Summary of Okinawa Base News, April 22-28, 2018

April 29, 2018
Map of U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa

Map of U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa (from http://www.pref.okinawa.jp/site/chijiko/kichitai/25185.html)

From Monday through Saturday, hundreds gathered at the Camp Schwab gate in a mass sit-in to block Henoko base construction. US media completely ignored this six-day mobilization against construction of an American base. On day 1, Veterans for Peace members took part, and the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome”. On day 5, participants addressed the riot police who’d been sent to clear them away from the gate: “don’t lend support to construction that would crush Okinawa’s future!” We should all heed that message, as silence, too, is complicity.

Mainichi reports that a subcontractor providing waterborne security around the Henoko base construction site padded its bills by about 700 million yen (over $6 million). A whistleblower tipped off the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Bureau about this malfeasance, but all they did was issue a verbal warning, ignoring rules stating that “contractors or subcontractors caught in ‘illicit or dishonest behavior’ are to be barred from bidding on ministry tenders for a set period.”
Well, not quite all. The Bureau also leaked the report by the whistleblower – including information that could be used to identify him – to the main contractor, and it eventually found its way to the subcontractor. When the Japanese state is imposing a new US military base on Okinawa, it lets nothing – not its own rules, not whistleblower protection standards – get in its way.

In the Okinawa City mayoral election, the government-backed incumbent won reelection, defeating a challenger supported by Governor Onaga and the (Henoko base-opposing) All-Okinawa Council. While base issues were peripheral to the campaign, this is not good news for the anti-base movement. Exasperatingly, “voter turnout was a record-low 47.27 percent.”

As Mainichi reports, the Okinawa Prefectural Government conducted a review of Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) between the US military and host governments in Japan, Germany, and Italy. Examining such issues as whether the US military is subject to domestic law and whether local authorities are allowed to investigate US military aircraft accidents, the review found that Japan’s SOFA is far more heavily weighted toward the US side than the agreements with Germany and Italy. According to Professor Maedomari Hiromori of Okinawa International University, ”The governments of Germany and Italy have negotiated with the U.S. military keeping the need to guarantee their citizens’ safety and rights in mind. They are the polar opposite of the Japanese government, which remains silent.”

Shingetsu News Agency reports: “Abe government about to make a major financial payoff to Nago City for electing the ‘correct’ candidate in February elections. Subsidies were suspended in 2010 when the anti-base Susumu Inamine was elected. Now the central government will pay two years’ worth of subsidies.” Here we see state power being used to influence local elections.

“[B]ecause a warning light came on in one of them,” two US Marine Ospreys based at Futenma made emergency landings at an airport on Amami Island in Kagoshima prefecture.

The Japanese government is expected to start land reclamation for the Henoko base – i.e. pouring earth and sand into Oura Bay – as early as July. To prevent that, Governor Onaga would have to initiate the procedures for retraction of the previous governor’s reclamation approval by late May. Unfortunately, the governor has just had surgery to remove a tumor on his pancreas, and may be unable to return to his duties for over a month. Let’s all wish the governor a very speedy recovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summary of Okinawa Base News, April 15-21, 2018

April 21, 2018
Map of U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa

Map of U.S. Military Bases in Okinawa (from http://www.pref.okinawa.jp/site/chijiko/kichitai/25185.html)

The Okinawa Times reported (Japanese) that in 2010, a Pentagon-commissioned expert team found that research conducted by the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau for the Henoko base’s environmental impact assessment was “almost worthless”. Parties to the so-called dugong suit who are suing the Pentagon to cease construction of the Henoko base are likely to raise this matter in court.

A U.S. Marine UH-1 helicopter “experienced a maintenance issue” and, together with an AH-1, had an emergency landing. While the landing took place in Kumamoto Prefecture, both aircraft were based at Futenma Air Base in Ginowan, Okinawa.

Ryukyu Shimpo provided additional details (in English) on an issue mentioned in last week’s summary – namely, that a number of structures in the vicinity of the Henoko base site are higher than what is permitted under the U.S. military’s own regulations. Both civilian and military buildings exceed the safety limits, and among the latter is the Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot. You might think that the risk of aircraft colliding with an ammunition depot would be a major concern, but not to Japan’s Defense Ministry. “We are coordinating with the U.S. for height restriction exceptions to be made,” an official explains.

