In 1951, six years after the United States defeated Japan and commenced the Occupation of Okinawa, the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyus (USCAR) issued an ordinance in support of agricultural cooperatives. Despite the appearance of altruism, the move marked the emergence of the U.S. anticolonial empire, a form that advocated racial and ethnic self-determination even as it expanded the U.S. military presence. This article shows how U.S. policymakers in Okinawa borrowed from modernization theory to implement models to foster ethnic identification through economic development. Their plans sought to render the United States an ally to Okinawa freedom despite the devastating effects militarism had on the local landscape. Specifically, military plans posited frameworks like the Okinawan economy, which strategically turned the military into a partner without whom Okinawa could not modernize. The article further focuses on agriculture, an arena where the contradictions of the U.S. Occupation was most acute. It argues that rehabilitating the local cooperative network drew Okinawans into the military project, not only to paper over the U.S. colonial presence, but also to further the reach of military discipline.

In 1951, six years after the U.S. military defeated the Japanese empire and set about expanding its foothold in the Pacific, the U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyus (USCAR) issued an unexpected ordinance in support of agricultural cooperatives in Okinawa. The small archipelago situated between Japan and Taiwan had just suffered a devastating World War II battle. Yet, the U.S. military wanted to turn Okinawa into a stronghold from where it could police East and Southeast Asia. To realize the plan, strategists touted their commitment to anticolonial causes. As one of its first acts of colonial aggression, Japan had annexed the islands in 1879, incorporating the ancient Ryukyu kingdom into its modern nation-state as a prefecture. There it tested rigid policies that assimilated Okinawans into political, economic, and cultural networks propping up its expanding empire. With Japan’s defeat on Okinawa and in the war, the U.S. military assumed control over East Asia’s postwar reconstruction.

Wary of growing anticolonial resentments, U.S. military strategists claimed they needed to detach Okinawa from Japan to right colonial wrongs. Beyond annexation, these wrongs included forced assimilation to Japanese customs, economic restructuring bending Okinawa to Japan, and wartime mobilizations that both conscripted Okinawans into Japanese military service and sent Japanese forces to the southern prefecture. The United States divided the Okinawa archipelago into four island groups—Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama—over which the U.S. inaugurated a military-led civil administration charged with engaging local customs to better meet Okinawan needs. From the end of World War II until Japan regained control in 1972, the U.S. military laid the groundwork for an extensive base system. Today, Okinawa hosts roughly 46,000 American troops on nineteen military installations over 20 percent of the central island’s farmable land. According to U.S. state officials, this military footprint repels enemies, ranging from 1950s communists to today’s terrorists. Most Okinawans disagree, citing instead the U.S. military’s history of dispossession, civilian accidents, and violence against women.1

Despite their handoff from one empire to another, Okinawan leaders of the time responded enthusiastically to the 1951 USCAR ordinance. Gathering in villages across the Okinawa islands, they praised USCAR for recognizing Okinawan talent and fulfilling lofty promises to foster local autonomy and a strong economy. In the applications they submitted to attain USCAR recognition for their cooperatives, Okinawan representatives thanked the military government for “greatly [helping] the cooperative associations develop to date through its timely legislation.” They proclaimed themselves “deeply grateful” and said they “[felt] keenly the great importancy [sic] of the mission [they bore].”2 Indicating agreement and camaraderie, this exchange between U.S. military officials and Okinawans appears to subvert associations of the U.S. empire with colonial violence and callous overhauls of more peaceful, communal cultures belonging to colonized peoples.

Rather than take the military’s agricultural reforms as a departure from earlier episodes of colonialism, I show this demonstration of U.S. benevolence and local cooperation to exemplify what I call the “U.S. anticolonial empire.” Emerging after World War II, this iteration of imperialism heeded calls from anticolonial dissidents in the peripheries for the break-up of traditional empires. Instead of territorial acquisitions and the implementation of direct rule, U.S. policymakers distanced themselves from these features. Worldwide, they argued for national self-determination, internationalism, and multilateralism. Not only did these doctrines purport to extend the right of self-governance to people across races and ethnicities, they appeared to prefer cooperation, which political scientists believed limited the powers of any one state. Still, nation and nationalism undergird the channels for postcolonial redress preferred by the United States and derived from the colonial condition to knit earlier ranks of the colonized into subordinate relationships. As this article shows, the U.S. Occupation government weaponized the desire of former colonies to join the ranks of developed nations. American policymakers designed strategies that promised to uplift those peripheries but only if they welcomed U.S. military power. I use the “U.S. anticolonial empire” to characterize this dynamic that powered the spread of U.S. might in Okinawa and around the world after World War II. Using anticolonial calls for freedom as a cover, the United States peddled nationalist solutions that both contained the spread of radical organizing and positioned the nation as the new hegemon that determined what wars were fought, what governments were legitimate, and what economies were viable.

The economy proved a powerful tool for the U.S. anticolonial empire to render its intentions benign.3 Despite its material appearance, an economy is an epistemological object, a paradigm that organizes perception and subsequent action such that both seem objective.4 It presumes that measures like wages, price, supply, and demand are natural, that they should function in tandem, and that they have clear values that currency rightfully determines. The charge of undeveloped economies substantiated the ongoing meddling of earlier empires, and in the postwar climate, economies served that function once more. As anticolonial sentiments grew, U.S. social scientists developed models that purported to shepherd groups from traditional stages of growth toward more sophisticated arrangements. What became modernization theory proclaimed modernity attainable for all and grafted an evolutionary process organizing change in the natural world to people, societies, and an underlying economic structure that purported to drive change. All this without resorting to an anticolonial revolution. Bound to their own commitment to national self-determination, the U.S. military borrowed a framework from modernization theorists to entrench itself in the Okinawan landscape. This was the Okinawan economy, which shored up the new entity’s borders and treated the military as complements to Okinawan-led development. Occupation forces were consumers driving up demand, investors jumpstarting industries, and employers offering jobs to draw Okinawans out of unemployment. This article contends that once installed, the Okinawan economy anchored the U.S. military’s ability to appropriate anticolonial discourses and re-position itself an economic partner.

This paper further demonstrates how the U.S. anticolonial empire deployed economic logic to ensure discipline especially when the United States faced limitations to its reach. Such was the case once U.S. military planners turned to Okinawa’s agricultural sector. Earlier social scientific studies had determined most Okinawans to be farmers. Access to land was a key factor influencing their ability to produce to U.S. standards. At the same time, the military needed land for its installations and envisioned itself a physical occupant within the Okinawan economy. Unable to deviate from its policy of indirect rule, the military mined Okinawan culture for local inspirations that could perform its desired tasks.

Agricultural cooperatives resolved this set of contradictions. In prewar Japan, cooperatives supported small-scale production. They allowed members to pool resources and functioned as banks, schools, and administrative entities. But, cooperatives also promoted greater participation in capital flows. When championed by Japan, they tailored extractive practices to small-scale producers. Similarly, postwar military cooperatives shuttled American ideas about finance and government into Okinawa’s more remote parts where the United States hoped to rule at arm’s length. Considered unique to Okinawa, the groups also facilitated Okinawans’ transformation into self-conscious people. Because U.S. militarism stressed the recuperation of “Okinawa,” I question tendencies equating anticolonial resistance with resuscitating local mores. Furthermore, I draw attention to the fact that some Okinawans sided with the Occupation. Their participation normalized the military’s focus on economic development, quieting detractors to render economic growth a universal goal. I argue that the discourse of national self-determination did not overturn military logic. I also suggest that when anti-military actions spread across Okinawa, the opposition challenged U.S. supremacy on the economic terrain.

In analyzing how the U.S. anticolonial empire used economic development to militarize Okinawa despite growing anticolonial critiques, I intervene in the literature about U.S. postwar imperialism in two ways. First, many scholars of East Asia have noted how the U.S. empire shifted from advocating explicit exclusion to paternalistic mutual aid after World War II.5 However, their analyses have focused primarily on cultural products. In their studies, the political economic underpinnings of U.S. empire provided the context for movies and novels that insinuated to the American public a benevolent but no less colonial version of U.S. power. My focus on U.S. military reports and their social scientific basis joins between political economy and discourse to emphasize the conscious construction of so-called material reality. In the same way they built a local government to define acceptable politics, U.S. Occupation authorities manufactured an “Okinawan economy” to legitimate certain commercial exchanges with the U.S. military. Believed to propel social evolution toward modern nationhood, the economy allowed the U.S. military to disguise their interference as a desired natural fact of life.

