Naha, Okinawa – The 2010 Governor’s election in Okinawa was a game changer. Up to then the pattern of elections here had been, a progressive candidate clearly opposed to the US military bases on the island, vs. a conservative candidate who was not positively in favor of them, but took the attitude, if we can’t get rid of them we might as well make a little money off them.
In 2010 the issue on the table was not all the bases, but what to do with the US Marine Air Station at Futenma, in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. In 1996 the US and Japanese Governments had announced that they would close it down, but only on the condition that the 1st Marine Air Wing, which it houses, be moved to a new base to be built offshore from the fishing village of Henoko, in the less populated northern part of Okinawa. This construction has been fiercely opposed by Okinawans. Pacifists argue that the base should be abolished altogether; ecologists and fisher-people point out that construction would be devastating to the coral-rich Oura Bay, habitat to the endangered sea-mammal the dugong; Okinawans generally feel that the Government’s insistence that the base stay on their island amounts to discriminatory treatment. Okinawa comprises 0.6% of Japanese territory, but just under 75% of all US bases in Japan are located here. More and more people are using the word “colonialism” to describe this. Thus after the 1996 announcement the Okinawans, by means of rallies, demonstrations, lawsuits, petitions, sit-ins, and direct action civil disobedience, have so far prevented construction from beginning.
In 2010 the incumbent conservative Governor Nakaima Hirokazu [family name first, following East Asian practice], who had been elected on the What the Hell can you do about it? ticket, was advised that the electorate had changed, and that he could not be reelected unless he changed his position. This he did, saying that now he favored moving the Futenma base to mainland Japan. This enabled him to pick up the support of people who were not ready to oppose all the US bases, but who resented the unequal treatment.
The result was an election in which both the progressive and the conservative candidates opposed moving the Futenma base to a different location within Okinawa. There was a third candidate, from the crackpot Happiness Realization Party, who supported the US-Japan plan to move the base to Henoko. The progressive and conservative candidates between them got 97% of the votes; the only party that supported the US-Japan plan got a little over 2%. It’s not often that you see that kind of agreement in a free election. In that election the US-Japan plan was supported only by the crazies. Governor Nakaima, campaigning on the slogan Move the Base to the Mainland, was re-elected.
For three years after that, Governor Nakaima put on a pretty convincing performance. Again and again Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Defense Ministers came to his office trying to persuade him to accept the Henoko base plan, and again and again he sent them packing, sometimes after only a few minutes. (One of them, I think it was a Foreign Minister – these fellows have been changing like a game of musical chairs in recent years so it’s hard to remember – was caught on TV looking at his watch to see how much time he had got, as the Governor walked out of the room.) During that period not only the governor, but many Okinawan Liberal Democratic Party politicians, defying their Party headquarters in Tokyo, came out against the base plan. People began to talk about an All Okinawa Anti-Base Movement. Increasingly anti-base activists, instead of appealing for sympathy, were calling the plan “impossible”.
Last year the Tokyo Government, after completing a survey of Oura Bay, wrote up an environmental impact report and handed it to the Governor for his approval, without which they cannot legally begin reclamation work in the Bay. He set up a committee, and they fiddled with it for the better part of a year. Many people believed, I among them, that Nakaima would reject it in the end: why would anyone want to put their name on a document that claims that dumping several millions of tons (or whatever the amount is) of dirt and junk into a coral bay will have no detrimental effect on the environment? But at the end of December last year, he approved it, which opened the way for construction to begin. Most people were stunned, though there was also a minor chorus of I Told You So. In exchange the Governor claimed to have gotten some major gifts and concessions from Tokyo, a mess of pottage that turned out to be mostly promises that won’t be kept and aid money that Okinawa Prefecture was entitled to anyway. It continues to amaze me that a person presented with the opportunity to become a hero whose name would be passed on in Okinawan culture for generations, would instead choose to be remembered as a liar and a turncoat. There is a strong movement calling for his resignation or, failing that, his recall.
It seemed that Okinawa was in danger of falling into despondency and resignation. But there was one more test coming up. Just a couple of weeks after Nakaima’s collapse, on January 19, there was the election for Mayor of Nago City, of which Henoko is an administrative part. The incumbent Mayor, Inamine Susumu, had been elected on the public promise that he would oppose new base construction in the city. Two candidates declared against him, both supporting base construction. For the Abe Shinzo Government, this was a must-win election. First they sent down a gang of top Party and Government officials to persuade one of the pro-base candidates to stand down – a very unusual case of interference in local politics (of course, they were successful). Then when campaigning began they sent down Party and Government superstars to join in the electioneering. A lot of dubious money is said to have been passed around. Nago is the home of several of the construction companies which would likely get the reclaiming contracts, and which also have political clout in the city. Presumably a lot of pressure was put by those and other companies on their employees. In the last days of the campaign the Liberal Democraic Party’s Secretary General Ishiba suddenly announced that if the pro-base candidate won Nago would be rewarded with 50 billion yen (about $500 million) in extra aid. It was the town of Nago, population 62000, vs. the state of Japan, and to the last moment no one knew which side would win.
