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Okinawan Anti-Bases Delegation Makes An Impression in Washington, D.C.

January 30, 2012 

Even as Tokyo tried to force the Futenma base relocation plan on Okinawa in a desperate effort to salvage its unraveling deal with the U.S., a prominent delegation from Okinawa visited Washington, D.C. to educate political movers and shakers and lobby Congress to close the military bases in Okinawa.  An overview of the delegation “Making Okinawan Voices Heard in America” can be found at Closethebase.org.  David Swanson wrote “Japanese Delegation Wants the U.S. Out of Okinawa” on warisacrime.org:
A 24-member delegation from Japan is in Washington, D.C., this week opposing the presence and new construction of U.S. military bases in Okinawa.  Participating are members of the Japanese House of Councilors, of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, and of city governments in Okinawa, as well as leading protest organizers and the heads of several important organizations opposed to the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Okinawa.

The famously stingy U.S. tax payer, frequently seen bitterly protesting outrageously wasteful spending of a few million dollars, is paying billions of dollars to maintain and expand some 90 military bases in Japan (and to make those who profit from such business filthy rich).  Thirty-four of those bases, containing 74% of their total land area, are in Okinawa, which itself contains only 0.6% of Japanese land.  Okinawa is dominated by U.S. military bases and has been for 67 years since the U.S. forcibly appropriated much of the best land.

In addition to numerous meetings, briefings and media sessions, the delegation held a public forum at Busboys and Poets. Here are a few snippets about the speakers:
Keiko Itokazu, a Member of the Japanese National Diet, depicted in this painting, said the Okinawan people had been heartbroken since having been unable to protect a 12-year-old girl from gang rape by U.S. troops in 1995.  The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan gives U.S. troops immunity from Japanese prosecution.  Between 1979 and 2008, U.S. forces in Okinawa caused 1,439 accidents (487 of them airplane related), and 5,584 criminal cases (559 of them involving violent crimes).  The list includes fatal driving incidents, residential break-ins, taxi robberies, sexual violence, and other serious crimes against local citizens.
[...]
Hiroshi Ashitomi has been a leader of the nonviolent resistance in Henoko for 16 years.  “We use our own bodies,” he said on Monday, “to resist aggressive actions by the Japanese government.”  Pointing to the picture of Gandhi in the collage on the wall at Busboys, Ashitomi said, “We follow the example of Gandhi.  It is not easy.  We receive threats from the police.  But we are determined to use nonviolent resistance, and we get a lot of support from all over Japan.  We are trying to protect the environment, so many young people from all over Japan come to our tent and participate in our resistance.”
[...]
Specifically, the delegation is asking for the closure of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station; cancellation of plans to construct a new Marine Corps air base at Cape Henoko; reduction of unbearable noise caused by air operations at Kadena Air Base; withdrawal of any proposal to integrate Futenma’s helicopter squadrons into Kadena’s operations; an end to the construction of six new helipads in the Yanbaru forest in northern Okinawa; and revision of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement to allow fair prosecutions of crimes.
The article mentioned the role of international solidarity in the Okinawan movement:
Base opponents in Okinawa work with others in Korea, Guam, and Hawaii, and with former residents of Diego Garcia, as well as others around the world.
Doug Bandow in Forbes Magazine wrote a thoughtful and in depth article entitled “Give Okinawa back to Okinawans”.   He wrote of the Okinawan movement:
Civil disobedience is a potential game-changer.  In May 2010 17,000 Okinawans created a human chain surrounding Futenma.  More recently roughly 200 demonstrators delayed delivery of an environmental impact report on a new runway from the defense ministry to the prefectural government.  Using force against protestors would threaten a future Japanese government’s survival and embarrass Washington.

Rather than resist Okinawan demands, the U.S. should voluntarily reduce its military presence on the island.  Jeffrey Hornung of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies observed:  “Given how much problems this is causing in Okinawa, it’s finally time to rethink things.”

Bandow also discussed how the Okinawa issue is helping to move public sentiment away from the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (ANPO) which maintains Japan’s subordinate role to the U.S.:
Tokyo has essentially relinquished control over its own territory to comply with U.S. demands.  Although the Obama administration frustrated the 2009 DPJ campaign pledge to create a more equal security partnership, Japanese citizens will inevitably raise more questions about the bilateral relationship as they debate security issues.
Prof. Kenneth B. Pyle of the University of Washington argued that “the degree of U.S. domination in the relationship has been so extreme that a recalibration of the alliance was bound to happen, but also because autonomy and self-mastery have always been fundamental goals of modern Japan.”
The article goes on to explain that the United States’ paternalistic relationship with Japan is based on two rationales: containing a rising China and preventing a resurgent militaristic Japan. However, as Bandow points out, the “China peril” rationale for the Okinawa bases is overblown:

Exactly how the Marines help contain Beijing is not clear.  As Robert Gates observed, U.S. policymakers would have to have their heads examined to participate in another land war in Asia.  If a conflict with China improbably developed, Washington would rely on air and naval units.

Moreover, despite persistent fear-mongering about Beijing, the PRC is in no position, and for many years will not be in position, to harm the U.S.  Chinese military spending remains far behind that of America.  Beijing is working mightily to deter the U.S. from attacking China, not to attack America.

The article concludes that what Japan decides to do about the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty is up to the Japanese people; the U.S. should not try to dictate Japan’s policy:
Adopting such a stance would be in the interests of the American and Japanese people.  And especially in the interest of the Okinawan people.  The U.S. should begin transforming its alliance relationships.  Now is a good time to do so with Japan.
And even in TIME magazine, Kirk Spitzer wrote “Marines on Okinawa: Time to Leave?”:
More than six decades after U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Okinawa, it may finally be time for them to go home.
The visit seems to have influenced some lawmakers to take more proactive steps to call for the closing of the bases in light of the current U.S. budget woes and in response to President Obama’s new defense guidance statement. Representatives Barbara Lee, Barney Frank, Lynn C. Woolsey, and Rush D. Holt sent a letter to President Obama that criticized the U.S. troops in Okinawa and proposed expansion of troops in Australia:
Some of our troops in Asia as well, particularly our Marines in Okinawa, are stationed on bases with no well-thought out purpose, at considerable cost both in funding and in causing enmity with our Japanese ally.  While we should continue to offer protection to South Korea and enforce its cease-fire with its unstable and hostile northern neighbor, and we understand your overall emphasis on Asian security, particular South Asia with its proximity to the Persian Gulf and oil-shipping, we see no reason for any expansion into Australia.
These advances for the Okinawan movement have been hard fought and well deserved. But the consequences of their success may spell disaster for Hawai’i unless peace movements in the Asia-Pacific and the United States can push for a reduction of military forces in the region.   My next post will cover this issue.