[News] When the Pentagon "Kill Machines" Came to an Okinawan Paradise

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 2 11:44:37 EDT 2010


November 2, 2010

The Undermining of Democracy in Japan

When the Pentagon "Kill Machines" Came to an Okinawan Paradise


When I arrived at the small village of Takae in 
the northernmost part of the main island of 
Okinawa to spend 5 days at a sit-in protest there 
in mid-July, my first image of the place was the 
unusual municipal charter that greeted me as I 
got off the bus. Codified in 1996, the residents 
pledge to: “1. Love nature and strive to create a 
beautiful environment resplendent with flowers 
and water; 2. Value our traditional culture, 
while always striving to learn new things; and 3. 
Create a municipality in which people can 
interact in a spirit of vitality and joy.” The 
charter mentioned no human founding fathers of 
Takae, rather it followed with lavish 
descriptions of the village flower (azalea) and 
bird (sea woodpecker) in addition to details 
about the gorgeous waterfalls and the rare 
combination of seacoast and mountains that 
creates a strong impression of a tropical 
paradise; UNESCO has identified the ecological 
diversity of this area as among the richest in 
the world. The sense of paradise is what brought 
Ashimine Genji to Takae ten years ago. Ashimine, 
a native of Okinawa who moved to the Japanese 
mainland during the economic bubble period in the 
mid-1980s, moved back to Okinawa when he got 
tired of the frenetic Tokyo life and exhausting 
wage labor. With his lover he bought some land in 
the mountains amidst waterfalls, animals and 
birds and started raising their 3 kids, while 
constructing a small organic restaurant. During 
my interview with him he insisted that the family 
was committed to living as simply, slowly, and 
sustainably as possible, and they deliberately 
spent the first two years in Takae without 
electricity, reluctantly attaching to a grid only 
when their oldest kid’s complaints wouldn’t stop.

It’s hard to avoid the descriptive mantra of 
Okinawan life as “simple and slow” in Japanese 
lifestyle magazines (with, in the last two years, 
“sustainable” [saiseisan] commonly appended) and 
perusal of these magazines convinced Naoko and 
Kôji Morioka to relocate to Takae four years ago. 
Amateur organic farmers and part-time artists 
raised in Tokyo, they had lived in Africa, India 
and Nepal before relocating with their two small 
kids to Takae to start full-time organic rice 
farming. Also refusing electricity, they built a 
small house from scratch just 30 yards north of a 
gorgeous waterfall and 300 yards from the sea, 
determined both to pioneer a new path of zero 
growth against Japanese postmodern capitalism and 
to enjoy the close community of Takae, consisting 
of farmers, fisherfolk and several convivial 
story-tellers/drunks. While about a fourth of 
Takae’s 160 residents are eco-conscious 
transplants from Tokyo and their kids, several 
claim descendants going back a millennium who 
have enjoyed the fruits (mango) and vegetables 
that grow wild in the area. Right smack in the 
middle of this sustainable paradise is where a 
large part of the newest US military base is about to be built.

Takae residents were kept in the dark about the 
base until just before construction was to begin. 
Leaks, reported in the Okinawa Times in late 
2006, forced the Japanese Defense Ministry to 
hold an information session in early 2007. It was 
only here that the Ashimines and Moriokas were 
informed that the main helicopter base for the US 
military in Japan was about to be built in their 
backyard, including facilities for 3 Osprey 
heli-planes. When the Defense Ministry showed the 
people of Takae a Power Point slide of the 
projected base area, they realized that two of 
their homes would be within 400 meters of the 
proposed new base. Ashimine recalled how he felt 
after the session. “One minute I was living a 
life of harmony with nature with my family and 
friends, and the next minute I was being told 
that these killing machines (kiru- mashin) were 
coming to within a few hundred meters of my 
house; the disconnect (iwakan) was overwhelming” 
(Ku-yon June 2010; 101). Within a few months, 
Takae locals obtained a fuller picture of what 
was going on: based on a secret agreement between 
the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the US Pentagon 
made in 1996­finally signed into a dubious kind 
of legality in February 2009­the large, but 
increasingly obsolete US military base Futenma in 
central Okinawa was to be relocated with 
completely new infrastructure to northern 
Okinawa. The plan was to transfer the 
infrastructure of Futenma to the smaller US base 
Camp Schwab located 20 miles from Takae. But 
airport and helicopter facilities were necessary 
to fill out Futenma’s capacity and this is where 
Takae and the equally pristine fishing village of 
Henoko, 30 minutes southeast of Takae, would come 
into play. The old airport at Futenma would be 
replaced with a new V-shaped one carved out of 
the beach in Henoko, while Takae would get all 
the CH-47 and CH-54 helicopters together with the behemoth Ospreys.