The fact that the United States introduced neutral frameworks to erase the ideological connotations of their military incursions presents a second, thornier problem for critical analyses. Scholars of U.S. social science have noted the importance of modernization theory to U.S. foreign policy. At a time when decolonization forced shifts in the international system, deploying concepts like nation, the economy, and development allowed the United States to present itself as an ally to anticolonial leaders skeptical of foreign intrusions. U.S. policymakers considered modernization schemes a way to prevent anticolonial movements from forging alternative social systems free from U.S. rule. For their part, anticolonial leaders noticed the escalating efforts to discredit their work. Nearly two decades after Okinawa’s occupation began, Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah named the reassertion of colonial control via economic strategies “neocolonialism.” His calls for a “Third Way” that afforded newly decolonized nations decision-making powers as sovereign entities challenged U.S. and Soviet designs to woo the colonial peripheries.6

Yet, I propose that nationalist leaders never completely disavowed the tools through which the States articulated its power. They bought in, universalizing the strong nations, economies, and development that secured neocolonial hierarchies of power.7 Academic studies of the U.S. postwar empire and anticolonial nationalists, however, exaggerate anticolonial nationalism’s challenge to the modes of rule and thinking left behind by colonial powers.8 Such analyses not only conceal the multifarious strategies people deployed to resist the U.S. empire, they also understand U.S. military expansion as exceptional transgressions of state power as if maintaining nations, nationalism, and capital flows is itself desirable. I situate this article within a growing body of work on postwar Okinawa that foregrounds the U.S. strategy of forging everyday ties concealing the exceptional assertion of U.S. military power.9 I argue that the U.S. Occupation encouraged transactions to cumulatively produce an Okinawan economy that modernized only when the U.S. military was there.

Here I note two limitations of my archive. I use mostly U.S. military documents to explore Occupation rationales for Okinawa’s postwar rehabilitation. Most of the reports do not list an individual author and are, instead, compiled collectively from multiple parties reporting up the chain of command. They do not always illuminate the tensions animating the complexities and contradictions in state bureaucracies. U.S. military records are also not a gauge of Okinawan perspectives. As with all colonial archives, Okinawans within Occupation records substantiate U.S. rationales even when a mention is unremarkable. In the case of postwar agricultural cooperatives, military scientists and policymakers used social science to obscure Okinawa’s strategic value. The reports, then, deployed social scientific language to introduce policies that built the U.S. presence into local life. What was, in fact, very political—that is, the U.S. military occupation—became less so because the sober observations of anthropologists and economists appeared benign.

Still, the Japanese-language sources I use to illustrate Okinawan responses complicate understandings of U.S. colonialism in the postwar era. A wealth of literature documents how colonialism created a class of local elite whose embrace of “modern” practices shored up norms in government, labor, and everyday life.10 As part one further notes, U.S. policy in the postwar era shifted noticeably away from forms of direct rule to focus more on instilling indirect control. These two considerations beg a different, more difficult reading of Japanese-language sources. Though Okinawan perspectives ranged widely, some locals did, in fact, lend their labor to military projects. They could have shared a vision with U.S. occupiers. And if military rule rested on local complicity, the anti-military struggles that mark Okinawa’s condition today are the result of detractors who labored to assert counternarratives to oppose prevailing norms.

U.S. self-imaginings as an anticolonial empire upholding the right to racial and ethnic self-determination cohered cogently after World War II. Calls for immediate decolonization intensified in the colonized periphery, and as global fascism fell out of favor, so too did acts of territorial conquest and assertions of innate racial superiority. For the World War II victors, the United States and the Soviet Union, global dominance hinged on declaring solidarity with an emerging Global South. There in the colonial periphery anticolonial dissidents pushed powerful critiques tying colonialism to capitalism and racism. U.S. foreign policymakers, in turn, emphasized establishing nations. Fearing challenges to their rule, they professed such commitments to sovereignty to defuse suspicions anticolonial leaders had of the States. Of course, the United States privileged free markets where the interests of capital flourished, and when the 1949 Chinese Communist Revolution proved the viability of communist alternatives, U.S. strategists rushed to stabilize decolonizing regions in the name of capitalist hegemony. The Cold War saw U.S. wars in Korea (1953) and Vietnam (1964), not to mention numerous clandestine operations forcing violent regime change throughout Latin America and Africa. These clashes, in turn, created the need for the United States to hold 815 bases outside its territory by the end of the 1950s.11

On the ground, the U.S. anticolonial empire attempted to resolve its contradictory impulses. Because the United States now vowed to protect national sovereignty when making bids for power, military strategists began emphasizing tactics that gravitated away from conventional warfare toward counterinsurgency. Here the goal was not the complete annihilation of the enemy but rather the isolation of “insurgents” with opposing views to simultaneously save the remaining population and secure U.S. strategic interests.12 Building nations that reflected American beliefs in the freedom of markets met these objectives. Even before the war ended, both the Army and Navy prepared to institute occupation governments that steered unpredictable anticolonial energies toward alternatives less damaging to U.S. global power. The two branches launched academic programs at renowned universities like Yale and Columbia, where curriculum taught theories of good governance over how to achieve a military victory.13

Tasked with running future occupation governments, military officers turned to the social sciences. Just as they made “foreign” territories legible for the bureaucrats of prewar colonial states, disciplines like sociology, anthropology, and economics helped military administrators assess postwar territories to better mobilize bodies for labor and resources for production.14 At the same time, modernization theory emerged as the dominant paradigm. This school of thought promised to elevate standards of living in societies that evolutionary theorists a generation prior had deemed incapable of change. After categorizing societies as traditional or modern, modernization theorists affixed them on a developmental path where modernity meant bearing likeness to “the West.” Modernization theorists further thought societies comprised integrated political, economic, and cultural levers. Minor adjustments to standardize practices in local markets, for example, had the potential to yield more mature political practices that better resembled the American way. If traditional societies came in contact with advanced ones, evolution proceeded even faster.15 Modernization theory, therefore, re-made the dispossession of the colonized into a benevolent encounter that helped the less fortunate evolve more quickly.

By 1943, U.S. military strategists began laying plans for their takeover of the Japanese empire. Although the Potsdam Declaration guided decisions to carve the Koreas and Taiwan from Japan, the United States decided it would create a perimeter of bases within these newly decolonized territories to police threats in the Northeast Asian theater. True to the newfound emphasis in counterinsurgency, military planners also inaugurated civil governments to accompany their broader goal of building bases. Overseeing areas beyond immediate base facilities, civil governments installed modernization policies that offered a semblance of American benevolence, making the physical presence of U.S. troops easier to bear and steering occupied territories away from acts upending the U.S. military hold. Anticipating the shift to military-led civil administrations, departments like the Office of Strategic Services, the Navy, and the Army sought more insights into the areas where they might rule.16

Two reports brought Okinawa into focus once the military determined it to be, initially, the site of their final invasion of Japan and, later, a future outpost for military interventions in Asia. Written by anthropologists Alfred Tozzer and George Murdock, the studies consolidated assumptions that squared U.S. military interests with that of the anticolonial empire. This “Okinawa” was discrete, home to an ethnic minority who had possessed an independent kingdom with political, legal, and economic institutions mirroring those of other societies. Japan also persecuted this “Okinawa,” which meant that Okinawans learned timidity. They did not think they were a distinct people, which stymied the growth of their society. Imagining a world composed of self-determined nations beholden to the United States, military policymakers decided that this would not do. “Okinawans,” too, should be free. They would separate Okinawa from Japan, return it to its precolonial form. The ensuing occupation would, then, introduce development plans that helped Okinawans embrace their own ethnicity.17 The Tozzer and Murdock reports created a subject of U.S. military rule. Presenting a backward Okinawa ripe for an occupation promising future freedoms, they repackaged colonial violence as both anticolonial and benevolent.

“Liberation” at the hands of the emerging U.S. anticolonial empire was vexed. For one, it required an assault on the Okinawan islands. Dubbed the “typhoon of steel” for its exceptional brutality, the Battle of Okinawa began with air raids on Naha, Okinawa’s capital from late 1944 to the spring of 1945. A land invasion followed with troops landing on the Kerema islands to the west of central Okinawa. Soon after, U.S. units convened on Okinawa island, pushing into its central parts to split Japanese forces toward the north and south. For Japan, Okinawa was the last line of defense for the empire’s inner realm. The Japanese army conscripted Okinawan civilians to use as fodder, padding their depleted forces so they could delay the American victory enough to negotiate treaties more favorable to Japan. When the dust settled, casualties numbered at 12,000 Americans and 150,000 Japanese, many of whom were Okinawans. Furthermore, the fighting displaced another 200,000 Okinawans, whom the military gathered in refugee camps that they also moved throughout the battle to escape fighting or coordinate relief efforts. As military staff hurried to accommodate the displaced Okinawans according to their pre-invasion plans, they circulated a directive from Admiral Nimitz drafted prior to the fighting to declare U.S. military law in effect.18 Though U.S. forces fought the Japanese in battle, their targets were Okinawans in the military occupation expected to follow. An early declaration of law and order minimized confusion and contests for power likely to arise when the U.S. took over.

