Posts Tagged ‘Okinawa’

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.

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.

map_en
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.