Okinawa: Notes from the “Evil Island”

David McNeill, professor at Sophia University in Tokyo and the coordinator of the academic Asia-Pacific Journal, explained for this report:

“Like many places that have become dependent on external largesse, Okinawa can seem schizophrenic. Polls consistently show that most people on the island oppose the presence of US bases, but thousands of people, including civilian base workers, bar and shop owners, depend on the bases for part or most of their income. US popular culture has filtered down over the last 60+ years giving the island a look, feel and even a diet closer to contemporary America than the Japanese mainland.”

The fate of Okinawa and Okinawans seems to be tightly linked to US-Japan relations, I asked Ms. Satoko Norimatsu, a Japan Focus Coordinator and Director of the Peace Philosophy Centre, what changes could be expected in Japan’s foreign policy, particularly in its relations with the United States, as it is expected that Japan will now move even ‘closer to US’?

“There won’t be much change, as the previous DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) Governments under Kan and Noda had already made concessions in the original DPJ agenda and the Party and the Government looked no different from the administrations led by LDP (Liberal Democratic Party). Those who attempted to initiate the change, namely Hatoyama and Ozawa, lost power and withdrew”.

Then Ms. Satoko Norimatsu summarized:

“The new LDP government will be as much US-leaning and US-subservient as the last-stage DPJ government was, if not more. One significant change will be their serious attempt to change Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution either nominally, or virtually, so that Japan can exercise its “right to collective self-defense,” i.e. to engage in aggressive wars in conjunction with the US. That was Abe’s unfinished business and long-sought after goal, from his previous term in 2006/2007.”

* * *

In modern history, Okinawans were made to suffer immensely.

In 1945 a quarter of the civilian population died during the Battle of Okinawa. 200,000 tons of bombs, according to NHK, were dropped on the island by the US army, in total disregard for lives of the local people.

Then this stunning archipelago consisting of hundreds of Ryukyu Islands fell under US occupation. During the 27-year colonial reign, called ’the trustee-ship rule’, the United States Air Force established numerous military bases all over the archipelago. From here, mainly using the Kadena Base, during the Korean War, B-29 Super Fortresses flew bombing missions, ravaging both Korea and China.

Thousands of Okinawan women were brutally raped, by the US army, after the Battle of Okinawa, and sexual violence continues until now.

In 1972, the islands were returned to Japan under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, but the United States Forces Japan (USFJ) has maintained a large military presence.

According to John Chan, since 1960, Japan has been honoring an agreement that “allows the U.S. to secretly bring nuclear weapons into Japanese ports, and there is speculation that some nuclear weapons may be located in Okinawa. Both tactical and strategic weapons have been maintained in Okinawa.”

The Sakima Art Museum sits right on the perimeter of the Futenma Base. It even offers a view of it, from the roof.

The Museum houses some of the most politically charged paintings found on the archipelago, most notably some 50 works by husband and wife, Iri and Toshi Maruki, who are now both in their 90’s. On the walls, hang their famous “The Battle of Okinawa”.

Here, through art, the tragedy of the past is revealed, in all its brutality and force. The bodies are shown floating on the ocean surface, there are terrified faces of women, and mass suicide.

Kiyoko Sakima, Director of the Sakima Art Museum may often sound bitter, but she is also very active, full of determination to resist and struggle against injustice:

“We fought a legal battle to get this place back from the base and we won, but only 3 years ago. 800 farms and homes were taken away from the local people; taken by force, when the bases were being constructed. There was no compensation – something like what goes on in Palestine until now. Some people were forced to leave for Brazil, because they lost all that they had.”

Ms. Sakima continues: “They see us as the ‘Evil Island’; all over Asia, because everything that is dangerous and flies takes off from here. Only 1% of the population of Japan lives in Okinawa, but we have 75% of the US military bases on our territory.”

I recall the words of a veteran professor from Beijing, who educated hundreds of members of the Chinese diplomatic corps. He explained to me several years ago: “If China was attacked by the United States from its bases on Japanese territory, China would not hit back at the US, it will retaliate against Japan, as the attack would be coming from its soil.”