Henoko’s proximity to Camp Schwab has created a 
palpable anti-base sentiment there, and local 
activists started mobilizing opposition to the 
proposed airport construction in 2004. With help 
from the all-women anti-base group Naha Broccoli, 
situated in the Okinawan capital of Naha, 
activist information sessions and bus tours of 
the proposed base areas began in June 2007 which 
jumpstarted regular contact among Takae, Henoko 
and Naha. Encouraged by activist friends in Tokyo 
to go Okinawa to look around, in July 2007, with 
about 40 others, I participated in the second 
Broccoli bus tour and was stunned­but I should 
have known better. The lack of transparency on 
the side of the Pentagon and the deafness to 
local Japanese concerns were standard neocolonial 
postures of US base presence in Asia going back 
to just after World War II. But witnessing the 
sustained protest in Henoko by anti-war activists 
spanning 3 generations inspired all of us on the 
tour. The required environmental assessment for 
new base construction had been underway for over 
a year and Henoko activists were doing their best 
to disrupt it, including a blockade of Japanese 
Navy vessels with cordons of local fishing boats 
and, with air tanks and wet suits, conducting 
underwater direction action against young 
Japanese Navy divers trying to complete the 
seabed assessment. In November 2007 a Henoko 
activist almost died when the breathing line to his airtank was severed.

Just after our bus tour, protest signs and 
colorful anti-base paintings started to show up 
around the two main gates to the newly fenced-in 
Takae helicopter facility. By August 2007, Rie 
Ishihara, a Takae mother of two started daily 
sit-ins in front of the main entrance by herself; 
soon she was joined by other locals and then by 
Naha activists. Quickly, anti-base Japanese 
started coming from the mainland, often devoting 
one day of their Okinawa vacation week sitting in 
at Takae. The mushrooming anti-base movement in 
Takae caught the Japanese Defense Ministry in 
Okinawa off-guard and when the environment 
assessment group started its two-year survey at 
the Takae site a year later, the Okinawan office 
of the Japanese Defense Ministry­the local 
defender of the US bases­ preemptively took the 
whole town to court, serving 15 Takae residents a 
summons for “disrupting traffic” on Dec. 16, 
2008. Ishihara told me that when she got the 
summons she thought it was a practical joke as 
everyone knows there is no traffic in Takae and a 
few local residents even refuse to drive cars 
because of the impact on the environment. But 
this was no joke, as the drawn-out legal hearings 
lasted a year and forced the Takae farmers to 
spend money on lawyers and court fees. On 
December 11, the provincial court in Naha ruled 
in favor of 13 defendants, although it ruled 
against Ashimine and the head of the Takae 
residents anti-base group Toshio Isa. Isa and 
Ashimine can now be forced to stand trial in 
Tokyo at any point the Japanese government decides.

While the events were unfolding in Okinawa, 
politics on Japan’s mainland were revealing 
similar anti-US patterns. During the campaigning 
for the crucial Lower House elections in July 
2009, the upstart Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) 
promised in their manifesto to establish a 
“different policy with respect to the US-Japan 
alliance,” one central aspect of which would be a 
“significant re-thinking (minaoshi) of the US 
military in Japan including the situation of all 
the US bases”.  Soon to be Prime Minister Yukio 
Hatoyama refined his critique of the US-Japan 
security framework by focusing on the unfair 
“burden” placed on Okinawa by having some 24,000 
US troops stationed there, including 18,000 
Marines­65% of the US military presence in Japan 
installed on a land mass less than 1% of Japan’s 
total. The party in power for all but one year 
since the end of the US Occupation of Japan, the 
right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had 
been losing support since it ordered Japanese 
soldiers to deploy to war-zones in Iraq and 
Afghanistan in 2002-03 in the face of Japanese 
public opposition polling at 80-90%.

