Posts Tagged ‘Henoko’

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

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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/

In Okinawa, Discrimination Has a Number

October 14, 2015

I’m going to go through a bit of arithmetic here, but it’s in the interest of answering an important question: just how unfair a burden of American military bases is imposed on Okinawa? If you’re math-averse, you can skip over it.

Opponents of the transfer and expansion of a U.S. Marine base from Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago City in Okinawa often cite the fact that Okinawa, with just 0.6% of Japan’s total area, accounts for 73.8% of the U.S. base presence in Japan (that is, the combined area of bases used exclusively by the U.S. military in Japan). These two figures, 0.6 and 73.8, testify to the unfair burden imposed on Okinawa for what is supposedly a benefit to Japan as a whole.

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

But just how unfair? The burden military bases place on a region depends both on their combined area and on the region’s size. The greater the area, the greater the burden. The larger the region, the smaller the burden. So to measure the burden, we can use the density of bases per unit area.

Now, if the American base presence were distributed evenly throughout Japan, the base density in Okinawa would be the same as the density in the rest of Japan (for which I’ll use the imperfect term “mainland”). As a measure of the density in Okinawa, we can use the ratio of 73.8 and 0.6, which is 123. How about mainland Japan? First, the percentage of bases it hosts is 100 – 73.8, or 26.2%. Second, the mainland‘s percentage of Japan’s total area is 100 – 0.6, or 99.4%. To get the density of bases in mainland Japan we take the ratio of 26.2 and 99.4, and get about 0.2636.

Now, 123 is about 467 times 0.2636. So instead of equal densities, we find that Okinawa’s is 467 times that of mainland Japan. That is how unfair the burden of the American military presence is on Okinawa: almost 500 times the burden on the rest of Japan.

The central government in Tokyo evidently considers the level of base concentration on the mainland appropriate. But it rigidly opposes any action that would significantly reduce a burden on Okinawa 467 times that level. It’s as if Japan concentrated nuclear power stations 467 times as densely in Okinawa as it did everywhere else. Can anyone deny that this is a gross injustice?

The Pentagon claims that the Henoko base is part of a realignment intended to reduce the burden on Okinawa. But “burden” is too vague; by focusing instead on relative base densities, we can advance the debate. At the end of this realignment, bases will still be concentrated in Okinawa hundreds of times more densely than they are in the rest of Japan. Calling that a reduction in burden is an insult. Much, much more is needed – beginning with the abandonment of plans for the Henoko base.

[This article has been revised to improve clarity.]

Okinawa Can Win. Let’s Help.

June 3, 2015

There’s an issue that should concern all American progressives committed to democracy, peace, and the environment. It’s a fight we can win. However, few progressives are even aware of it.

The United States and Japan are intent on building a new base for the U.S. Marines in Okinawa, and the people there don’t want it. Their reasons are varied: environmental protection, a strong aversion to militarism, the excessive burden of bases on Okinawa, and the noise, accidents, and crime that bases inflict on surrounding communities. For the details, see Jon Letman’s excellent article. And to hear it straight from Okinawans, I can’t recommend this video enough.

Sure, we’d like to stop drones from killing noncombatants, turn off the spigot of weapons to tyrants and war criminals, and bring troops home from bases around the world. But that’s a tall order. If we want to close down hundreds of bases, how about starting by preventing the construction of one?

Defying two governments, Okinawa’s task may seem impossible. Okinawans, though, have several factors in their favor. First, while Tokyo was long able to buy off local politicians by promising development funds, Okinawa now has political leadership reflecting the electorate’s determination. The cause is so mainstream that anti-base Governor Onaga is a conservative by Okinawan standards, and the business community has lent support as well. Military bases, it seems, are bad for business.

Furthermore, while some Japanese (and as the case of Kevin Maher shows, some Americans) look down on Okinawans, such attitudes are far less widespread and virulent than America’s Islamophobia. The resistance is nonviolent, making Okinawans hard to demonize (though Stars and Stripes does its despicable best). When base opponents are mistreated, people sympathize with them, and sense that when peaceful protesters are targeted so unjustly, their cause is often just.

Finally, Okinawa’s struggle has drawn support from well-known figures outside the prefecture. Anime director Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, The Wind Rises) is helping to raise funds in support of anti-base activities. In North America, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Daniel Ellsberg, and Oliver Stone have made common cause with Okinawa. And while some Japanese are happy to have U.S. bases as long as they are far away in Okinawa, a plurality of opinion has turned against this particular base.

Ultimately, this is Okinawa’s fight to win. But it’s a fight on two fronts, one of them in Washington, D.C. Our government’s contempt for Okinawan self-determination is shameful, and it is our task to shame it. Organizations like Veterans for Peace are leading the way, but much more must be done.

