Sunday, April 20, 2014

Military money pollutes Okinawan politics while bases pollute their island

Few cases of more staggering cognitive dissonance can be found than in the twisted relationships between the US military, Japanese citizens, Okinawans, and the competing values of all parties.

Three-quarters of the US military bases in the nearly seven decades of military occupation of Japan by US military forces impact just .6 percent of the landmass of Japan, that is the island of Okinawa.

This means that the famous Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution--the 'no war' mandate--is instead still the province of the US military.

Some would term it massive hypocrisy, others would scarcely arch an eyebrow as they waved it all off as realism.

Meanwhile, Okinawans bear the burden of the presence of a massive US occupation--foreigners with huge guns, military aircraft dominating "their" skies, military vessels hogging their littoral waters, and pollution from the base and all operations invading their air, waters, soil, food, and lives.

Yes, they 'benefit' from the base spending, fat crumbs from the masters' table, but the majority of Okinawans--even those who see material reward--have expressed opposition to this permanent foreigner rule, shown by their recent election of an anti-US base mayor. "An exit poll of 1,204 voters by Japan's Kyodo News service found 65 percent opposed to the base, and 13 percent in favor."--Fox News

They feel the first betrayal from the government of Japan and the second from the US.

Japan hosts more than 50,000 US troops, more than any other nation on Earth except the US itself. Germany is occupied by 40,000 US military personnel and there are far fewer--33,000--in the only official US combat theater, Afghanistan. South Korea has 28,000 US troops on its 'sovereign' soil and the remaining majority of the world's nations (more than 150 of the 193 UN member-states) have fewer each.

As in so many other places, the dispositive legal arrangements are badly morphed from sovereignty of the other nation and toward immunity enjoyed by the US military under the Status of Forces Agreement. This clouds all local and national control over their own lands, their own waters, and their own public safety. When a US military jet crashes into an Okinawan neighborhood, no Okinawan court determines much of anything. When US military personnel rape a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, those personnel enjoy the protection of a US military justice system, not the local courts for the local girl. In that 1995 case, however, Okinawan and Japanese public outrage was so understandably spectacular that the three rapists were eventually made to serve their time in a Japanese prison, seven years each. More recently, another US military gang of rapists attacked another Okinawan woman.

One of the ways that the US military and the government of Japan entice Okinawan elites to support the US bases in their prefecture is to locate those bases on private lands and craft long-term lease arrangements far above market value to those rich Okinawans (Hook, 2010). Suddenly, the US military occupiers have local prominent support. This has been too bluntly obvious, however, and does not sway the majority of Okinawans as expressed in polls and votes.

It all reminds me of the line in the old film Crimson Tide, when the commander of the nuclear submarine (Gene Hackman) scolds the Executive Officer (Denzel Washington), "We're here to preserve democracy, not practice it."

There are better ways. We are seeing them being tried by nonviolent resisters (some of whom have received longer prison sentences than the rapists of the 12-year-old child), by nonviolent peace teams from Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams and others. What we need is a US version of Article 9. No more war. Civilian-based defense only. That is the way to a far more robust democracy for us, for Japan, and for all those who can learn to stop relying on the barbarism of deadly force, wrecking stuff, and the threat to life in general. Grow up, humankind!

Hook, G. D. (2010). Intersecting risks and governing Okinawa: American bases and the unfinished war. Japan Forum,22(1/2), 195-217. doi:10.1080/09555803.2010.488954

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