Human habitation of Okinawa Island dates to 32,000 years ago. By the 14th century, three centers of power had developed, later united as the Ryukyu Kingdom under one ruler in the 15th century. Around 1800, Japan took over Okinawa. The tragic Battle of Okinawa in World War II produced heavy destruction, and with Japan’s defeat, the U.S. military ruled from 1945 until 1972 when Okinawa reverted to Japan.
As Japanese plans for imperialistic expansion into Asia got underway, Okinawa was designated as the advance base for the defense of mainland Japan. In the first days of World War II, Japan fortified Okinawa with airbases, forcibly taking land and farms. In March 1945, U.S. military forces landed. Fierce attacks burned 90 percent of the buildings in some areas and destroyed priceless treasures of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
During the 82-day Battle of Okinawa, about 95,000 Japanese troops and 12,510 Americans were killed. On Aug. 15, 1945, Japan signed the Potsdam Declaration, ending World War II. The Allied forces occupied Japan, and Okinawa was put under U.S. military rule. Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972, but as of 2014, more than 30 U.S. military bases remain on Okinawa Island, occupying approximately 20 percent of the land area.