The biggest obstacle is a virtual blackout on the part of the news media. If 35,000 people rallied against the building of a military base for Russia or Iran, it would be on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post. But when 35,000 Okinawans rallied against a U.S. base, it got hardly a mention. When the resistance is covered at all, it’s frequently portrayed as a conflict between Okinawa and Tokyo, as if the U.S. were an innocent bystander.

But how can we expect the mainstream media to cover this issue when progressive media does so sporadically at best? The latter, it seems, is just as prone to “if it bleeds, it leads” thinking as the former. We hear plenty about Baltimore and Gaza, and I’m sure we’ll hear about East Asia too if war breaks out there – when it would be too late to stop it. We need to be informed about the region now, before a war starts – a war in which U.S. bases in Okinawa would be heavily involved. That’s one reason Okinawans oppose them – they fear a repeat of the Battle of Okinawa, in which a fourth of the population perished 70 years ago. So progressive media need to step up. This means you, Democracy Now. This means you, The Nation. This means you, The Intercept. Governor Onaga is in Washington, D.C. until June 5, and may get some attention even from mainstream media. But we can’t go back to ignoring Okinawa when he goes home.

Look, I know you’re busy. You’re struggling to keep up as it is, and here I am putting more on your plate. But this is not a zero-sum game. Showing solidarity with Okinawa doesn’t detract from your solidarity with anyone else. For one thing, I believe Okinawans will reciprocate. A win here would demonstrate the vulnerability of antidemocratic and militaristic U.S. policies everywhere else. And couldn’t we use a win?

Welcome to Reality

January 30, 2014

Is reality finally seeping into the offices of the New York Times editorial board? The titles alone of their recent editorials on Okinawa tell a story:

April 5, 2013:     Progress on Okinawa
January 5, 2014:   Another Step Forward on Okinawa
January 27, 2014:  Okinawa Solution, Elusive as Ever

The Times has been cheerleading as the government of Prime Minister Abe pressed on with plans to build a new airbase for U.S. Marines in the Henoko district of Nago City. But with the re-election of Mayor Inamine, a fervent base opponent, the board seems to have finally awakened to the depth of Okinawan resistance. While early in January, they fretted that “local politics could still thwart the project”, the dismissive tone is now gone. True, as if made from a cookie cutter, all three editorials make feeble, virtually identical pleas that the U.S. and Japan “must be responsive to Okinawan concerns.” But this time, they acknowledge that “Okinawan resistance goes far deeper than everyday not-in-my-backyard complaints.” And for once, Okinawan priorities get the last word: “A base-relocation plan that protects American and Japanese strategic concerns cannot be allowed to unfairly burden Okinawa’s citizens.”

In the past, the Times placed its hopes on Tokyo’s efforts to pay off Okinawans in exchange for acquiescing to the base. That worked on the now widely-despised Governor Nakaima. But with such efforts backfiring in the Nago election, the Times is forced to question the validity of its insulting assumption that Okinawans can be bought.

Another possible reason for the shift is disillusionment with Abe. Last April, The Times was full of praise: “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan showed political leadership by agreeing with the United States on a timetable for reducing the size of the American force and returning some land used as a military base.” (This was an extremely deceptive characterization of the agreement.) The only question was whether Abe could “deliver” on efforts to get Okinawa to knuckle under. More recently, though, the Times has parted company with the Abe administration on such matters as the state secrets law, textbooks, visiting Yasukuni, arms exports, and squabbling with China over islets. Having seen what Abe’s been “delivering”, perhaps the Times has a case of buyer’s remorse, and is starting to question other aspects of his agenda as well.

For the first time, the Times mentions the threat the base poses to the endangered dugong, a kind of manatee. And for once, they allude to the possibility of transferring Futenma operations not to Henoko, but to Kadena Air Force base. But let’s not exaggerate the extent of the Times’s enlightenment. They haven’t completely abandoned their faith in the efficacy of bribery: “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has tried to sway Nago residents with promises of a half-billion dollars in public-works spending, may yet find a way to entice Okinawans into acceptance.” At least, I hope they’re talking about money. The alternatives include, as Gavan McCormack reports, the kind of intimidation with which the central government attempted to interfere in a local election, and the potential involvement of the National Police Agency and Coast Guard. One would hope, though, that the Times dimly perceives that attempts to force the base on an unwilling Okinawa will result in civil disobedience and perhaps violence that could threaten their cherished Japan-U.S. alliance itself.

