OKINAWA: Forgotten Island

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Plight of the Occupied. Okinawans are an easygoing people whose hard life is mixed with simple pleasures like their village bullfights (see cut). They like the Americans, openly want their island to become a U.S. dependency. Long a subject people, they were exploited for more than 60 years by Japanese occupying troops and businessmen, who despised them as country cousins. When the U.S. invaders gave them food and emergency shelter, Okinawans were amazed and grateful.

Though it classified them as "a liberated people," the U.S. has sometimes treated Okinawans less generously in occupation than the Japanese did. The battle of Okinawa completely wrecked the island's simple farming and fishing economy: in a matter of minutes, U.S. bulldozers smashed the terraced fields which Okinawans had painstakingly laid out for more than a century. Since war's end Okinawans have subsisted on a U.S. dole. Many islanders have no clothes except U.S. Army castoff shirts and dungarees. Okinawans may trade with the outside world only through military government, which means virtually not at all. The result has been a brisk smuggling exchange with Formosa. But even as smugglers, Okinawans are out of luck: they have little to barter except bits & pieces of equipment stolen from U.S. installations.

In the windowless teachers' room of the Nadke High School (during the war the headquarters of the U.S. 96th Division), old, bushy-haired Principal Matsugoro Shimabukuro sighed: "The students here are too puzzled to have any fixed hopes. Why bother to graduate from high school if the only job you can get is working on a labor gang for the American Air Force?"

Symbol on a Hill. General Sheetz and his staff, who are now engaged in the first organized effort in four years to cope with Okinawa's problems, are recruiting a force of 60 to 80 planners to act as a kind of junior SCAP for Okinawa. At Naha, where in May 1945 U.S. forces encountered some of the invasion's stiffest Japanese resistance, U.S. engineers are busy with plans to rebuild the battered port, talk of a new one capable of taking the Pacific's biggest ships. On the broad runways of Naha airport, rows of new F-80s and F-61s gleam in the sun, while some of the sleek jets whoosh overhead. In the makeshift hangars, mechanics work tirelessly to repair typhoon damages. American soldiers and airmen have begun to regain faith in themselves and in their mission.

A reflection of their faith is warming Okinawa's people. On a hill above the southern Okinawa plain lie the ruins of Shuri castle; all that remains of the ancient home of Okinawa's rulers is an iron drinking fountain shaped like a dragon with gaping jaws out of which pours a clear stream of water into a quiet pool. Just above the old castle site stand five new, wooden, tile-roofed buildings. It is the new Ryukyus University, Okinawa's first, which the military government's Education & Information Office has finally managed to open. It has a student and faculty body of 90; cases of books from the U.S are pouring into its neat library. Tall, straight-featured, 21-year-old Yasukane Agarie, the library's temporary custodian, smiled: "This university makes us all happy and hopeful."

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