Inamine won, by a healthy margin. Okinawa’s temptation to despondency ended after just a few weeks. This has got to be remembered as one of the great election victories in the history of democracy. Nago would not be bought; the voters took the aid offer as an insult. Immediately after the election, Inamine announced that he would use his powers as Mayor, not to appeal to Tokyo to reconsider their plan, but positively to prevent it from going forward. Concretely, he said he would prohibit any construction-related use of roads, harbors or rivers that are under the City’s administration, and that he would not participate in any negotiations that presuppose base construction. Inamine, incidentally, is not a professional politician or an ex-movement activist. Before he ran for Mayor he was an official in the City’s Board of Education. To this day he goes out every morning to work as a traffic safety volunteer at a corner where kids cross the street on the way to school. There is a good lesson in politics here: You don’t need charisma; all you need is to say “no”. It’s also a lesson in popular sovereignty. The Tokyo Government says, We will decide. The people of Nago reply, No, we have decided. Like they say, it takes a village.
The Abe Shinzo Government has painted itself into a corner. They continue to tell the US Government, and the world, that they will build the new base at Henoko anyway. They say they will “persuade” Inamine, but it looks like that can’t be done. Will they rewrite the law, to take away the Mayor’s powers? Will they send in the Riot Police, or maybe the Self-Defence Forces? Will they revive the method used by the US military to get land for bases right after the Battle of Okinawa, the method known here as “bulldozers and rifles”? Of course all these are possible, but they will be made less possible the more the Nago situation comes to the attention of people around the world. That’s why it’s a good thing that some overseas supporters of the Okinawa anti-base movement, beginning with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick who visited Okinawa last year, after the election drafted a letter of solidarity that has been signed by over 100 writers, scholars, movie makers and others. This has evolved into a general petition campaign on the internet. I have no illusion that submitting this petition to President Obama and Prime Minister Abe will have any effect on their consciences. What it will do is send a message to the people of Nago that they are not isolated. And by making clear to both heads of state that the whole world is watching it will make it difficult for them to use dirty tricks or violence to get their way in Nago.
The petition can be accessed at http://chn.ge/1ecQPUJ
Douglas Lummis is a political scientist living in Okinawa and the author of Radical Democracy. Lummis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The American army conducted experiments with biological weapons aimed at destroying rice crops on the Japanese island of Okinawa in the 60s, Kyodo news agency reports. The alleged target of the tests was the China and Southeast Asia region.
Citing classified US documents, Japanese news agency Kyodo said the US military carried out experiments on their sovereign territory between 1961 and 1962. At this time Japan’s southern island of Okinawa was still under post-WWII, US jurisdiction. The US did similar tests in Taiwan and the American mainland, notes Kyodo.
The American army experimented with rice blast fungus – a plant pathogen – which infects rice crops with disastrous effects. The pathogen latches onto the rice plant as a spore and produces lesions and spots all over the rice plant and then reproduces.
A single lesion can generate a thousand spores in one night alone, while an entire cycle – lasting about a week – can have a devastating effect on rice crops.
Kyodo reports that tests were conducted over a dozen times, and mentions test sites, Nago and Shuri, in Okinawa. The US army reported some success in their experiments and the gathering of “useful data”.
“Field tests for stem rust of wheat and rice blast disease were begun at several sites in the (US) Midwest and south and in Okinawa with partial success in the accumulation of useful data,” wrote Kyodo, citing its documents.
The US government discarded all its biological weapons in 1969 and discontinued testing, after a leak of chemical weapons made 20 American soldiers stationed on the island sick. Moreover, residents had to be evacuated from the surrounding area and were reported to still be suffering the effects of the toxins two years after the leak.
In response to public outrage, the US government was forced to launch Operation Red Hat – a mission to remove all the biological weapons stored on Okinawa.
Six years later in 1975, Washington signed the international convention against production and possession of biological weapons.
Okinawa came back under Japanese jurisdiction in 1972, but the US still keeps a military presence of around 50,000 troops on the island.
Their presence is a constant source of tension with local populations due to crimes committed by servicemen, disruptions caused by military flights and land use by the US military.
Japan’s government has agreed to give Washington $3 billion to facilitate the downsizing of the U.S. Marine force on Okinawa.
The longstanding American military presence on Okinawa has been a sore point for many Japanese living on the strategic island, which has been under U.S. control since World War II.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to sign an amendment to the 2009 Guam International Agreement (pdf), which calls for removing 4,000 Marines from the island.
Japan’s contribution of $3.1 billion will cover more than one third of the $8.6 billion that the U.S. will spend to transfer the Marines and their dependents to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as develop new infrastructure to support them.
Under a separate agreement signed in 2012, the U.S. plans to withdraw another 5,000 Marines from Okinawa and relocate them to Hawaii and Australia. (The number was reduced from 8,000, which had included family members.)
Members of the III Marine Expeditionary Force stationed on Okinawa won’t begin moving until sometime in the early 2020s.
For many of the island’s residents, the move can’t come soon enough. Many Japanese have been calling for the U.S. to get off Okinawa for decades, particularly after American military personnel stationed on the island were convicted of raping a Japanese woman last year and gang-raping a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995.
