Japan.
On June 24, 1967, the New York Times reported that Japan had begun a “determined campaign” to secure the return of the Ogasawara Islands from America. America had gained possession of the Ogasawara Islands and the islands of Okinawa under the San Francisco Peace Treaty. According to the treaty, America could keep those islands as long as it considered them essential to the defense of the region. Japan argued that America did not need the Ogasawara Islands to maintain security in the area. America disagreed with that assessment, but it acknowledged that it had made little use of the islands. By contrast, everyone acknowledged the important role of the U.S. military bases on Okinawa, especially with the Vietnam War going on.
“Okinawa’s pivotal role as an American base in the Vietnam conflict – and in the total defense shield for Japan and other Pacific lands – rules out any immediate transfer of control,” said the New York Times, on November 13. “But no similar holdback applies to jurisdiction over the Bonins and other small nonstrategic islands.”
This statement implies that if Japan were somehow able to end the war in Vietnam, America would have less need for its bases on Okinawa and would therefore be more likely to return the islands to Japan.
In an effort to resolve the issues of Ogasawara and Okinawa, Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato visited America in November of 1967. According to the New York Times, Prime Minister Sato was perhaps the most pro-American member of the ruling party. He arrived in Washington D.C. on November 13.
Prior to his arrival, the New York Times reported that America would have to provide some forward movement on the return of Okinawa during the summit, but America refused to say what that forward movement would consist of. The Times reported that America might allow a civilian governor to take over the administration of Okinawa, instead of having a military High Commissioner perform the duty. As for Ogasawara, the Times reported that America and Japan might reach a timetable for its reversion during the summit.
While Japan wanted America to return of the islands of Okinawa and Ogasawara, America wanted Japan to say it supported the American war efforts in Vietnam. On November 14, Prime Minister Sato did just that. He praised America’s efforts to bring peace and stability to Asia. One Japanese official called that statement a direct expression of support for America’s policy in Vietnam. But according to the New York Times, the American government had hoped that Sato would make his support of the war in Vietnam more clear-cut later during his visit to America. Presumably, the reason why America wanted Japan to support its efforts in Vietnam was to damage the image of Japan in the eyes of other East Asian countries. A statement of support by Japan for the war in Vietnam would also help to maintain the split between the communist and capitalist portions of East Asia by providing further evidence that Japan was solidly in the capitalist portion. Of course, Japan didn’t want to do this and so it tried to limit its support of the war as much as possible.
On November 15, America and Japan agreed to immediately begin negotiations on the return of the Ogasawara Islands to Japan. According to the New York Times, American officials hoped the return would happen in less than a year. By contrast, America intended on keeping Okinawa for the foreseeable future. In an effort to mollify the people of Okinawa, America agreed to create a committee composed of people from Japan, Okinawa, and America to advise the High Commissioner for Okinawa. Despite that, Prime Minister Sato continued to push for the return of Okinawa. In a speech, he argued that returning Okinawa to Japan would not necessarily impede the operation of U.S. bases on Okinawa.
According to the New York Times, the Japanese public had a mixed reaction to the summit between President Johnson and Prime Minister Sato. On the one hand, they appreciated the agreement on Ogasawara. On the other hand, they were disappointed in the lack of progress on the Okinawa issue. The Socialists and the Communists said they would increase their efforts to secure the return of Okinawa.
On November 17, the New York Times wrote another editorial on the meeting between Prime Minister Sato and President Johnson. The Times believed that Japan got less than it should have, noting that it failed to secure the return of Okinawa. The Times noted that Prime Minister Sato had adopted a position on the Vietnam War closer to the American position than the position held by the Japanese public. Given that, America should have given Japan something more on the Okinawa issue, according to the Times. At that time, only two years remained before 1970, when Japan had to decide on whether or not to extend its security treaty with America.
“The Okinawa problem must be settled within those two years, either by returning the island to Japanese administration – which is hardly likely if the Vietnam War is still on – or by clear-cut agreement on eventual relinquishment of American control,” said the New York Times.
If America failed to provide a solution to Okinawa by then, the Times believed the Japanese Communists might be able to use that issue to end the alliance between America and Japan. The Times argued that America should return Okinawa to Japan rather than risk the termination of the alliance. Basically, Japan had offered America a choice – either return Okinawa and Ogasawara or the alliance is over, we’re going to become communists, and we will align ourselves with China. Since the whole point of the Cold War was to split Japan and China, I imagine it was an easy choice for America to decide on returning those islands, rather than allowing Japan and China to form an alliance.
By the way, during his visit to America, Prime Minister Sato said Japan might play a meaningful role in the peace process in Vietnam, but he did not specify exactly what he had in mind.
Friday, February 18, 2011
I posted an article about the connection between the Vietnam War and the return of Iwo Jima to Japan. The following is a copy of it.