A new article appeared on an initiative by the Okinawa chapter of Veterans for Peace. VFP-ROCK wrote in March to Defense Secretary Mattis and other officials calling for immediate closure of Futenma due to its lack of clear zones at each end of the runway, as required by Navy safety standards. It being abundantly clear (as with the building height limits above) that the U.S. has no compunction about violating its own rules when Okinawan lives are at stake, VFP-ROCK hopes that emphasizing the danger to U.S. personnel will budge U.S. leaders out of their insistence on keeping Futenma open unless and until the Henoko base is complete. In so doing, the U.S. is using Futenma’s danger as a threat in a shameful attempt to compel Okinawa’s acceptance of the Henoko base.

The bromance between Prime Minister Abe and President Trump may be on the skids, but when they met at Mar-a-Lago, they still managed to croon their wretched duet: “The leaders reconfirmed that the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to the Camp Schwab/Henokosaki area and in adjacent waters is the only solution that avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.” See what I mean about the threat?

A major mobilization against Henoko base construction is planned for next week, with 400-500 people gathering at the Camp Schwab gate each day from April 23 through April 28. Organizers say: “with all urgency, we call on all Okinawans, citizens living in Japan and all over the world, to join this massive action outside the gate. Your support and assistance for our movement will be highly appreciated.”

Henoko: A Needless Military Base

April 18, 2018

This is an unedited version of an article that appeared several months ago on the Shingetsu News Agency website. With SNA’s permission, I’m posting it here, primarily because it includes links to sources.


Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa must close – on that much everyone agrees. But the insistence by the United States and Japan on building a replacement facility in another part of Okinawa is bitterly opposed by Okinawa’s people and prefectural government. To dismiss their concerns, the State Department employs a boilerplate stating that moving to a new airfield offshore Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago City “is the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial and strategic concerns and avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.” This assertion seems to satisfy most mainstream media in Japan and the U.S.; to my knowledge, the State Department has never been asked to defend it.

Futenma is home to Marine Aircraft Group 36 (MAG-36), which provides air transport for the ground troops of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) based at Camp Hansen, also in Okinawa. So to argue that it’s strategically indispensable that Futenma’s replacement be in Okinawa is to argue – at minimum – that the 31st MEU has a strategically critical mission that it could not perform if based anywhere else.

Proponents of the Marines’ presence in Okinawa swear that it hits a geographical sweet spot. As Marine Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson put it, “We have China, North Korea, Russia and the violent extremism that is occurring today in Mindanao of the Philippines. The location here, a couple hundred miles south of Japan puts us centrally located to be able to respond quickly.”

In support of such claims, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) produced the following map:

One could fault CRS’s selection of cities, but if proximity to Taipei, Beijing, Pyongyang, Seoul, and Tokyo is the standard, their combined distance from Okinawa is some 3610 nautical miles. Just by way of example, the combined distance to those cities from the Marine airbase in Iwakuni (Yamaguchi Prefecture) is 24 percent shorter. So one flaw in the “centrally located” argument is that it doesn’t necessarily point to Okinawa.

Numerous experts reject the notion that having Marines in Okinawa is strategically critical:

 

  • “There is nothing special about the geographical position of Okinawa.”
    (Former defense secretary William Perry)
  • “…although the U.S. Marine Corps’ presence in the region is extremely important, its particular location in the western Pacific is less critical, as long as training facilities and infrastructure are adequate.”
    (Eric Heginbotham, Ely Ratner, and Richard J. Samuels, writing in Foreign Affairs)
  • “Even if the Marine Corps left Okinawa, if the Air Force and the Navy were to stay in Kadena and mainland Japan, there would be no change in deterrence.”
    (Barry Posen, director of MIT’s Security Studies Program)

 

The 31st MEU, in particular, is the only one of seven MEUs to be based outside the United States. If the others can deploy from California or North Carolina, it’s unclear why the 31st cannot.

If Okinawa’s location is so crucial, shouldn’t the 31st MEU stay there, always at the ready for a regional military crisis? In fact, the unit deployed to Iraq from September 2004 to March 2005 and has engaged in natural disaster responses in Indonesia and Myanmar. Beyond such missions, the unit regularly spends roughly six months a year visiting countries like Australia for joint training exercises. So if a crisis on the Korean Peninsula breaks out, chances are it won’t even be in Okinawa.