In addition to a devastating battle, “liberation” required a series of erasures to suppress the contradictions threatening the military’s façade as a benevolent, anticolonial force. Though the material effects of war cannot be disputed, military summations surveying the destructive aftermaths substantiated Okinawa as a subject fitted for rescue by the U.S. military occupation—not unlike travel writers setting romantic tales of adventure against an unpeopled wilderness. There, empty terrains extricated from time and devoid of life served as backdrops to the strength, ingenuity, and propriety of colonial agents.19 Here, U.S. accounts rendered civil government, property rights, police, and banking “completely disappeared,” “almost nonexistent,” and “disrupted,” readying a canvas to display the military’s commitment to nation-building.20 As the military began attaching itself to the landscape, its summations recounted activities that fed into the “political,” “economic,” and “cultural” spheres that rendered Okinawans a distinct people.21 This included the re-institution of laws, statistics tracking births and deaths, and symbols like Shuri Castle, which connected Okinawans to an unadulterated past.22

To demonstrate the military’s commitment to racial and ethnic self-determination, U.S. officials resumed practices and reconvened structures they hoped would yield a strong, healthy government of an independent people. Before the resettlement of displaced Okinawans began, authorities had Okinawans organize themselves into groups of 60 to 100 persons to appoint “local ‘mayors’” that oversaw councils. Councils, then, adopted “a more elaborate structure with the district as the geographical basis.” Elections were held in September 1945. For the executive branch, military officials asked a “nominating body” of “outstanding Okinawans” to vet candidates for the inaugural Okinawa Advisory Council. Just as social scientists believed nation-states developed from cities and cities from villages, military officials noted how “small research and liaison staff grew into ‘departments’” and “council members became directors.” By April 1946, accounts celebrated the emergence of subsidiary departments comprising the Government of the Ryukyu Islands (GRI).23 From their perspective, this was the postwar U.S. empire at its most benevolent.

But putting an Okinawan government in place fulfilled more than the U.S. image of becoming an anticolonial empire. It resolved an unexpected shortage of troops once military expansion stretched resources thin. Beyond Okinawa, the U.S. moved quickly to fill the power vacuums that emerged when fighting in World War II stopped. Occupations in Japan, Korea, and Germany commenced quickly to build bulwarks against communism from the vacated theaters. Okinawa competed with military priorities elsewhere for budget and manpower despite its strategic value. Troops to carry out plans for the ambitious rehabilitation cycled through, and even though the military was tasked with protecting Okinawan civilians, they faced dwindling food supplies and insufficient structures to facilitate distribution. Providing medical care to wounded Okinawans, too, proved challenging especially given that military units were unaccustomed to working in tropical climates.24

The military mission of retaining land for bases itself exacerbated the conditions under which the Occupation government worked. Military authorities knew that the islands must be segregated so that Okinawans understood certain areas now claimed for the United States to be off-limits. The need to maintain land for only the United States produced corresponding fears about the unregulated mixing of colonizers and colonized: What if Okinawans ventured on military land to witness intelligence that should otherwise be classified? In military reports, such anxieties manifested as desires to protect Okinawans, particularly after reports of murders, rapes, and crimes by U.S. troops surfaced to discredit the veneer of U.S. benevolence.25 One lieutenant colonel said his “mission” was to “prevent fraternization… safeguard and protect the natives from unlawful acts of violence… [and] supervise public safety.”26 Another report petitioned for more white troops to better maintain the military’s “non-fraternization” policy on the basis of anti-Black racism. Drawing from the belief that Black men were threats, the statement worried that the “high proportion” of “negro troops” in Okinawa would incite “unprovoked acts of violence and criminal assault” that turned “the good will of the natives.” It argued that more white troops should be deployed to better shield Okinawans from excessive military contact.27

The Occupation government immediately requested more manpower to staff the road blocks, patrols, and special escorts they required to maintain a segregated Okinawa. As the Navy prepared to transfer responsibility of Okinawa to the Army, assessments of Occupation needs recommended an “absolute minimum” of 20,000 troops if the States were to “undertake the task at hand with any hope of success,” to be followed up with even more troops when all 400,000 Okinawans returned to their homes. Military experts, of course, confessed that “no Military Government force could be that large,” and so they turned to the policy of indirect rule where “the bulk of the requirements… [came] from native Okinawans.”28 Later military summations highlighted successful shifts in administrative responsibilities, praising, for example, the Okinawan police force for their ability to “[deal] with most problems of civilian control.”29 As the Okinawa Police grew, the number of Military Police shrank, which only affirmed the original assertion that native governments were, in fact, U.S. allies. Sharing priorities, both wanted a quick resettlement so that they could resume elections that legitimized their own structures. Both idealized government as the most mature expression of ethnic identification.

Self-government was, of course, limited according to the U.S. and Okinawan formula. Once U.S. forces consolidated disparate camps and detachments, they restricted political recognition to people who stayed in the newly delimited territories and confined debatable issues to those affecting residents. The criteria for “good leadership” were equally manufactured, with military officials appointing people to the Okinawan Advisory Council whose backgrounds the United States thought would likely deliver their vision. Mirroring the independent, cosmopolitan Okinawa of U.S. military fantasies, this cohort of administrators received education and professional training outside Okinawa, were proficient in English, and celebrated the same greatness of the independent Ryukyuan kingdom as the U.S. military.30 They were also removed from the realities facing most Okinawans, as military intelligence came to realize. By 1949, the Advisory Council had become the Okinawa Civil Administration, which oversaw a legislative Assembly fraught with elements the military trusted less. Allowed to meet only when the Okinawa Civil Administration permitted it, the Assembly accused its superiors of convening sessions too infrequently to avoid criticism and debate on their decisions. Curiously, military intelligence sided with the Assembly, noting that the higher Okinawan executives “did not know anything about the problems of the people” even though “each [was] well thought of in his own particular village.”31 It seemed that more government was needed to secure the grassroots.

If an Okinawan government was one institution the military introduced as part of its anticolonial agenda, the economy was another. Although supporters of imperialism have always used the modernization of colonies to deflect criticisms, I contend that the United States’ use of economic development drove its meteoric rise as a world power after World War II. More than it bolstered the image of U.S. benevolence, the commitment to economic growth extended past the colonizer-colonized divide to suture deep fissures appearing as colonial powers disintegrated. The desire to play catch-up with the West overrode concerns of how the postcolonial state acted within its borders or treated colonized people.32 Increasingly, historians of the U.S. Cold War have noted how the promise of economic development brought staunch critics of empires to the negotiating table to channel anticolonial directives toward U.S.-approved goals.33 Despite occasional tensions, all agreed that nations were sovereign and economic flows linked their disparate agendas. This shared interest in the economy buffered the international system against internal disputes over who should govern.

In addition to illustrating how economic development appeased possible anticolonial detractors, attention to Okinawa’s postwar rehabilitation underscores the construction of the economy as a frame of reference that secured the U.S. military position. Whether the military could retain bases—that is, military success—hinged on the ability of the corresponding civil administration to care for Okinawans. Wedded to modernization theory, military authorities further connected Okinawan well-being to greater levels of development. The “Okinawan economy” they forged reoriented their perspectives, illuminating mechanisms they could manipulate to generate productive activities.34 Growth, in turn, justified the Occupation as well as U.S. claims that its empire was both benevolent and anticolonial.

Yet, Okinawans were impoverished in the immediate aftermaths of the Battle. Beyond the casualties, the fighting destroyed housing and food supplies to cause mass dislocations. Forced to rebuild their lives in refugee camps, Okinawans re-appropriated decommissioned military materials for housewares and clothes. Damage to their farms and gardens further compelled evacuees to rely increasingly on scant military rations.35 Like the staggering number of deaths, the general suffering laid bare the contradictions of America’s professed commitment to anticolonial causes. Modernization theorists further believed that prolonged poverty bred dangerous critiques of their economic plans, which, in turn, nurtured the very radicalisms the U.S. Cold War intended to erase. All this when the colonial dynamics of the U.S.-Okinawan military encounter positioned Occupation troops as a minority within the Okinawan archipelago.

