Posts Tagged ‘Okinawa’

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/

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.]

The Nation and East Asia

August 2, 2015

I am a longtime subscriber to The Nation magazine, which is celebrating its 150th year. It’s an indispensable resource, with some of the best writers around. But in the interest of making it even better, I recently submitted the following letter to the editor.


The Nation provides excellent coverage of many issues, but falls short in its coverage of Northeast Asia. In a search of your website, I found that in the past year, Japan and Korea (North and South), with a combined population 25 times that of Israel, had only half as many hits. And while China, Japan, and the Koreas combine for a population 42 times that of Iraq, they had fewer hits on thenation.com.

I am not suggesting that population is the only gauge of appropriate levels of coverage, but these figures are grossly disproportionate. I fear that The Nation is stuck in outmoded priorities that relegate one fifth of humanity to a journalistic backwater.

Our leaders are differently inclined, and their “Pacific Pivot” deserves much more scrutiny. I think Nation readers would like to know about Okinawa’s struggle to stop construction of a new U.S. military base, and about the right-wing government of Japan’s push, ignoring widespread opposition, to authorize closer military collaboration with its American ally. In a gift to the Pentagon, these stories have received sporadic coverage at best. While the region is ostensibly at peace, progressives may wake up one day and wish they’d been paying more attention.


The Nation’s “fighting the last war” predilections are apparent even within its coverage of East Asia. In the interest of brevity, my letter omitted the fact that more articles mentioned Vietnam in the past year than China. (All searches were performed July 22, 2015.) Now, my political awareness – and, I suspect, that of some Nation editors – was formed during the Vietnam War. Vietnam has yet to fully recover from the catastrophe we wreaked upon it, and the United States has not even begun to own up to its crimes. But does any of that justify treating Vietnam’s neighbor to the north, with 14 times the population, as less important?

Shortly after I sent my letter, The Nation ran a fine article on Prime Minister Abe’s end run around the Japanese Constitution. But as we know in the context of climate change, a single data point does not alter a statistical fact. While many of the magazine’s readers are well aware that the Prime Minister of Israel is named Netanyahu, they will have long forgotten about Abe if another year or two passes before he is mentioned again. Infrequent coverage means that every article has to go back to the beginning and spend hundreds of words reacquainting readers with the basic facts; they never develop the familiarity with the issues necessary to act upon them.

This is all quite consequential: shouldn’t we be asking presidential candidates about their policies toward these countries? The Nation is not the only progressive media outlet that tends to neglect coverage of East Asia. But it is influential, and it’s time for it to lead.

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?

Pity the Poor Marines

February 28, 2014

Pity the poor U.S. Marines, helplessly caught in a feud between the Okinawan people and the government of Japan. At least, Col. Eric Mellinger would have you believe so. Mellinger, chief of staff for the III Marine Expeditionary Forces in Okinawa, recently confided: “I hate to say we are the ball in the middle of the two rackets, but often I do think the U.S. military is used that way because it highlights other tensions that have absolutely nothing to do with the U.S. military.”

It’s quite true that it suits Japan’s central government just fine to have 74% of U.S. bases there located in Okinawa, with 0.6% of Japan’s total land area. Concentrating the U.S. presence in a small, politically weak prefecture also cordons off opposition to the crime, noise, environmental harm, and accidents that it brings. And there’s nothing new about Tokyo’s victimization of Okinawa. After all, Emperor Hirohito wrote to General MacArthur in 1947, suggesting that Okinawa be leased to the U.S. for 25 years or longer. Despicable as that was, Hirohito did so at American urging, and in this the hands of the U.S. military are far from clean. When Okinawa remained under U.S. military rule even after Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952, this was, notes Chalmers Johnson, “simply the price of getting the Pentagon to go along with the peace treaty.”[1] The U.S. finally restored Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972, but retained the bases. Johnson observes, “The military’s situation in Okinawa struck me as similar to that of Soviet troops in East Germany after the Berlin Wall came down. In both cases the troops preferred to stay on because the pleasures of life as a legionnaire in an imperial garrison far outstripped those of life back in the ‘homeland’.”[2]

The Marines in particular wield a “racket” of their own. Though a 2013 RAND study found that Mellinger’s own III MEF could be moved to California without harming response times, a supposed need to base air and ground units near each other is offered up as a rationale for keeping them in Okinawa. Even within that constraint, Peter Ennis attributes rejection of sharing facilities with the Air Force to “decades of inter-service rivalries” – i.e., the Marines insist on a shiny new base of their own. The Commandant of the Marines himself gives the lie to Mellinger’s plea of innocent neutrality. General James Amos “expressed great admiration for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s handling of the thorny base realignment issues on Okinawa, and said he was confident that Abe would be able to overcome local opposition.” In cracking down on anti-base protests, Abe is unlikely to withhold any instrument of state power, up to and including the Coast Guard and Self-Defense Forces. This is the same administration that is pushing for fewer restraints on the SDF’s use of force outside the country.