Of the Marines’ air-ground task forces, MEUs are the smallest, with just 2,200 troops. In comparison, for example, to the 23,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, the 31st MEU’s size would limit its role in any contingency, except perhaps for one involving the Senkakus. And if they’re in Okinawa to defend Japan’s disputed control over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, proponents should say so. As CRS notes, “The potential role of U.S. Marines in defending and/or retaking uninhabited islands from a hypothetical invasion force is unclear”. In any case, wouldn’t such a task fall more appropriately to Japan’s own version of the Marines, to be inaugurated in 2018? As for countering Chinese aggression more broadly, Posen avows that he “cannot see what role the Marine Corps might play in military actions that are likely to take place in the context of Japan-China or China-Taiwan relations.”

Providing air transport for a unit of minor strategic importance that needn’t be in Okinawa, Futenma is, as former ambassador to Japan Michael Armacost declares, not an essential base. Ultimately, explains (41:10) former Pentagon official Morton Halperin, no base is: “If you ask the military about any base which they now have, they will tell you ‘it is necessary.’” Instead, he says, “the question to ask is, what are the functions that you perform on the Marine base in Okinawa, and for each one of those functions, explain how you would do it next best if you lost the base on Okinawa…” As for Henoko, “I think we should have long since given up the notion of having a new Marine base on Okinawa, and paid whatever price – and I believe the price would be zero – but pay whatever price we have to pay in degradation or increased cost, to do the same function someplace else.”

With its colossal budget, the Pentagon can hardly plead poverty in rejecting alternatives, and it’s not as if none are available. In 2011, three U.S. senators, describing the Henoko plan as “unrealistic, unworkable, and unaffordable,” suggested moving Futenma’s assets to Kadena Air Force base, also in Okinawa. Akikazu Hashimoto and Mike Mochizuki propose that MAG-36 move to Kyushu or elsewhere in mainland Japan, transporting the 31st MEU out of a heliport inside Camp Schwab. Elements of these proposals might meet with objections in Okinawa, but Mochizuki and Hashimoto’s at least “avoids the negative environmental consequences of the landfill project” in Henoko’s Oura Bay. And while these proposals would leave the 31st MEU in Okinawa, a detailed recommendation from the Japanese think tank New Diplomacy Initiative goes further, urging that “just as the I MEF deploys an MEU from California across the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean, the 31st MEU could similarly be deployed from Hawaii or the continental U.S.”

In inserting the word “political” into its rationale for Henoko as the only way to close Futenma while addressing “operational, political, financial and strategic concerns,” the State Department inadvertently revealed the overriding consideration. Henoko indeed appeared to answer Tokyo and Washington’s political concerns. In 2014, Japan’s defense minister justified U.S. forces’ heavy concentration in Okinawa by saying, in Gavan McCormack’s paraphrase, “that no other district in Japan would have them.” The Abe administration fears the political fallout from a move to the mainland, and Washington is not about to undermine a conservative and compliant partner. Both governments assumed Okinawans would buckle and accept another base. They were wrong.

There’s a reason why Tokyo and Washington intone their “only solution” mantra: it serves to stifle a genuine debate over Futenma’s strategic value. For if Americans and Japanese started to question why we’re imposing a base on Okinawa for no appreciable gain in security, their governments might be forced to admit that the Henoko relocation is no solution at all.

Summary of Okinawa Base News, April 8-14, 2018

April 15, 2018

Here’s a summary of recent developments involving US bases in Okinawa. Please note that quotations come from the linked sources, but the comments are mine.

Remember the CH-53E helicopter that burned up after an “emergency landing” on grazing land in Takae last October? A report by local fire department officials “says the officials could not find out whether the fire started during the flight or upon landing, because their request for an on-site investigation was rejected.” Avoiding public knowledge of such information is precisely why the US military prevents local authorities from doing their jobs.

Governor Onaga will undergo surgery for a tumor on his pancreas. “The 67-year-old said he wants to return to official duties as soon as possible as he remains committed to strongly opposing the state’s controversial plan to relocate a key U.S. military base within the prefecture with his current four-year term set to end in December.”

A US Marine was sentenced to a four-year prison term for a drunk-driving incident last November in which his vehicle struck and killed a local man in Naha. Of course, such tragedies will continue as long as US bases are concentrated in Okinawa.