In the same way the U.S. Occupation used local government to compensate for inadequate manpower, military authorities quickly turned to the economy to offset their lack of resources. They reasoned that the more Okinawans could buy, sell, and produce, the less the Occupation had to provide. Thus, they decided “to establish a pattern of productive activity in Okinawa that [would] provide as many and as much of the island’s minimum needs for food, clothing, shelter, and medical care as [could] be satisfied under existing and foreseeable military, economic, and political conditions.” For U.S. officials, the Okinawan economy acted best like a regional hub where Okinawans traded freely with like races home in Asia. They sought to reintegrate Okinawa first “with the other islands of the Ryukyu chain” and then “with the remainder of the Far East.”36 This ideal was no less fantastic than the pedigreed Okinawans serving on the Advisory Board or the victimized, backward Okinawans in prewar social scientific studies. Still, military planners reasoned that the problem lay not in their models but rather with the Okinawans. As soon as Okinawans fell short of the military vision, officials pronounced more development necessary.

More importantly, Occupation authorities could see what economic levers to tweak once they imposed an economy onto Okinawa’s postwar devastation. An epistemological object, the economy broke down into discernable institutions and quantifiable measures. If everything worked as expected, prevailing thought said that labor would match the number of available jobs and stood to generate enough commodities to fulfill existing demand. Wages ought also to correspond to the cost-of-living. However, in their studies of Okinawa, military experts discovered that Okinawans did not shoulder the costs of rent, medicine, and education. Most received military aid since they resided in camps. As such, U.S. summations recommended scaling prices “even higher” to “maintain a healthy relationship between purchasing power and goods available for sale.” They believed these small adjustments would hasten Okinawa toward their goals of self-sufficiency and reintegration with “oriental markets.”37

Projecting an economy onto postwar Okinawa further created opportunities for the military to present itself as a benevolent partner committed to Okinawa’s overall development. The paradigm forged mutually beneficial relationships between different actors, and so military reports on economic revival recoded the U.S. Occupation as parties stimulating Okinawan production. U.S. servicemen, for example, were consumers. They readily bought Ryukyuan lacquerware, hats, mats, and textiles as souvenirs to transform mundane activities into “native industries” and handicrafts into commodities.38 Their battalions employed Okinawan labor, so much so that military planners complained of a shortage in adult Okinawan men.39 Where military experts saw “industrial enterprises,” they fancied themselves investors. Their decommissioned scrap metal and equipment allowed Okinawan production to resume without importing materials. Soon, U.S. reports boasted of promising trends like dips in unemployment, higher commodity prices, and increased entrepreneurial and industrial activities.40

Undergirding the new Okinawan economy was a money system, a means of evaluation that allowed participants—Okinawan and military alike—to recognize a uniform value in their transactions. Because of the war, U.S. advisors had little to help determine a common basis of exchanges, even less to mark “the Ryukyu Islands” a single entity. Like government activities, U.S. reports declared “all commerce stopped,” with “no money and consequently no prices” after the battle. Military experts further discovered that economic activity in prewar Okinawa lacked coherence. Though the archipelago’s residents descended from the Ryukyu Kingdom, reports claimed that Japan and Taiwan determined economic trends in areas to the north and south of the archipelago, not central Okinawa itself. Reinstalling money in this context affirmed the military’s “Okinawa.” Currency tied definitions of value firmly to numbers that could be quantified to reproduce the military government’s abstract economic measures. It also rendered “value” recognizable as such, especially when exchanges took place within the borders of the U.S. military’s postwar “Okinawa.” The military government initiated a rudimentary point scale, and later, the B Yen in 1946 to begin acclimating Okinawans to their value system.41

Still, military officials needed mechanisms to monitor the use of currency. They knew that their monetary values only stood if the pool in circulation was controlled; and so, fearing inflation, they developed ways to regulate Okinawan exchange. First, they planned when to announce the resumption of money. Prevailing economic theory claimed that the supply of goods must keep pace with the supply of money. Military economists, therefore, asked that currency be introduced after most Okinawans resettled and found gainful employment.42 Second, military experts created points of contact allowing them to track Okinawan exchanges. They established ration boards and industry associations to ensure the proper distribution of materials. They also assumed control of re-opened retail stores to certify that “profits paid operating expenses” and “retailers themselves were allowed a reasonable markup.” Finally, how the military assessed their investments narrowed. Whereas earlier military records generally mentioned food being obtained from salvaged stocks and clothing from donations, subsequent accounts tracked items more carefully. The goal was to effectively differentiate “regular” handouts from the “irregular.”43

Fear that Okinawans misunderstood money’s use buttressed the military’s economic surveillance. Not unlike anxieties about race mixing, military summations nervously recounted the anti-social, un-economic behaviors that upended U.S. development plans; this included price gouging, theft, and the unsanctioned sale of goods. Such activities constituted threats to public safety. After all, economic growth strengthened ethnic self-determination, which was the raison d’être of U.S. rule according to military thinking. Reports, therefore, recounted a surge in crime that seemed to afflict the islands. In the immediate aftermaths of the Battle of Okinawa, U.S. officials claimed crime was “at a minimum.” They attributed this to a “complete destruction of all material possession,” “loss of all property rights,” and “close surveillance over displaced civilians.”44 The release of Okinawans from camps and resumption of economic structures like money tested the two pillars of U.S. rule: segregation and economic development.

From reports of no crime, arrests and convictions ballooned to precipitate the growth of the postwar penal system. Okinawan civil police reported 1,759 apprehensions in August 1946, with only a slight dip in arrests in November before re-emerging as a full-blown social problem threatening to erode U.S. military rule.45 The Economic Control Section of the Northern Ryukyus Police Department reported 369 violations of the price ceiling in 1947, and in that same year, the Okinawan police uncovered the “theft of large amounts of United States Government property including 1,200 suits of pajamas valued at $2,088 from the Medical Supply depot.” A military raid, occurring around the same time, similarly “resulted in the arrest of 13 prostitutes[,]… seven panders and the seizure of United States Government goods.”46 “Repatriated convicts” whose crimes entailed their unauthorized return to Japan “on black-market shipping” emerged as cause for concern, as did Okinawan youth, whose increased arrests U.S. authorities called a rise in “juvenile delinquency.”47 Indeed, the most common crimes across the Okinawan archipelago stemmed from economic transactions that eroded the formal money system: improper bartering, unsanctioned pricing, black-marketing, and larceny. Paradoxically, the Okinawans most likely to violate the new laws protecting the economy were also the ones closest to the military’s points of exchange. The most industrious, these Okinawans “worked on various handicrafts, producing cots, mats, baskets, rope, and shoes.”48

In short, the decision to make Okinawa into a military stronghold engendered unresolvable contradictions. The desire for global dominance begged demonstrations of U.S. military strength; yet nation-states, having emerged recently from colonial rule, saw foreign interference as another attempt to infringe on their hard-won autonomy. To diminish fears of U.S. rule in Okinawa, the military remade itself into a civil administration promising to cure the problems of economic underdevelopment and political immaturity. As the argument went, U.S. troops must be stationed on Okinawa not simply to protect the region, but to enlighten newly decolonized people of their innate ethnic identity. This collective understanding of self was key to overcoming years of colonial oppression. U.S. military ranks also believed that strengthening institutions and the material base bolstered such understandings. To this end, they organized local government and planned to develop the Okinawan economy. Still, Okinawan autonomy did not flourish as military officials hoped. Where Okinawans moved, with whom they interacted, what they produced, and how they did it soon joined the list of problems threatening to subvert the U.S. Occupation. “Crimes” became movements and exchanges falling outside the political economic framework of the Occupation, and so military officials saw a rise in local delinquency in activities the U.S. paradoxically sought to regulate most. When a crime wave threatened to overrun the islands, military officials sought answers in local methods.

The U.S. need to regulate production was even more pronounced in agriculture. In their prewar studies, military social scientists emphasized that most Okinawans were farmers and that agricultural practices were very much tied to Okinawan culture. Thus, even though the U.S. occupation claimed to uplift Okinawans, the fact that the United States wanted land for military garrisons drew attention to the contradictory basis of U.S. plans. That is, how could military planners affect economic growth when they limited the resources available for Okinawans? How could they promote development while maintaining the agricultural practices they considered distinctive to Okinawan society? Left unresolved, these tensions discredited the U.S. military project. The military government, in turn, embarked on an ambitious plan to modernize Okinawan agriculture. Rather than force Okinawans to relinquish their ties to farming, they sought to transform this crucial part of Okinawan society into modern industry itself.