Of course, the Times persists in its devotion to Pentagon priorities. Last April, they wrote of “growing concerns about North Korea and China.” Then it was “Pentagon officials now say the relocation is also needed to meet security requirements as the United States rebalances its focus toward Asia.” Now they stress “the importance of America’s military presence to regional stability.” Apparently, they still believe that if Futenma were closed today, we’d all be speaking Mandarin tomorrow. They thus seem oblivious to the argument, made by Peter Ennis and others, that Futenma “has no strategic function” and that only inter-service rivalries bar the Kadena option. Signs of growing recognition of Okinawans’ right to self-determination should be welcomed as progress. But as the Times itself has discovered, “progress” can be fleeting.


As they stand up to two governments, the Okinawan people need our help. So I hope you’ll consider signing this petition. If you need any more convincing, please watch this moving documentary.

New York Times: Jekyll and Hyde on Japan

January 8, 2014

In recent weeks, the New York Times editorial board has been giving Japan’s government a hard time. First, they bemoaned passage of a draconian state secrets act. Then they took Prime Minister Abe to task for worshipping at a shrine honoring Japan’s war dead, including class A war criminals. But finally, the editors have found something to praise: giving the go-ahead for reclamation to build a new U.S. Marine base in Okinawa. (The Times has offered similar praise before, and I wrote about it here.)

One motivation for building a new base in Henoko was that the current one in Futenma became politically fraught after a twelve-year-old girl was gang raped by American soldiers in 1995. Okinawans, however, have resisted efforts to address this by simply moving the Marines to a less densely-populated area. They are sick and tired of being exploited as pawns in the name of American and Japanese military objectives. Up to one fourth of the civilian population perished in the Battle of Okinawa. Though Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952, Okinawa remained under U.S. military occupation for twenty years more. Even after reversion to Japan, Okinawa hosts three fourths of all U.S. bases in Japan. In the past, those bases held stockpiles of nuclear weapons and quite possibly Agent Orange without the knowledge of the local populace. Okinawans in large numbers have had enough, and insist that any new base be sited elsewhere.

The Times tell us that Abe “worked to make the deal happen by pressing Okinawan officials to approve the permit and offering financial support for the island.” By “pressing”, the Times apparently means Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru threatening Okinawa legislators with expulsion from the party unless they broke campaign promises to resist the Henoko plan. Yes, the same Ishiba whose likening of secrets bill opponents to terrorists had so recently perturbed the Times. In that editorial the Times declared: “The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this month rammed through Parliament a state secrecy law that signals a fundamental alteration of the Japanese understanding of democracy.” But on the reclamation approval, the Times is suddenly sanguine about strong-arm tactics to defy Okinawan popular will. They fret that “local politics could still thwart the project.” Maybe it’s not just the Japanese understanding of democracy that is suspect here.

If members of the Times editorial board are so committed to their vision of security, perhaps they would like to host new military bases in the vicinity of their homes and have Osprey aircraft of questionable safety hovering over their children’s schools. Then they might recognize how inadequate are vague statements that the two governments “must be responsive to Okinawans’ concerns about jet crashes, crime, environmental degradation and noise.” Those governments have been making such pro forma commitments for nearly two decades, and there is little prospect of anything substantial being done. For Okinawans, the only acceptable response is to remove the source of the problems from their communities.

The New York Times is important not only because of its wide readership, but also because it is seen as “liberal”. Unfortunately, this leads many to takes its editorial positions as delimiting the leftmost edge of responsible opinion, and fail to recognize how truly illiberal some of them are. On issues involving press freedoms, it is relatively progressive – it is, after all, a newspaper. But on “national security”, it takes its lead all too often from the Obama administration.

I criticized the first of these editorials for neglecting to note that the secrets act was a response to U.S. demands that Japan tighten its secrecy regimen. With the latest editorial, we can see the reason for this omission: U.S. priorities are not to be challenged.

After praising Abe, the Times returns to the theme of the second editorial, and attacks his excessive nationalism: “Mr. Abe’s wrongheaded version of history has a poisonous effect on regional security, and the United States has warned him about this. Perhaps President Obama will have to make this point more firmly.” The hubris here is astonishing: would the Times, I wonder, countenance a foreign leader who “warned” a U.S. president, and if the president failed to comply, then “made the point more firmly”? This is how a Mafia don makes someone an offer he can’t refuse, or how an empire addresses a client state.

That the Times sees Japan as a U.S. satrap is entirely consistent with its contempt for popular will in Okinawa. Japanese progressives may be tempted to welcome U.S. efforts to restrain Abe’s jingoism, but such efforts target symbolism and rhetoric alone. Essentially the U.S. is telling Abe: go ahead and destroy your Peace Constitution; just don’t visit Yasukuni and remind people why Article 9 was needed in the first place. Furthermore, relying on external pressure substitutes for the hard work of domestic politics, and comes at a huge price in terms of Japanese sovereignty. And as long as Japan remains subservient to the U.S., the worst of that exploitation will be offloaded to Okinawa.