According to “sources”, the Japanese government plans to begin land reclamation for the Henoko base in July – meaning it will start depositing soil into the part of Oura Bay surrounded by the seawalls currently under construction. Governor Onaga had refused “to sign off on the Defense Ministry’s request to relocate an endangered species of coral at the site, but Tokyo now plans to preserve the coral as, the sources said.” That mystifying phrase was later clarified somewhat: “Concerning the plan to move embankment work forward without transplanting the colony of Stylaraea punctata, the ODB [Okinawa Defense Bureau] has mentioned the potential of decreasing the amount of rock put into the ocean per day, and increasing the number of silt barriers set up around the seawalls from two layers to four layers so as not to affect the surroundings.” Given how risky-sounding the original plan to transport the coral was, I’m ever more skeptical of plan B. As Ryukyu Shimpo notes, “the Japanese government appears to be trying to evade any authority that the governor can exercise.”

Remember the school near Futenma airbase where a window from a CH-53E helicopter fell last December? In the 39 days after the playground was reopened in February, “pupils had to evacuate the field and take shelter inside 242 times due to the approach of U.S. aircraft…. The U.S. military has not suspended flights in the vicinity of schools, so children’s right to receive education is being constantly infringed upon.” Would a grade school in Osaka have to endure this? Would a school in California? No, but Tokyo and Washington think nothing of inflicting it on Okinawa.

Journalist Jon Mitchell tweets: “Okinawa: Following recent revelations that new USMC base at Nago sits on tectonic faultline, now it also seems tall structures around area will pose collision risk to military aircraft.” In order to sell us on the Henoko base, the US and Japan tell us it would avoid the dangers posed by Futenma. Fortunately, we’re learning that’s bogus while there’s still time to stop it.

Marines’ CH-53E Helicopter is a Menace to Okinawan Lives

December 14, 2017

photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan

For the Marine Corps’ CH-53E “Super Stallion” transport helicopter, based at Futenma air station in Ginowan, Okinawa, 2017 has not been a super year.

June 1, 2017
A CH-53E makes an emergency landing on Kumejima.

October 11, 2017
That same CH-53E burns up after a so-called “emergency landing” on farmland in Takae.

December 7, 2017
A plastic cylindrical object labeled “Remove Before Flight” and “U.S.” lands on the roof of a Ginowan preschool shortly after a CH-53E takes off from Futenma. Children were playing outside, but no one is injured. Though it’s clearly the shipping cover for a CH-53E part, the Marines, rather implausibly, deny that it fell from their aircraft.

December 13, 2017
A metal window frame falls from a CH-53E on a grade school playground in Ginowan. A boy is slightly injured by gravel kicked up when the frame hits the ground. Afterward, the school principal declares “Neither the teachers nor the children are mentally prepared to resume physical education classes.”

This is not a complete history of incidents involving the CH-53 in Okinawa. Most infamously, a CH-53D crashed inside Okinawa International University on August 13, 2004.

In response to the latest near-tragedy, the Japanese government will protest – partly for show, partly in exasperation with the damage done to its efforts to impose bases on Okinawa. The Marines may temporarily ground the aircraft, as they have on previous occasions. But after a brief period, the Marines will say everything’s fine, resume flights, and Tokyo will meekly accept. But Okinawans won’t, and neither should we.

It’s not just in Okinawa that the CH-53E has problems. It’s no wonder that an aircraft “worn out and in need of replacement” is crashing and shedding parts mid-air. These problems may be exacerbated by the increased intensity of exercises in the midst of tensions with North Korea, pushing both the helicopter and personnel beyond their limits.

No doubt Tokyo and Washington will say this only shows the necessity of moving Futenma to a less urban location at Henoko. Irrespective of that claim’s dubious virtues, it would take years. The same applies to assurances that the aircraft is being replaced: “the changeover won’t be completed until 2029 at the earliest.” In the meantime, it would be unconscionable for the Marines to knowingly endanger Okinawan lives with this aircraft one more day. If they don’t ground Futenma-based CH-53Es for good, the next time will be no accident.

Downplaying U.S. Military Crime in Okinawa

August 6, 2016

Defenders of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa are fond of claiming that U.S. personnel covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Japan commit crimes at a lower rate than Okinawans themselves. The newspaper Stars and Stripes, for example, noting that an Okinawa Prefectural Assembly resolution stated that “SOFA-status personnel had committed 5,896 crimes since 1972”, objected that “government figures show the rest of Okinawa’s populace has a crime rate more than twice as high over the same period — 69.7 crimes per 10,000 people, compared with 27.4 by SOFA members.”