To Learn More:
Japan, U.S. to OK Deal on Transfer of Marines (Japan Times)
Japan to Pay $3.1 Billion to Relocate Okinawa Marines to Guam (Agence France-Presse)
1995 Okinawa Rape Incident (Wikipedia)
This is the English-language version of Defoliated Island, a Japanese award-winning documentary about the usage of Agent Orange on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. Produced by Okinawa TV station, QAB, the show won national acclaim in Japan when it was first aired in May 2012.
- US Department of ‘Defense’ is the Worst Polluter on the Planet (Aletho News)
- The History of Agent Orange (Aletho News)
- 50 Years of Agent Orange (Aletho News)
- Agent Orange – Vietnam (Aletho News)
The US has reportedly deployed six MV-22 Osprey helicopter-plane hybrids on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa in the face of widespread opposition on the part of the Japanese people against the deployment.
On Monday, the aircraft were flown from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in western Japan to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, DPA reported.
Six such aircraft remain in the Iwakuni base. The 12 aircraft had been transferred from the US to Japan in July.
Okinawa has become known as the site of enduring tensions with the US forces deployed there, and hence a lasting source of conflict between Washington and Tokyo. Pacifist inclinations as well as security and safety concerns have prompted the Japanese to protest against the deployment.
On September 9, tens of thousands of people rallied in the country against the prospect.
The Osprey is equipped with rotors that facilitate take-off like a helicopter and engines that can tilt forward, powering it to fly like an airplane at much faster speed than a chopper.
It is considered pivotal to Washington’s ambitions of force realignment in Asia-Pacific, and enables the US marines to fly farther and with bigger loads from Okinawa to remote islands in Japan.
The aircraft, however, has had multiple malfunctions and many accidents since its early years in 1990s. Osprey crashes killed two in Morocco and an entire crew in Florida this year.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has also argued against the Osprey’s safety, and warned that the Futenma base is located in residential areas.
- You: Osprey test rides fail to placate opponents (japantimes.co.jp)
- UPDATE2: Osprey to be moved to Okinawa Mon., U.S. tells Japan (english.kyodonews.jp)
- Tens of thousands protest in Okinawa against Osprey deployment (japantimes.co.jp)
- Nakaima pushes to nix Osprey deployment (japantimes.co.jp)
- 100,000 Okinawa islanders tell US to keep ‘unsafe’ Osprey plane away (morningstaronline.co.uk)
Japan’s prime minister says that he will not allow the U.S. military to fly its newest transport aircraft in his country until safety concerns are first addressed.
Yoshihiko Noda told parliament on Tuesday that no flights of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft would be allowed to take place until investigations into two recent crashes were completed.
The crashes took place in April and June, and Japan says that it will not allow them to operate over its airspace and from its soil until the government is satisfied that safety checks have been completed.
The deployment of the MV-22s to a U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa has become a political headache for the Japanese government due to intense local opposition.
Okinawa hosts more than half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan. The deployment of the aircraft has become an issue for anti-U.S. protesters to rally around.
The first 12 Ospreys headed for Okinawa arrived in Japan on Monday.
The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft with rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter and engines that can tilt forward, enabling it to fly like an airplane at higher speed than helicopters.
The aircraft’s development was plagued with issues in its early years in the 1990s, but U.S. officials say the technical glitches have been cleared up.
It is used by the U.S. marines, primarily as a troop transport aircraft, allowing soldiers on the ground greater range than current transport helicopters offer.
That a majority of people living on the island of Okinawa want the U.S. Marines gone seems a well-established fact. A plan to build a new airfield on a different part of the island in the town of Henoko is even more unpopular. One recent poll found 84 percent opposition to the new base.
And yet the New York Times tells readers today that it knows better. The headline alone over the piece by Martin Fackler tells you that those polls–not to mention the massive demonstrations against the base–shouldn’t be believed: “Amid Image of Ire Toward U.S. Bases, Okinawans’ True Views Vary.”
Unsurprisingly, the “true views” are apparently supportive of U.S. bases. As Fackler puts it, just “wander up Henoko’s narrow streets, and the villagers will tell you a different story.” The Times explains that if you “look more deeply and a nuanced picture emerges,” one that apparently supports the base and the U.S. military presence.
What of the polls that overwhelmingly say otherwise? The Times gets around to citing one of those 80 percent polls, only to turn around and say: “But look across Okinawa’s divided political spectrum and the depth of that opposition varies.”
Why put so much effort into trying to tell readers that the facts are not what they seem? It’s frankly hard to understand this one. But it can’t be said that this is a new problem for the Times–as FAIR pointed out (11/29/10):
A New York Times piece (11/29/10) on the re-election of Okinawa’s governor, who opposes the U.S. military base there, treated the views of the island’s residents as an annoyance–describing their resistance variously as a “wrench,” a “thorn” and a “headache.” The paper seemed to share the stance of the Japanese national government, which described the re-election as “one manifestation of public opinion”–and perhaps elections are not so important a manifestation, if they give the wrong results.