14. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S. Policy toward the Ryukyu Islands
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  • Lieutenant General Albert Watson II, USA, High Commissioner Designate of the Ryukyu Islands2
  • Colonel John J. Duffy, USA, Director, Civil Affairs, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations, Department of the Army
  • Mr. U. Alexis Johnson, Deputy Under Secretary of State
  • Mr. Jeffrey C. Kitchen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
  • Mr. Robert A. Fearey, Acting Deputy Director for East Asian Affairs
  • Colonel Haakon Lindjord, Office of Politico-Military Affairs
  • Mr. Richard W. Petree, Acting Officer-in-Charge, Japanese Affairs

Mr. Johnson recalled that he had been closely associated with the Okinawan situation since 1946, when he had sent a consular officer to Okinawa to handle various consular matters for U.S. forces stationed there; this officer came back from Naha full of concern about various problems there. Mr. Johnson said he had been in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs in the Department, from 1949 to 1953, when he was again closely associated with Okinawan affairs. He expressed pleasure that General Watson was going to Okinawa, and said that he thought the task of the High Commissioner is probably one of the toughest jobs the Army has for an officer.

Mr. Johnson said the United States has made out amazingly well in the Ryukyus over the last 20 years. This has been partly because of the placid and mild temperament of the Ryukyuan people. Over the next 20 years or longer, however, he felt it possible that the Ryukyus would emerge like Angola, Mozambique and other areas as a first-class colonial problem. Our long-term tenure is viable only if our relations with Japan vis-à-vis the Ryukyuan problem are viable. We must work hard to maintain a position in Okinawa which is manageable from the standpoints of world opinion and the opinions of the American people. Mr. Johnson felt that on the economic side we have done well in Okinawa. The standard of living and general economic well-being of the Ryukyuan people appear to have shown considerable improvement over the period of our administration.

Mr. Johnson said the Government of Japan is conservative and has shown itself willing to play ball with us on the Okinawa problem. The ruling conservative elements in Japan must clearly demonstrate an interest in the Ryukyus, however. We must assist the Japanese in maintaining its present policy position with respect to the Okinawan problem.

Mr. Johnson said that in the Ryukyus we have to walk a narrow line between paternalistic protection of the Ryukyuans from their own [Page 15]mistakes and a policy of autonomy for the Ryukyuans. This is a hard job and there are no clear answers as to how it can best be accomplished. The High Commissioner’s power of veto over the actions of the Government of the Ryukyu Islands tends to make the Ryukyuans irresponsible, able to blame developments on the High Commissioner. Mr. Johnson said he believed the Ryukyuans should be forced to assume more responsibility for their own affairs, even though this meant letting them make mistakes.

Mr. Johnson said that it is all too easy to sit in Washington or to visit Okinawa briefly and come up with expert answers. He felt, however, that we have been a little too paternalistic and protective in our administration of the islands.

Mr. Johnson said that the High Commissioner is confronted with the dilemma of reconciling the political desires of the Ryukyuans and the Japanese with the military requirements of our mission there. There appears to be some feeling of suspicion and hostility toward Japan among U.S. officials in Okinawa. They seem to feel that they must defend themselves against Japan’s edging in. Some of these feelings appeared to be transferred to the Embassy in Tokyo. He hoped that General Watson could make the relationship with the Embassy and the Japanese a little less suspicious. We should aim at a normal friendly give-and-take and strive for mutual confidence with the Japanese. General Watson’s consultations in Tokyo on his way to Naha would give him an excellent opportunity to talk with the Embassy and to meet some of the key Japanese Government officials concerned with Ryukyuan affairs.

Mr. Johnson referred to President Kennedy’s policy statement of March 19, 1962 and said that the primary objective of the President’s statement is to enable us to stay in the Ryukyus for as long as there is a military requirement for our bases there.3 The Department of State completely supports this objective. In our administration in Okinawa we must do everything possible to prevent the rise of local hostility to our presence. We could not stay in Okinawa if we lose the support of Japan. The guidelines of our policies in Okinawa must be the attitudes of the local populace, of the Japanese, and the American people. Mr. Johnson said General Watson had our solid and sympathetic support.

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Mr. Johnson said that our problem in Okinawa is similar in some ways—and fundamentally different in others—to that in Panama. There is an American enclave with an American standard of life that is completely different from that of the local populace. The situation is bound to create problems, but they should not be unmanageable if we conduct our administration intelligently. General Watson observed that he had heard that Okinawan attitudes toward the Americans in the Ryukyus are friendly and favorable.

Mr. Johnson asked about the status of the Department of the Army’s appropriation bill for Okinawa and was told that the Army has requested $12 million for economic assistance and $2.4 million for administration. The Army estimates that it may get around $12 million total. Colonel Duffy said the hearings before the Passman Subcommittee were unprecedented in the warmth of the committee’s reception of Department of the Army spokesmen, including General Caraway. Colonel Duffy noted that Congressman Passman visited Okinawa this spring and carried away a very fine impression of the job done by General Caraway. Mr. Johnson expressed pleasure that General Watson may have an adequate budget with which to work.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 19 RYU IS. Confidential. Drafted by Petree and approved by G on June 16.
  2. On June 4 Watson also met with Harriman, Green, and Bacon; summaries of those conversations are ibid.
  3. On March 19, 1962, President Kennedy announced measures to strengthen civil and local government in the Ryukyu Islands, including enabling the legislature to nominate the Chief Executive, limiting the High Commissioner’s veto power, and lengthening the term of the legislature. Kennedy also called for a continuous review of local and military government to determine those administrative functions that could be turned over to the Ryukyuan Government. On October 4 Kennedy approved an increase in U.S. funding for the social and economic development of the islands. (American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1032–1033)