This statistic is valid, but it’s preposterous to present it as definitive. The first problem is that Okinawa police statistics cover only crimes committed off base, where military personnel spend far less of their time than do Okinawans, vastly reducing the opportunity to commit crimes there. Furthermore, such personnel are paid regularly (if not necessarily well) and are therefore unlikely to engage in criminal activity linked to poverty. That in spite of these factors service members and contractors commit as many crimes as they do is nothing to brag about.

But when you look at the figures for heinous crimes, it’s much worse. As Jon Mitchell reports: “According to Okinawa Prefectural Police, between 2006 and 2015, members of the US military, their dependents and military employees committed serious offences (murder, robbery, arson and rape) at a rate 2.3 times that of the local population. On a longer chronological scale, the rate of military-related serious crimes is 3.5 times that of the local population in the 44 years since Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control in 1972.”

Citing an overall rate of military-related crime less than half that of Okinawans, while omitting a rate of heinous military-related crime more than double that of Okinawans, is a kind of half-truth, more dangerous than an outright lie. While the statistics on heinous crimes first appeared on June 11, 2016, after the Stars and Stripes story, the paper was downplaying military crimes again on June 16, and as of August 6 has yet to correct the record.


This is #5 in a series of “Futenma Falsehoods, Henoko Hanky-panky”. See more here.

U.S. Forces Japan Misrepresents Base Presence in Okinawa

August 2, 2016

On June 23, 2016, U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) posted a “USFJ Fact of the Week” to its Facebook page, with the following claim: “It is often said that 75 percent or more of all American military facilities in Japan are located on Okinawa. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. In fact, 39% of US exclusive use facilities and 49% of total SOFA-members reside in Okinawa.”

In the first place, the oft-cited statistic is that in terms of area, Okinawa hosts 74% of bases in Japan used exclusively by the United States. In other words, Okinawa alone accounts for 74% of the area occupied by US exclusive use facilities in Japan. That’s a mouthful, so it isn’t always stated with absolute precision, but USFJ can hardly fail to be aware of what it means. After all, the number of bases is clearly inadequate as a measure of the burden they impose on a locality: one huge base has more impact than two small ones.

In playing the fool and propagating the 39% figure, “U.S. forces apparently want to downplay Okinawa’s burden so that it does not look as great as reported,” observed Sato Manabu, professor of international politics at Okinawa International University.

Moreover, USFJ omitted the crucial fact that usually accompanies the 74% number: Okinawa has just 0.6% of Japan’s total area. Without this, it’s impossible to understand the grossly disproportionate burden of bases on Okinawa.

On top of everything else, USFJ chose the very day that Okinawans remember the lives lost in the Battle of Okinawa to engage in its propaganda. Fact of the week? More like misrepresentation of the week.


This is #1 in a series of “Futenma Falsehoods, Henoko Hanky-panky”. See more here.

The “Only Solution” Mantra

April 17, 2016

Last week, Japan’s Foreign Minister Kishida told Secretary of State Kerry that building a new airbase at Henoko in Okinawa is the “only solution” to closing the Futenma base while maintaining essential security functions. Kerry implicitly agreed. This ritual is repeated virtually every time American and Japanese officials meet. Do they think that by endlessly repeating this mantra, people will believe it?

The trouble, as Peter Ennis puts it, is that “MCAS Futenma is convenient for training and Marine down time, but has no strategic function.” Ennis is no peacenik; he makes this point precisely because he sees the unwillingness to reconsider the Henoko base as a threat to core priorities of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Moreover, in an unguarded moment, former Minister of Defense Morimoto stated that “from a military perspective, the relocation does not have to be in Okinawa.”

Another crack in the facade appeared when Michael Armacost, a former ambassador to Japan, declared that “Futenma is not an essential base”, and cast doubt on the merits of transferring it to Henoko.

Anyone open to facts and logic can see that Kerry and Kishida’s claim that Henoko is the “only solution” is nonsense. The point of their dog and pony show is not to persuade, but to send the message that they will never budge. But the Okinawan people have held off this base for 20 years, and if we stand with them, even mantra-intoning officials will one day be enlightened.

All Politics is Local

February 27, 2016

images

I recently launched a petition, which reads as follows:


Seattle City Council: Join other U.S. cities in standing with Okinawa against military base

Okinawa is already choked with military bases, but the United States insists on building yet another, bringing crime, aircraft accidents, noise, environmental damage, and the risk of again turning the islands into a battlefield. As Okinawans fight to protect their communities, they deserve Seattle’s support.