In the same way they wanted Okinawan industries to function without prolonged U.S. subsidies or active interference, U.S. economists thought agriculture should ideally meet basic food requirements of the Okinawan people. Their method to affect self-sufficiency mirrored revitalization efforts in other parts of the Okinawan economy. First, they projected an abstract ideal of the agricultural sector onto the islands, dividing available land into parcels they felt could generate profits. Next, they used prewar agricultural production to extract yields for what each plot ought to produce. They determined appropriate crops to be rice, soy beans, wheat, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane based on prewar blueprints, but to demonstrate the superiority of U.S. agricultural methods, they criticized Japan for having Okinawans overproduce sweet potato and sugar. Magnanimous as ever, military economists recommended releasing a total of 48,000 acres of sweet potato and sugar farm land to spread food production more evenly across the arable space. If their plan was followed, they ventured that “Okinawa’s population [could] be expected within the next twelve months to become self-sufficing in food at the commonly low prewar nutritional level.”49

Important to this configuration was that U.S. economists accounted for the military presence. Just as they imagined the military a partner in Okinawa’s postwar economy, they factored in military land requirements when projecting target yields and the materials needed for farms to thrive. “[Assuming] that not more than 10,000 acres of arable land [would] ultimately be required for military installations,” they accordingly derived the proposed acreages for soy and cereal products from this underlying premise.50 The fact that this move pressured farmers to produce more on less land did not register. Instead, experts directed their attention to labor, the remaining variable that could affect production levels when both the economy and the U.S. presence went undisputed. Set in their projected yields, they argued that limitations on land, which the Occupation exacerbated, provided a convenient, albeit temporary, fix to the overpopulation problem. Their Okinawa lacked the industrial, manufacturing, or entrepreneurial infrastructure of more evolved places. As a result, they saw too many people and not enough jobs to absorb the unrelenting onslaught of Okinawans being repatriated or resettled. Packing the farms, they argued, busied Okinawans to stave off a crisis in unemployment.

The U.S. position regarding the use of large-scale machinery illustrates how rationalizing the military occupation displaced the responsibility of production onto Okinawans. Agricultural specialists widely agreed that large machines allowed farms to save labor and cultivate more land, but in Okinawa, U.S. economists discouraged the introduction of any such tools. Experts claimed the primary task of farm machinery was not “to increase the production possible from a particular area of land but rather to decrease the labor required,” and so they argued that its introduction in Okinawa would have the opposite effect. “So far, and in the foreseeable future,” they believed “agricultural production in Okinawa [was] not likely to be limited by a scarcity of manpower.” As such, machines should be used only “if required to replace labor drawn out of agriculture by employment opportunities in service, trade, and industrial pursuits, by emigration, or by a greatly lower birth rate.” Absent of corresponding developments in other economic sectors, they argued that machines inhibited the growth of less intensive cultures, exacerbated overall soil leaching and erosion, and fostered an unhealthy dependence on imports. They also “[provided] a less productive use of labor than… a continuation of manual and simple animal drawn agricultural methods.”51 Missing from the economists’ calculations was the military’s occupation of land, but experts had absolved the occupation by connecting productivity to the ability of Okinawans to be gainfully employed.

Precisely because imposing an economy onto the islands allowed the United States to shift the responsibility of production to Okinawans, the United States feared the mismanagement of money most acutely in agricultural production. Limited by their commitment to benevolence and indirect rule, the military could not easily assert its presence into rural areas. At the same time, military economists understood that, ultimately, whether the agricultural industry rose or fell hinged on farmers. Never stopping to question what they considered a postwar recovery or their occupation of Okinawan land, military experts worried about how Okinawan farmers worked, what and how they cultivated, and how they kept books to track their progress. This was even more the case after the military set calculations of value to money and the unexpected rise of criminal behaviors threatened to undermine U.S. objectives. Desperate for oversight, military experts turned to their research on prewar Okinawa’s economic institutions.

Several reasons rendered agricultural cooperatives an especially suitable tool for tackling the military’s conundrum in Okinawa’s rural parts. First was that cooperatives, like “native industries,” spoke to Okinawa’s identity as an agricultural society to strengthen the mantra of racial and ethnic self-determination bolstering U.S. military claims. In Okinawa—as in “almost all other areas of the world” where agriculture dominated—military scientists discovered that boundaries separating work from private life blurred. Businesses and factories did not regulate the characteristics and conditions of labor, and so “farm business and family living [were] combined into the same pattern of life.” Farmers were “closely connected to the land they use and occupy, the rules or laws regulating its use and ownership, and the vicissitudes of weather and season.” Because of “these peculiar characteristics,” U.S. advisors concluded that “the agriculture of a nation [was] made up not only of the actual body of all the farm families but also of the educational service, and regulatory organizations built up to operate the industry as a whole.”52

To U.S. observers, an entire ecosystem of institutions that extended beyond the farm itself impacted how Okinawan agriculture fared. Military scientists, therefore, latched onto a cooperative’s multifaceted functions. If a farmer had many needs, they reasoned that cooperatives were ideal because they “acted not only in the dissemination of agricultural information, but also served as the almost exclusive purchasing and marketing agency for farmers and extended both short term credit for production and long term credit on real estate.” They further noted that cooperatives were “the farmers’ primary contact with the operation of the monetary economy” as well as “the vehicle by which governmental services and regulations were carried to the farmer.”53 Much as an Okinawan government helped the military stabilize the postwar “Ryukyu Islands,” cooperatives allowed the military to regulate farmers and disseminate advice about efficient growing techniques and loans. They were vessels that engrained the military’s system of assessing value.

Second to their educational and financial roles were how cooperatives helped the military create a stable political structure amenable to the U.S. Occupation. Under the broad political entity called the “Ryukyu Islands,” the occupation government wanted to establish separate island communities that acted as one in accordance with military interests. U.S. administrators believed they could achieve this by restoring the Okinawan village, a community structure that tied Okinawan political participation to a set plot of land and reduced unwanted meandering onto military space.54 Military economists discovered prewar cooperatives “were organized basically on a village and mura basis but were federated by progressive stages into a prefecture-wide organization.” In fact, the military could benefit from “steps [that had] been taken to initiate the reorganization of these organizations” after the Battle to have cooperatives “perform the functions they previously provided in Okinawa.” A class of skilled Okinawans could staff the administrative structures extending the military’s reach into the far-flung countryside and, perhaps, acquire more land. Noting Saipan, military scientists said that cooperatives there “[bridged] the gap in land management between the reestablishment of a money economy and the untangling of the knotty problem of the individual ownership of farm land.”55

Cooperatives served a third purpose. At a time when military officials worried about the ability of Okinawans to act in ways they desired, the network of cooperatives performed disciplinary functions. In addition to directing the flow of money to rural areas, the structure of the organizations encouraged participants to embrace the rules of liberal governance. Admission into a local cooperative demanded that people identify either as a farmer or a village resident who had “a reasonable need to utilize the facilities of the association.”56 Just as the United States asked elected officials to serve in the federal government, local cooperatives sent representatives to act as the legislative body to the federated, Ryukyu-wide organization. The general assembly of the broad cooperative then elected officials to sit as directors and auditors.57 Directors oversaw the overall management and organizational course. They selected a president to preside as figurehead, kept records of group membership and stock shares, decided on marketing strategies, and drafted business proposals for any future cooperative investments.58 Auditors were similar to the U.S. judicial branch. If discrepancies arose in how directors applied rules or calculated cooperative money, auditors stepped in to litigate.59 More importantly than learning about what crops to plant and how best to cultivate them, cooperatives initiated farmers into a privileged form of governance. These were the behaviors that U.S. social scientists and military officials across the board said drove successful transformations despite differences in culture, race, or ethnicity.

They were also the ideals to which many Okinawan leaders themselves subscribed. While the military government ultimately wielded the power to announce and rescind executive orders, the U.S. commitment to benevolent rule and their ability to implement policies on the ground demanded collaboration with willing local leaders. Economists, therefore, pushed the military government to employ Okinawans trained in agricultural administration under the Japanese. Already short of qualified specialists to guide military interactions, U.S. officials feared the loss of this much-needed talent to aimless wandering in the postwar devastation. Okinawan leaders, for their part, readily consented. They were proud of their ethnicity, and saw in the military’s call for assistance an opportunity to contribute. They too were invested in the future of Okinawa and the welfare of Okinawans especially after the war. Okinawan cooperative leaders soon proclaimed their collective purpose upon announcing the Ryukyu Federated Cooperative Association: “to plan for the promotion of business, the raising of the efficiency of agricultural production, the unleashing of economic energy, and the elevation of society.”60

Far from ridding Okinawa of its outmoded traditions, U.S. officials borrowed and reworked them. In agriculture, U.S. military officials encountered a challenge to their occupation plans. A sector of Okinawa’s overall economy that counted land as a resource, agriculture stood at odds with military objectives aiming to carve out spaces for U.S. troops. Asked to propose means of naturalizing the foreign intrusion, U.S. planners turned once again to economic reforms. Like industry and manufacturing, they considered agriculture in Okinawa to be backward, too dependent on government subsidies and exports. Their reforms recalibrated what self-sufficiency meant and proposed schemes for land use that conveniently accommodated military needs. Rather than erase agriculture from the modern, industrialized Okinawa of their imagination, the military merely aimed to adjust it. They wanted farms that delivered better results.