That would not be a very attractive prospect for Okinawa.

* * *

Ms Satoko Norimatsu and other leading experts on Japan believe that the new Japanese administration will now try to ‘maximize the perception of fear of China, while also maximizing the profits of the military-industrial complex’. The military ‘cooperation’ between the US and Japan will accelerate, including so called ‘co-basing’.

Bad news for Okinawa once again! In pre-election speeches, local politicians were making promises to scale down some military activities here, and move the bases, or at least part of their operations, to Guam, an ‘unincorporated territory of the United States’, located in the western Pacific Ocean, which is basically a colony.

But Ms. Sakima does not think that would be fair either: “These bases should be shut down, not to move anywhere. Poor Guam: Japan used to occupy it, now the US does. Why should they inherit what we want to get rid of?”

One of the plans both the US and Japan are pushing for, is eventual closure of the Futenma Base and opening a new, and enormous one – Henoko.

Gavan McCormack argues in his Servile State Japan, “The designated area is one classified by Okinawa as requiring the highest level of protection because of its unique and precious marine and forest environment, and the idea that a large military base could be imposed on it was inherently as impossible as if someone had suggested the same for the United States’ Grand Canyon or Australia’s Kakadu.”

* * *

“Okinawans are united, from left to right, in opposing the construction of a new base in Henoko, and the four newly elected LDP Lower House members of Okinawa, clarified that point too, after the recent elections”, said Ms Norimatsu. “The Okinawan political climate remains the same: resisting the construction of the Henoko base, closure of the Futenma air base, as well as the deployment of the Osprey aircraft.”

But it has been made clear to the people of Okinawa that even if they win; if any of the bases closed down, the Japanese Government and the US will pay absolutely nothing in compensation; the locals will have to rely on their own resources.

It is paradoxical, but the new Japanese ‘Nationalist’ Government is actually pro-American, as much as it is anti-Chinese. Is it a contradiction in terms? Most definitely, but in Japan, anything goes – nobody seems to care much about foreign policy.

Which may prove to be one tremendous blunder. Japan is betting on the most dangerous, aggressive and destabilizing force in the world. It is hosting the army and the air force of the country that is seen, all over the world, as the main threat; the army from which it suffered itself, in the past, immensely.

As my plane is ready to depart for Nagoya, I observe Japanese military jets ready for takeoff, jets landing; jets all over the sky. The US air force uses the Funtenma and Kadena; Japan’s air force shares the Naha International Airport with ANA, JAL and other civilian carriers.

Of course, ‘Japan does not have its own army or air force’. To have them would still be unconstitutional. Those latest and fully armed jets are nothing, just an illusion. And the US does not have any aggressive imperialist plans in this part of the world.

Let’s all keep pretending. Until it is too late!

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2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Andre….glad your 3-4 day stay for ‘ deep research ‘ was so insightful. While there ARE some truths in your story they are buried in the overall distortion you painted.

    Balance my friend…balance.

    Jim Ward
    Zig Zag Newspaper
    Baguio City

  2. It was interesting to read a rather shallow assessment of the”current” situation regarding U.S.Forces dominating the Okinawan group of islands..psychologically and physically.
    One can only empathise with those native Japanese hankering to see the last of ALL U.S. bases on their island.
    Of course,there are many “soft traitors” making their living from the multi-millions of dollars spent by members of those aliens.It is natural,and to be expected.But it polarizes the population when the question arises about ending the “occupation”,splintering the potential political clout of a unified island community.
    The main reason I decided to comment at all on this article relates to the mention of “the army from which it suffered itself,in the past,immensely” in the fourth-to-last paragraph.Of course the Okinawan population suffered tremendously(near the end of WW II),but many millions of innocent people and soldiers had suffered at the hands of Japanese Armed Forces during the previous three to four years,and the Japanese people remaining in their country near 1945 had to pay dearly for the terrible miseries that their Government and Emperor had inflicted on all countries invaded and taken over by the latter’s forces.
    So,I feel a bitter wee taste in my mouth now which wasn’t there until that particular clause…shame really..took my mind completely off the reason for which the article was written and published.

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