Though Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952, the U.S. military continued to occupy Okinawa for another twenty years. As a result, Okinawa, with less than 1% of Japan’s total area, hosts three fourths of the U.S. military bases in the country.[1] Decade after decade, Okinawans have suffered the harmful consequences of these bases. But now, with a new base slated for construction, Okinawans are saying they’ve had enough, with nearly 80% opposed.[2]

In the Henoko district of Nago City, protesters are engaged in a campaign to stop construction of the new base. On land, they face riot police sent from Tokyo. On the sea – using tactics similar to those employed by Seattle’s kayaktivists in last year’s #ShellNo campaign – they confront the Japan Coast Guard, which has resorted to excessive force. Yet the protesters remain committed to nonviolence.

When national leaders refuse to budge from unjust policies, it’s at the local level that we can have the most impact. Seattle can be proud of past resolutions supporting an end to the Iraq War and opposing South African apartheid. Last year, Cambridge, Massachusetts[3] and Berkeley, California[4] passed resolutions standing with Okinawans against the new base. Now it’s our turn.

Sources:

  1. http://fpif.org/okinawa-small-island-trying-block-u-s-militarys-pivot-asia/
  2. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/07/national/politics-diplomacy/poll-finds-overwhelming-opposition-in-okinawa-to-futenma-relocation-plan
  3. http://www2.cambridgema.gov/cityclerk/PolicyOrder.cfm?item_id=52974
  4. http://www.cityofberkeley.info/recordsonline/export/16874673.pdf

Click here to sign.

As I’ve written previously, unlike many intractable wrongs, the base can be stopped. But to the extent that leaders in Washington, DC listen to the public at all, that rarely extends to issues touching on foreign and military policy. So for now, I think we should focus on a different level of government. Perhaps I’m finally awakening to the truth of the adage “all politics is local.”

When I read that the cities of Berkeley and Cambridge had passed resolutions backing Okinawa in its resistance to the new base, I thought, why not Seattle? After all, it’s one of the most progressive cities in the country, and that extends to some members of the city council. Moreover, with two texts already available to them, they don’t even have to write a resolution from scratch. Nevertheless, they’re undoubtedly busy with other matters, and unlikely to take up this one unless prompted to do so by their constituents. That’s where this petition comes in.

In order to succeed, we’ll need many signatures – especially of Seattle residents and voters. So in addition to signing, I’d be very grateful if you would share the petition widely via email and social networks. Given that Japan appears bent on accelerated construction as soon as it can overcome legal challenges, we have no time to lose.

Once again, the petition is here.


A couple of updates:

  • On  March 4, the Japanese government and Okinawa agreed to a court proposal in which they drop most of their duelling lawsuits. The good news is that it also requires the central government to suspend base construction. The bad news is that, as Japanese government officials admit, they accepted this “settlement” in order to avoid controversy during elections this summer, and have every intention of continuing to fight Okinawa in the courts. Thus, showing solidarity with Okinawa is as important as ever.
  • To keep informed on the progress of the petition, please visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SeattleStandsWithOkinawa/

Circle of Empathy

November 15, 2015

I’m something of a Francophile. In my youth, I ignored American literature in favor of Balzac, Stendhal, and Flaubert. In cinema, I’ve long gravitated toward French (or at least French-speaking) directors. Last Friday night, a musician was on the radio saying that after his group had played a set at a jazz club in Paris called Le Sunset, they heard about the nearby terror attacks. The group decided it would be wrong to go on for another set. I was stunned, for I remember going to a club called Le Sunset in 1989 – presumably the same one. This slight connection intensified the horror for me.

But I’m uncomfortable with worldwide expressions of solidarity with one victimized country when no comparable solidarity is shown with places such as Afghanistan, Gaza, and Yemen where many more noncombatants have been killed. As it happens, my country is responsible for much of this slaughter, either directly or by providing weapons and diplomatic cover. If anything, that should increase my solidarity with the survivors, not shut it off.

The world has many problems, but one of them is that we are very, very selective in our empathy. To some, we send the message, “Your lives are precious; we stand with you.” To others, our silence sends the implicit message, “Your lives – and those of your children – are nothing to us.” If we truly wish to stop tragedies like the one in Paris on November 13, the first thing we must do is expand the circle of our empathy. If the world were horrified by all attacks on civilians, no matter where or by whom, we might not be mourning Parisians now.