Cooperatives lent themselves to the objectives of the growing military regime. A feature of the prewar Japanese system, these organizations served as the first point of contact connecting farmers to official networks of the political economy. They were banking centers, a type of village governance, and training grounds for both the future Okinawan electorate and its representatives. In addition to providing a cadre of trained Okinawans prepared to assume leadership roles within the growing Okinawan government, they were entrenched in the very communities that the military hoped to manage at arm’s length. Indeed, their functions allowed the military to regulate a money economy that solidified what was, until then, an abstract entity called the economy. These reasons motivated the decision to resume the prewar cooperative system, but such plans operated better in theory than in practice.

Moves to reinstate the cooperative system started immediately after fighting ended. Charged with providing quick and effective relief to Okinawans crowded into refugee camps, the military quickly entrusted cooperatives with the distribution of food and military rations. They were run by Okinawan leaders working for the Ryukyu Food and Agriculture Organization (RFAO), an embryonic version of what would become the Bureau of Agriculture and Forestry in the GRI in 1950. Since the tasks facing the postwar administration were numerous and urgent, the military allowed Okinawan officials to work without much interference. They simply wanted to start their project of demilitarizing Okinawa. Eager to resume the lives that wartime mobilization had rudely disrupted, Okinawans worked hard to issue the prized rations according to military regulations.

One such person was Shoyu Funakoshi, whose contributions to the postwar agricultural cooperative movement culminated in the founding of the All Ryukyus Central Agriculture Association. This island-wide federation was launched in December 1949, shortly before the U.S. military government established the broader RFAO in February 1950.61 These inaugurations were successes, but U.S. and Okinawan officials wanted more. Funakoshi told his military superiors that “the present Agriculture Cooperative Association on [the] Ryukyus [had] no basic law to rely upon and [had] been temporarily managed by the regulations of the Agriculture Association” first learned under the Japanese.62 He preferred to institutionalize cooperatives, rendering them an apparatus of control. His Agriculture Cooperative Association Law enshrined the cooperative as a legal entity and outlined the rules delimiting its membership and functions.63 In 1951, the U.S. Civil Administration incorporated Funakoshi’s 1949 draft into the formal Ryukyu Cooperative Association Ordinance.64

Still, transitioning from an informal system of operation to one that accurately matched U.S. prerogatives was easier said than done. Military administrators worried about legislating an application process that proceeded in Japanese, a language Okinawans better understood. Anticipating confusion, U.S. officials began standardizing the cooperative application process. They knew that cooperatives were only useful if they operated within earlier parameters, and so Occupation authorities asked Funakoshi to supply model charters and articles of incorporation. A fill-in-the-blank form, Funakoshi’s models recited cooperative rules in English and set information that should not be debated in type. These were the definition of a cooperative, the purpose it served, and the mechanisms by which it operated. Member names, addresses, notaries, and the cooperative’s name itself were permissible variables, and so Funakoshi left underscores to solicit this information. Because the military government wanted the cooperative rules to be transparent for both U.S. citizens and Okinawans, one U.S. official even asked that Funakoshi’s models be printed on stencil paper so that it could be reproduced en masse.65

Problems arose when what Okinawans wanted from the cooperatives departed from military expectations. The military had hoped that cooperatives would educate farmers on money’s proper use, but in 1950, a military audit of the Okinawa Central Agricultural Association “[disclosed] gross irregularities in operations and improper accounting for funds.”66 Exceedingly careless, the group assigned values to buildings that were higher than their perceived worth, failed to charge interest for outstanding loans, and kept terrible books that adhered to “no strict classification.” They hired too much staff and paid them with an irregular “hodge podge of rates, allowances, gratuities, and gifts.” When typhoons hit, the group issued emergency relief that the States believed “[did] not appear to be legitimate business expenses.”67 The audit concluded that “sound business principles [were] not employed in [the cooperative’s] management.”68 Counter to the proto-corporation of U.S. plans, this association thought more about its members’ expediency than immediate profits.

A military audit of the Amami Oshima Cooperatives reached similar conclusions, but in this instance, U.S. administrators asked the cooperative to rectify its errors since they considered their own plans unassailable. The umbrella cooperative for twenty-three associations owed ¥20,612,289.05 and, according to the military, had Amami Cooperatives kept better records of member spending or better tailored their lending to farm production, member groups would not have borrowed beyond their earnings.69 The audit consequently removed Amami Cooperatives president Yonei Kuboi from office and ordered the emergent Okinawan bureaucracy into action. Two representatives from the Ryukyu Federation of Agriculture Associations assumed responsibility for cooperative operations while the cooperative furnished military auditors with detailed reports “[showing] what items [were] being paid for, how received, when received and from whom received.” Military auditors further asked that the Board of Trade (Boeki Cho) oversee repayments to the U.S. Gunto Government of Amami Oshima.70

The Amami Cooperatives countered with their own plan. Unable to repay their debts, former president Kuboi petitioned the military to fully forgive the cooperative’s delinquencies. U.S. social scientists presumed the economy, its inner workings, and its measures to be natural components of a society, and though postwar Okinawa did not reflect their models, the military goal was to install them so that Okinawa could call itself self-sufficient. Kuboi’s statement, however, showed that U.S. plans acted more as discourse than material truth. He argued, for example, that Amami Cooperatives no longer had access to the same farm subsidies as prewar years, and military directives to combine cooperatives burdened, rather than helped, farmers. Instead of liberalizing access to money, the merged cooperatives diverted resources from farm production to the administration of a cumbersome organization. Farmers, too, operated with less equipment due to the “war disaster” and to their own growing schedule.71 Against market trends, they borrowed when interests were high and sold when prices were low, contradicting the edicts of investment generally held by economists.72 These disjunctures between U.S. economic theory and its practice highlighted the U.S.-Occupied “Ryukyu Islands” as a unique entity detached from Japan to fit U.S. military prerogatives.

Despite pointing out the limitations to U.S. assumptions, Kuboi himself subscribed to the basic tenets of modernization theory. Like military planners, the president believed that a mature economic base generated mature political expressions. Kuboi consequently reminded the States that “as the society [became] poorer and poorer, the thought of the society [would] be bad more and more.” Farmers, in particular, were “a weak point from the standpoint of thought.” He warned that “the disparity of the poor and wealthy [would] give a great influence to them,” and so framed farmers as a threat since they also comprised the majority of Okinawans.73 Cooperative associations secured the countryside by bringing prosperity, and on this point, Kuboi, Funakoshi of the RFAO, and U.S. military scientists were in agreement. They declared their ideal cooperative “neutral to… politics” without giving much thought to how such proclamations undercut earlier promises to foster autonomy.74 In their formulation, assertions of thought and political participation came only after the organization had done its job. The agricultural cooperative network secured U.S. economic plans, which, in turn, institutionalized the States as a benevolent partner because it promised to bring about Okinawan independence. “Legitimate politics” for the United States never questioned the Occupation’s arrangement because social science expected politics to emerge from conditions that took for granted the U.S. military presence. Anything that questioned the colonial arrangement signaled irrational and backward minds.

