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Remarks by the President to People of Okinawa


Office of the Press Secretary (Okinawa, Japan)

For Immediate Release July 21, 2000


Cornerstone of Peace Park Okinawa, Japan

10:45 A.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: First let me thank the Governor, and the other distinguished officials from Okinawa; the family members of those whose names are on this memorial; the distinguished veterans; ladies and gentlemen. I think I should begin by saying that in as much as we are here to talk about the future as well as the past, I think we should give another round of applause to Machika. She did a fine job and was a great credit to the students of this island. (Applause.)

I am very honored to be the first American President to visit Okinawa in 40 years. This week our partners from the G-8 will come here to speak many words about the future. I wanted to come first to this place, that speaks so powerfully in silence about the past, to remember those who lost their lives here; to honor what must have been their last wish, that no future generation ever be forced to share their experience or repeat their sacrifice.

The battle of Okinawa itself lasted more than 80 days. More than 100,000 Japanese soldiers died -- or almost 100,000. More than 10,000 American soldiers. But the heaviest tragedy by far fell on the people of Okinawa, themselves. One-third of the civilian population lost; 90 percent of those who survived left homeless. Every life lost was a life like yours and mine, a life with family and friends, with love and hopes and dreams; a life that in a better world would have run its full course. I thank, especially, the family members of the Okinawans who died for meeting me here at the memorial today.

The Battle of Okinawa was warfare at its most tragic. But this monument built in its memory is humanity at its most inspired; for, here, no grief goes unrecognized. And while most monuments remember only those who have fallen from one side, this memorial recognizes those from all sides and those who took no side. Therefore, it is more than a war memorial; it is a monument to the tragedy of all war, reminding us of our common responsibility to prevent such destruction from ever happening again.

Over the past 50 years, our two nations have come together in this spirit, to meet that responsibility. The strength of our alliance is one of the great stories of the 20th century. Asia is largely at peace today because our alliance has given people throughout the region confidence that peace will be defended and preserved. That is what alliances are for, and that is why ours must endure.

Of course, Okinawa has played an especially vital role in the endurance of our alliance. I know the people of Okinawa did not ask to play this role -- hosting more than 50 percent of America's forces in Japan on less than one percent of Japan's land mass. I heard what the Governor said, and we had the opportunity to discuss this as we walked through the memorial. I have tried hard to understand the concerns of the people here.

Five years ago, we began a process of consolidating our bases here. Together, we agreed on 27 specific steps, over half of which are already completed. Today, Governor, I want to reaffirm to you and the people of Okinawa, we will keep all our commitments, and we will continue to do what we can to reduce our footprint on this island. We take seriously our responsibility to be good neighbors, and it is unacceptable to the United States when we do not meet that responsibility.

In the meantime, there is more that we can do together to bring the benefits of peace and prosperity to this part of Japan. I want the world to see Okinawa not just as a battle in the past, but as Bankoku Shinryo, a bridge between nations; appropriately, the very name of the conference center in which we are meeting this week.

Five centuries ago, during the golden age of the Sho Dynasty, the land served as a crossroads for all trade that flowed through Asia. In the Information Age of the 21st century, Okinawa again can be a crossroads and a gateway between Japan and the rest of the world. In the past year, three American Fortune 500 companies have followed more than 20 Japanese information technology companies in opening operations here.

So here I say, because we have our friends from the media here, to people in the United States, in Europe and all over the world, who will see this magnificent place on television tonight: Okinawa is a good place; come here and help the people build the future.

I am especially pleased to be here in the same year that Ryukyu University celebrates its 50th anniversary; proud that the United States played a leading role in its creation; equally proud that so many young Okinawans studied in the United States through the Garioa and Fulbright programs. In that great tradition, it is my honor to announce today that the United States and Japan will create a new scholarship program to send young Okinawan graduate students to the prestigious East-West Center in Hawaii. And we dedicate this program to the memory of my good friend, your late Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi. May it add to the friendship and understanding between our nations that he worked so hard to advance.

This week, Prime Minister Mori is bringing the partners of the G-8 to Okinawa to find ways to close the gap between the wealthiest and poorest nations of the world; and within nations, between the wealthiest and poorest areas. The message of hope and reconciliation embodied in this beautiful memorial, and the remarkable friendship forged by the United States and Japan, give us hope that we can build bridges over all the troubled waters of the new century that still keep too many people from the joys and possibilities that should be everyone's birthright.

In 1879, Sho Tai, the last King of the Ryukyus, left Shuri Castle for the last time. One of his final acts as king was to read a poem that summed up his hope for the future. Today, his words speak to us across the generations: "Ikusa-yun sumachi, Miruku-un yagate." "The time for wars is ending, the time for peace is not far away. Do not despair. Life itself is a treasure." May Sho Tai's words guide our friendship and our work in the months and years to come.

Governor, I thank you for your remarks and your leadership here. In the end, the words of Sho Tai, if we can make them real in our time, is the very highest tribute we can pay to all those people whose names are on this magnificent memorial.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 10:52 A.M. (L)

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