- Historic Sites
The Bonins—isles Of Contention
Americans settled early on the tiny, strategic Pacific islands, and dominate them again today. But the Japanese want them back
Februrary 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 2
The Japanese, temporarily setting aside the idea of civilian repatriation, turned to that of compensation. If dispossessed farmers could not go back to their lands in the Bonins, then at least they should be paid for the losses they had incurred. Twelve million dollars seemed to them a fair figure. In 1960 the United States Congress authorized the distribution of six and a half million dollars, and this somewhat mollified Japanese complaints about the American occupation.
In the early 1960’s the Navy continued to regard the base at Chichi Jima as essential to American strategy in the Far East. By then the establishment in the Bonins included Navy men’s wives and families, and American children on Chichi Jima were attending the Admiral Arthur Radford School. In the generation since the war, the islanders of Yankeetown had increased in number by about a hundred, and their children too went to Radford School. The islanders were still Japanese nationals, and most young men looked for brides in Japan. But their children were learning English, not Japanese; they saluted the American flag and recited the Pledge of Allegiance at school; and most of their parents hoped that American citizenship ultimately could be arranged for them.
But it seems more and more likely, as time passes, that the Bonins are going back to the Japanese government and to their thousands of displaced settlers. In mid-November, 1967, Premier Eisaku Sato came to Washington to see President Johnson—looking, he said, for something to put in the ten-gallon hat the President had given him on an earlier visit. One thing he got was an agreement that “the mutual security interests of Japan and the United States could be accommodated within arrangements for the return of administration of these islands [the Bonins] to Japan.” Consultations to arrange the return are currently in progress.
Meanwhile, a few Japanese civilians have periodically been allowed to come to Chichi Jima to visit the graves of their war dead. The “American” islanders have taken no part in the observances, but have watched with mixed feelings as the visitors quietly repaired broken tombstones, said their prayers for the dead, and then departed, taking home to Japan handfuls of the rich soil that Commodore Perry had praised and Nathaniel Savory had plowed.