Still, nagging fears of alternatives to the military system plagued U.S. administrators, especially as the 1950s saw anti-military actions engulf the Okinawan islands. Occupation authorities faced widespread furor over sexual violence by servicemen, Okinawan farmers who refused military buyouts for land, and the emergence of the Okinawa People’s Party (OPP) who planned to seize government seats.75 On the heels of two communist revolutions that swept through China and Korea, military leaders doubled down on the mechanisms of modernization theory now initiated into the Okinawan context. Playing once more to nationalist sympathies, the United States rallied the GRI in 1956 to announce the formal recognition of Noren, an umbrella organization for all Okinawan cooperatives. Like the local government in 1945, Noren created opportunities for Okinawans to participate in a system designed to shroud U.S. military maneuvers with overtures to radical leaders struggling to right decades of political disfranchisement, extractive practices, and cultural disavowal. The federation also strengthened U.S.-sanctioned agricultural cooperatives, the economic levers said to generate so-called independence. Echoing their predecessors, who built Occupied Okinawa around theories of indirect rule, economic development, and a version of self-determination they controlled, U.S. experts boasted of Noren’s ability to advance “the theory of unified self-support and mutual reliance by farmers themselves.”76 The federation “[rendered] guidance, education, and information services to members of constituent cooperatives for improvement and modernization of farming methods, know-how, and farm management.”77 Their leaders were “first rate people”: educated, experienced, and dedicated to the protection of farmers from exploitation by private companies.78

Noren was not Zenokino, an OPP subsidiary that Occupation authorities feared too closely aligned with communist radicals.79 Under modernization theory, U.S. military planners thought their authorized institutions a harbinger of evolved thought. As they believed, structures molded minds. Cooperatives where farmers asserted decisions before their surroundings had matured subverted U.S. development rationales. Such threats to the U.S. military project fueled onerous campaigns to save Noren from perennial indebtedness. After all, Noren “[counteracted] OPP agitation and undesirable leftist group activities in farming communities.”80 Not unlike its predecessors, the first U.S.-sanctioned agricultural cooperatives, the federation served as the military’s window to Okinawa’s rural parts. When contradictions exposing the artifice of the military occupation arose, Noren buried them so that the Okinawan economy could continue its mission. As this article has shown, this was to square the U.S. desire for control with its support of decolonization. Alongside the Okinawan government, the economy imposed order that was legible to the military state in the aftermath of battle, shifted the burden of postwar reconstruction onto Okinawans, and represented the U.S. Occupation as partnerships. Until charges of “neocolonialism” drew attention to the artifice of U.S. policies, such apparatuses of control rearticulated colonial subordination in terms that circumvented accusations of direct imperialism.

Writing outside university structures and academic circles is more difficult than I anticipated. I would like to thank Wendy Matsumura, Josh Savala, and Gregory Laynor for their endless encouragement and constant show of support. They read multiple drafts, offered many suggestions, and were always down to commiserate. I would also like to thank the blind reviewers whose thoughtful critiques elevated my arguments, and the editors of the Pacific Historical Review, Marc Rodriguez and Brenda Frink, for their endless patience throughout the publication process. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences supported my research, and for that, I am very grateful.


Local accounts asserting that the U.S. military does not, in fact, make Okinawa safer abound in accounts by Battle of Okinawa veterans, participants in anti-base movements, and activist-scholars. Some examples are the interviews and writings of Masahide Ota, former governor of Okinawa, and Suzuyo Takazato, a leader of the Okinawa Women Against Military Violence, which formed after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen.

See: Masahide Ota, “Ryukyu Shimpo, Ota Masahide, Mark Ealey and Alastair McLauchlan, Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa,” The Asia-Pacific Journal 12, Issue 48, No. 4, Dec. 1, 2014; Suzuyo Takazato and Kutsuzawa Kiyomi, “The Base and the Military: Structural Violence against Women,” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 11/12 (1999): 66–78; Suzuyo Takazato, “Why Is There No End to Sexual Violence by U.S. Military Personnel in Okinawa?,” Mainichi Daily News, September 15, 2016, sec. Features,


“Declaration of Convention of All Ryukyu Cooperative Presidents,” 31 Oct. 1951, Documents about the Ryukyu Cooperatives Law, Matters concerning the U.S. Government (琉球協同組合法に関する資料 米国民政府関係), Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


I foreground the creation of the economy rather than capitalism. Both are theoretical frameworks that delimited the perception of U.S. and Okinawan leaders and forged a material reality tying Okinawa to the United States. The economy, however, allows for analytic possibilities outside Cold War paradigms that critique capitalism to uphold communism. Communist states relied on the same theoretical framework of the economy to calculate development campaigns. Using many of the same economic measures, they demanded ever-higher production outputs to finance plans that, at times, eradicated the wealth gap and, at other times, built up military defense. To distance my analysis from Cold War frameworks, I focus on how the U.S. military in Okinawa revived an economy to graft their capitalist precepts.


In conceptualizing the economy as an epistemological object, I draw from James C. Scott, who shows how various states created models that simplified the vagaries of local contexts into terms state officials could manipulate for large-scale development projects. His examples include, but are not limited to, the transformation of “nature” into forestry projects from which the state could profit and the standardization of city planning, surnames, and language to better locate residents. As I demonstrate here, forming the Okinawan economy provided the military the basis to normalize U.S. interference. James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).


Takashi Fujitani, Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II (University of California Press, 2013); Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).


Michael E. Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010). Latham documents the participation of anticolonial leaders in India, Egypt, and Ghana in crafting U.S. development policies even as they attempted to carve out a path intended for the “Third World.” See Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism (New York: International Publishers, 1980) for an early definition of neocolonialism.


Gerald Horne shows how the fragile alliance between the United States and anticolonial leaders broke down over economic questions not least of which included the ability of workers to own their labor and profits. That Horne illuminates this fissure suggests that not all anticolonial leaders and movements are alike. Taken with Latham’s insights, the two authors gesture to the need for more studies that contextualize the role of anticolonial leaders within U.S. strategies to position it as a friend to decolonization. Gerald C. Horne, Cold War in a Hot Zone: The United States Confronts Labor and Independence Struggles in the British West Indies (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007).


Although scholars of colonialism and resistance explicate the diversity of radical responses emanating from the colonies, their works tend to overlook the fact that U.S. strategy aimed to mobilize native informants to root mechanisms of control in non-U.S. contexts. As such, their study of resistance can exaggerate the correlation between one’s identity and one’s participation in radical movements. For examples in U.S. empire studies, see Penny M. Von Eschen, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Jodi Kim, Ends of Empire: Asian American Critique and the Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010). For examples in Okinawan Studies, see: Laura Hein and Mark Selden, Islands of Discontent: Okinawan Responses to Japanese and American Power (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003); Gavan McCormack and Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012); Miyume Tanji, Myth, Protest and Struggle in Okinawa (London; New York: Routledge, 2006).


Mire Koikari, Cold War Encounters in U.S.-Occupied Okinawa: Women, Militarized Domesticity, and Transnationalism in East Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2017); Wendy Matsumura, “The Normal and Exceptional Forms of Enclosure in Okinawa: Going beyond the So-Called Base Problem,” Viewpoint Magazine, February 1, 2018,; Seungsook Moon, “Introduction to ‘Culture around the Bases: A Forum on the U.S. Military Presence in Northeast Asia’” 75, no. 1 (2016): 31–39.


Works unpacking the different forms of “colonial modernity” document the ways local elites embraced “colonial” practices that allowed them to be recognized as “modern.” Much of this work examines the moment when early nationalist movements emerge in response to the original colonial encounter. See Tani E. Barlow, ed., Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997); and Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Edson Robinson, eds., Colonial Modernity in Korea (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).


Maria Höhn and Seungsook Moon, Over There: Living with the U.S. Military Empire from World War Two to the Present (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 7–8.


Vicente L. Rafael, “Targeting Translation,” Social Text 30, no. 4 (2012): 55–80.


Arnold G. Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 1945–1950 (Honolulu, Hawai‘i: University Press of the Pacific, 2004), 7–29.


Scott, Seeing like a State.


Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution.


Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 14–16, 70.


U.S. Office of Strategic Services, Research and Analysis Branch, The Okinawas of the Loo Choo Islands: A Japanese Minority Group, Okinawan Studies, no. 3 (Honolulu, Hawai‘i: U.S. Office of Strategic Services, Research and Analysis Branch, 1944); U.S. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Civil Affairs Handbook: Ryukyu (Loochoo) Islands, OPNVA 13–31 (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Dept., 1944).


Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 19–21, 57–60.


For how this strategy of extricating colonized subjects from time and place undergird expansionist efforts for different empires, see the works of Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992); Alan Christy, A Discipline on Foot: Inventing Japanese Native Ethnography, 1910–1945 (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012); Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915–1940, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).


“Political Affairs” and “Economic Activities,” Pacific General Headquarters, United States Army Forces, Summation No.1, United States Army Military Government Activities in the Ryukyu Islands, for the Months of July–November 1946 (Washington D.C.: U.S. War Department, 1946) p. 3–4, 6.


“Political Affairs,” Summation No. 1, p. 3–4.


“Education, Culture, and Religion,” Summation No. 1, p. 53–55.


Ibid, p. 14. Summation No. 1, p. 12, p. 3, p. 14.


For an account of problems the military encountered with respect to displaced Okinawans, see Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 31–87, esp. 47, 50, 65, 74.


Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 81–87. Fisch details the reports of military crime following the war. He indicates that military crime escalated to the point that in early May 1945, military command declared the death penalty for offenders. He also cites a 1949 report in Life magazine counting twenty-nine murders, eighteen rapes, sixteen robberies, and thirty-three assaults of Okinawans by military personnel. He attributes military crimes to the concentration of troops that were not as well trained, specifically the concentration of black troops whose segregation compounded their disorderliness and Filipino units who had witnessed similar actions during their stint in Japanese-occupied Philippines. While I do not dispute that evidence of military crime exists and that, at times, the perpetrators can be of color, I do not agree with his analysis of the racial dynamics of military crime.