Mellinger goes on to suggest that Okinawan concerns about living near military bases are on a par with those of Americans: “I don’t think what the Okinawan people have as far as feelings is all that much different from what Americans have.” But let’s look at some numbers:

  • U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan: 50,341
  • U.S. military personnel stationed in Okinawa: about 26,000
  • Okinawa land area as percentage of Japan’s total: 0.6
  • West Virginia land area: 24,038.21 sq. miles
  • United States (50 states and DC) land area: 3,531,905.43 sq. miles
  • U.S. military personnel in the 50 states and DC: 1,187,466

From these figures we can derive that about 52% of U.S. military personnel in Japan are stationed in Okinawa, and that West Virginia’s land area is roughly 0.7% of the U.S. total. So if the U.S. concentrated its stateside personnel in one state to the degree it does in one Japanese prefecture, there could be something like 52% of 1,187,466 troops in West Virginia. That’s over 600,000 in a state with a current population of less than 2 million.

Imagine that those 600,000 troops were not Americans, but Japanese. Imagine that, occupying the state’s best land, they forced West Virginians to help defray the costs of this foreign military presence – including officers’ clubs and golf courses. Imagine that, like U.S. troops in Okinawa, those Japanese troops operated under a Status of Forces Agreement that shielded them from local laws. Imagine that the Japanese had stored chemical and nuclear weapons on their bases while hiding this fact from West Virginians. Perhaps now, Col. Mellinger, you can begin to fathom “what the Okinawan people have as far as feelings.”


[1] Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004), p. 201.
[2] Johnson, p. 7.

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.

Japan’s LDP Drops No-war Pledge It Never Meant to Keep

January 9, 2014

My Japanese politics professor once said of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that it is “not liberal, not democratic, and not really a party.” So even it’s name is deceptive.

Like the Republicans in the United States, the LDP has transitioned from conservatism to something like proto-fascism. But what to make of the party suddenly dropping a pledge from its manifesto never to wage war? Perhaps we should give them a little credit: when they do go to war, no one can say they broke their word.

Actually, the LDP has been keeping and breaking promises lately. When Prime Minister Abe provoked a firestorm of controversy last month by worshipping at Yasukuni shrine, he was supposedly just fulfilling a campaign pledge.

But just six weeks ago, party heavyweights forced legislators to recant a campaign promise (to oppose construction of a new Marine base in Okinawa) by threatening them with expulsion from the party. So the LDP’s devotion to keeping promises seems to shift with the wind. Maybe that’s how Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga can get away with claiming, after expunging the no-war pledge: “The content (of the platform) hasn’t changed at all.” The only way that makes any sense is that there was no content to begin with.

Update: An Asahi Shimbun report clarifies the context of the change to the LDP’s action plan. The deleted pledge stated: “visits to Yasukuni Shrine will be carried on with the resolve to pledge never again to wage war and to be true to the principles of a pacifist nation.” Apparently LDP politicians intend to make Yasukuni a regular part of their itinerary, and don’t want to mouth loathsome platitudes about peace every time they go. But they have no problem forcing platitudes on others: they want to add the following to the Japanese Constitution: “The Japanese people must respect the national flag and the national anthem.” Already, teachers in Osaka can be fired for failing to sing the anthem.

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.

Bombs and Bases over People

April 7, 2013

That the New York Times prioritizes US military objectives over the lives of people in other countries is on full display this weekend. Here we have exhibit A:

An American military airstrike in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border was reported to have killed 18 people, including at least one senior Taliban commander but also women and children, raising the thorny issue of civilian casualties for the third time in roughly a week.

I am quite certain that if 10 American children were killed in a Taliban attack on a US commander, the Times would not lead with how this raised “the thorny issue of civilian casualties.” To the Times, it’s not a tragedy when Afghan children are slaughtered – merely a “thorny issue” that might get in the way of more American airstrikes.

Civilian casualties have long been a sticking point between President Hamid Karzai and his Western allies. Harsh criticism by Mr. Karzai led to stronger rules on the use of airstrikes by American forces last year…

It seems that adjectives like “harsh” can never apply to US airstrikes – only to criticism of them.

Then, in an editorial, the Times declares: “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.” Apparently it is “leadership” to do what the United States wants.

Three paragraphs later, we learn that the agreement is premised on moving the base from one part of Okinawa to another. The editorial is entitled “Progress on Okinawa,” but few Okinawans are likely to see this as progress. By a large majority, they insist that the base be moved out of the prefecture entirely.

It’s nice that the Times recognizes Okinawans’ “legitimate concerns about living among American bases — jet crashes, crime, environmental degradation and noise….” But at the end, this is revealed as nothing but lip service:

Mr. Abe’s government has tried to address the opposition with offers of generous financial aid and other efforts to court Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, a member of Mr. Abe’s conservative governing party. Now the pressure is on Mr. Abe to deliver.

In other words, the editorial board urges Abe to show more “leadership” – by attempting to pay off the government of Okinawa. The insulting expectation that the people of Okinawa can be bought is likely to be disappointed.