Lt. Colonel William Carmichael to Commanding General, Okinawa Base Command regarding Personnel and transportation required by Provost Marshal Section in event Military Government in this area is transferred to Army, p. 3, 30 Jan. 1946, Study of Military Government (Ryukyu Area), 1946, folder 1, box 181, Historical Background Files, 1946–1955, U.S. Civil Administration of the Ryukyus (USCAR): Administrative Office, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


A Plan for Organization of a Military Government for the Ryukyus, 2 Feb. 1946, p. 2, Study of Military Government (Ryukyu Area), 1946, folder 1, box 181, Historical Background Files, 1946–1955, USCAR: Administrative Office, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


A Plan for Organization of a Military Government for the Ryukyus, 2 Feb. 1946, p. 2, Study of Military Government (Ryukyu Area), 1946, folder 1, box 181, Historical Background Files, 1946–1955, USCAR: Administrative Office, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


Summation No. 1, p. 4, p. 20.


“The Okinawa Civil Administration” and “The Okinawa Assembly,” Third Year of Ryukyuan Politics, 1949: 526th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachments, p. 4–26, folder 5, box 104, USCAR: The Liaison Department, Internal Political Activity Files, Societies and Associations, 1951–1969, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


“The Okinawa Civil Administration,” Third Year of Ryukyuan Politics, 1949, p. 1.


On how national development fit nationalist agendas, see Gregg A. Brazinsky, Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); and Meredith Woo-Cumings, ed., The Developmental State (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1999).


Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution. Latham shows how the U.S. exploited overlapping desires of economic development and begins unpacking the draw of economic aid to nationalist leaders that explicitly identified with the growing anticolonial nationalist movement.


Again, I am drawing from Scott who shows how states create development policies that simplify local realities. Although he sees authoritarian tendencies rise when civil society relinquishes its rights, postwar Okinawa’s predicament blurs his clear-cut categorization of state and civil society. U.S. military strategy intended to construct civil society as a way to indirectly police Okinawan actions and divert criticisms of blatant militarism. Scott, Seeing like a State.


Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 45–48.


“Plans for Installation of Money Economy on Okinawa,” 15 Jan. 1946, p. 1, folder 17, box 50, Plans for Installation of Money Economy on Okinawa 1946, Internal Political Activity Files, 1946–1972, USCAR: The Liaison Department, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


Ibid, p. 7, p. 1.


Summation No. 1, p. 30–32.


“Current Status,” Survey of Military Government, p. 1–2.


Summation No. 1, p. 29–35. See also Summation No. 2, United States Army Military Government Activities in the Ryukyu Islands for the Month of December 1946 (Washington D.C.: U.S. War Department, 1946).


Summation No. 1, p. 6, p. 37–38; Summation No. 2, p. 19–20; Fisch, Military Government in the Ryukyu, 146–48.


Plans for Installation of Money Economy, 1–2.


Summation No. 1, p. 37–39. A table listed “supplies issued [by the] civilian administration” like food, gasoline, kerosene, lubricants fertilizer, and seed between the months of July and October to determine what was “standard distribution.” These “regular” items they differentiated from “irregular” ones like reams of paper, suits of clothing, wood frames, flattened asphalt drums, and chalk that aided reconstruction but could not be counted on for the purposes of economic planning. See also Plans for Installation of Monetary Economy.


Ibid, 19–20.


Ibid. See also Pacific General Headquarters, United States Army Forces, Summation No. 3, United States Army Military Government Activities in the Ryukyu Islands, for the Months of January-February 1947 (Washington D.C.: U.S. War Department, 1947) p. 16–17, 19. Summation No. 3 recounts a problem of illegal movement on a larger scale. Detached from both mainland Japan and the Japanese empire, movement between spaces that had been fallen within the prewar Japanese empire was now illegal too.


Summation No 3, p. 16. For more accounts of the problems regarding price ceiling violations and the black market, see also Summation No. 3, p. 15.


Pacific General Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces, Summation No. 4, U.S. Army Military Government Activities in the Ryukyu Islands, for the Months of March–April 1947 (Washington D.C.: U.S. War Department, 1947), p. 14.


Summation No. 3, p. 17, p. 19–20; Summation No. 4, p. 14. See also Summation No. 4, p. 15 for similar accounts.


“The Agricultural Program for Okinawa,” 15 Jan. 1946, p. 1, folder 17, box 50, Plans for Installation of Money Economy on Okinawa 1946, USCAR: The Liaison Department, Internal Political Activity Files, 1946–1972, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.




Ibid, p. 2–3.


Ibid, p. 3.


Ibid, p. 4.


“Education, Culture, and Religion,” Summation No. 1, p. 53–55.


“The Agricultural Program for Okinawa,” p. 4.


“Chapter 3: Membership,” Agricultural Cooperative Association Law, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, 1951 (琉球協同組合法に関する資料, 米国民政府関係), Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


“Chapter 4: Administration,” in Ibid.


“Chapter 4: Executives and Regular Employees,” Ryukyu Agricultural Association Unionization Meeting, Statement of Rules, 7 Apr. 1950, Documents regarding the approval of applications to establish cooperatives (「第四章:役職員」琉球農業組合連合会定款, 協同組合設立認可申請資料), Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


“Chapter 4: Administration,” Agricultural Cooperative Association Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government.


“Chapter 1: General Rules,” Ryukyu Agricultural Association Unionization Meeting, Statement of Rules, 7 Apr. 1950, Documents regarding the approval of applications to establish cooperatives (「第一章:総則」 琉球農業組合連合会定款, 協同組合設立認可申請資料), Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


History of the Ryukyuan Federation of Agricultural Associations, 1 Jul. 1950, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


Shoyu Funakoshi, Acting Director of RFAO to Mr. Ellis J, Koler, Military Governor, Ryukyus Command, re: Submission of a Draft of the Agricultural Cooperative Association, 17 Aug. 1950, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


Agricultural Cooperative Association Law, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


“Civil Administration Ordinance No. 45: Ryukyuan Cooperative Association Ordinance,” in Laws and Regulations during the U.S. Administration of Okinawa, 1945–1972, ed. by Gekkan Okinawasha (Japan: Ikemiya Shokai, 1982).


“Exhibit B: Articles of Incorporation of the ____ Cooperative Credit Association,” Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, Okinawa Prefectural Archives. A U.S. official wrote in pencil the following note: “Translate: on stencil for reproduction 600 copies.”


Letter to President, Okinawa Central Agricultural Association, Naha, Okinawa re: Irregularities Disclosed in Report of Audit, 2 Oct. 1950 or 9 Oct. 1950, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.


Report of Audit, Okinawa Agricultural Association, 7 Sep. 1950, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government, Okinawa Prefectural Archives, p. 3–4.


Letter to Comptroller from Richard Wynn, Chief of Audit Branch re: Report of Audit, Okinawa Agricultural Association, 8 Sep. 1950, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government.


Amount of Debt of Every Association to the O’Shima Federal Agricultural Cooperative Association as of May 1952, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government; Letter to Deputy Governor, USCAR re: Report of Investigation Concerning Amami Agriculture Association, 6 Mar. 1951, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government.


Letter to Deputy Governor, USCAR re: Report of Investigation Concerning Amami Agriculture Association.


Yonei Kuboi, Amami O’shima Central Agriculture Cooperative Association President to Deputy Governor, USCAR and Chief, Amami Civil Administration Team re: Cause of Inactivity of O’shima Agricultural Cooperative Combined Association and the Counter-Plot, 27 Jul. 1952, Documents concerning the Ryukyu Cooperative Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government.


Ibid, p. 3.


Ibid, p. 4.


“Chapter 1: General Provisions,” Agricultural Cooperative Association Law, Matters Concerning the U.S. Government.


Miyume Tanji, “The First Wave: Opposition to U.S. Military Land Acquisitions,” in Myth, Protest and Struggle in Okinawa (New York: Routledge, 2006), 53–76.


Memo for HICOM, Acting Civil Administrator re: Noren, 29 Jun. 1962, folder 17, box 276, Agriculture Specialist Files, 1953–1970, Okinawa Prefectural Archives, p. 2.




Ibid, p. 3.


Noren, 1963–1965, folder 5, box 107, USCAR: Liaison Department, Internal Political Activity Files, Societies and Associations, 1951–1969.


Memo for HICOM, Acting Civil Administrator re: Noren, p. 3.