The historic victory of the DPJ over the LDP in 
August 2009 should be seen as the culmination of 
multiple forms of opposition to the LDP’s blind 
allegiance to the US, together with a pragmatic 
understanding that Japan’s economic future lies 
more closely entwined with China. In addition to 
pledging to reform aspects of Japan’s 
military-security framework with the US, the DPJ 
Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa promised to 
enhance ties to China beyond the economic sphere, 
where China is now Japan’s largest trading 
partner. The double whammy of a confirmation that 
closer ties with China are beneficial together 
with a groundswell of resistance to the US 
military swept the DPJ into power. Right away, 
new Prime Minister Hatoyama went to work on his 
party’s campaign promise and started exploring 
ways to reform the US-Japan alliance; in a flush 
of post-victory confidence he wondered out loud 
what a future security framework would look like 
with “zero US troops stationed in Japan” (chûryû 
naki ampô). Several months earlier, Ozawa 
insisted that, “the [US Navy] 7th Fleet alone is 
sufficient,” meaning that as far as the DPJ 
leaders were concerned, the remaining 35,000 US 
troops should begin packing up their things to leave Japan permanently.

Although the US media underplayed this challenge, 
the Pentagon understood exactly what was at stake 
and wasn’t liking it. Despite President Obama’s 
cautious wait and see approach to the democratic 
regime change in Japan, the Pentagon immediately 
starting sparring with the Japanese Ambassador to 
the US Ichiro Fujisaki in Washington over issues 
like the Guam Treaty signed by the weakened LDP 
in early 2009, which dictated the terms of the 
new base construction in Henoko/Takae and the 
planned move of somewhere between 3000 to 9000 of 
the 18,000 Marines in Okinawa to new facilities 
in Guam­with Japanese taxpayers forced to pay 
65-70% of the costs for both the move and the new 
base in Guam. During the July 2009 campaign 
several DPJ candidates echoed the argument made 
by Okinawan critics that the Guam Treaty was 
clearly unequal because it obliged the Japanese 
to construct one new base in Okinawa and to 
contribute most of the money toward building 
another in Guam, while the American side merely 
offered an ambiguous pledge to withdraw some 
troops while reserving the right to change its 
commitments when it wanted. Furthermore, critics 
argued that the Guam Treaty was illegal as it 
violated Article 95 of Japan’s constitution, 
which stipulates that any law applicable only to 
one locale requires the consent of the majority 
of the voters of that province, and support for 
the construction of the new base among Okinawans 
had been almost completely absent. Defense 
Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Tokyo for two 
days of meetings in late October 2009 clearly 
intending to muzzle the critiques of the US 
presence in Japan and to remind the new DPJ 
leaders of the post-WW II status quo, where 
senior (US) and junior (Japan) partners would 
continue to work together to contain China and 
North Korea. “It is time to move on,” Gates 
scolded the new Japanese leaders on October 22, 
calling DPJ proposals to reopen the base issues 
“counterproductive.” Then, deliberately insulting 
the DPJ in the eyes of almost all Japanese 
commentators Gates refused to attend the 
welcoming ceremony and formal dinner organized 
for him at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on 
October 23. In enumerating the insults and behind 
the scenes threats made by Gates in Tokyo a few 
days after his departure, the Okinawan newspaper 
the Ryukyu Shimpo lambasted the “diplomacy of 
intimidation” practiced by the US in its editorial of October 26.

By several accounts, Defense Secretary Gates’ 
intimidation in late October 2009 ended the 
honeymoon Hatoyama and the DPJ were enjoying with 
the Japanese public. From that point on, the 
Japanese media grew increasingly vocal in 
criticizing Hatoyama’s sudden lack of political 
focus as “cluelessly running all over the place” 
(meitô). With respect to the issue of the new US 
base in Okinawa, he actually was running all over 
Japan trying to find an alternative location to 
Henoko/Takae since he was informed by Gates that 
the US Pentagon was unwilling to give up its 
plans for a new base there in Henoko/Takae. For 
his part, the DPJ’s pro-China leader Ichiro Ozawa 
responded to the Pentagon’s intimidation with a 
little of his own, and in November arranged a 
high-level trip to Beijing bringing 140 DPJ 
politicians and 400 other supporters to meet his 
friends. But the US and it’s LDP allies in Japan 
held the trump card in this high-stakes game as 
just a few weeks after Ozawa’s return from China 
in December he was greeted with a deafening 
chorus of accusations of financial impropriety. 
Based on rumors that dogged Ozawa months before 
the DPJ victory, on January 16, 2010 three of his 
former secretaries were indicted on charges that 
Ozawa neglected to publicly report the dormitory 
he purchased for them in Tokyo. During the 
ensuing trial it turned out that he didn’t 
declare it the first year, but did so properly 
from the second year on. The prosecutors never 
had any evidence of Ozawa’s direct involvement 
and his main secretary testified that Ozawa 
himself knew nothing about the failure to report. 
It became clear during the trial in March that 
the prosecutors were trying to use this court 
case to uncover facts in a second, potentially 
more serious case involving kickbacks from 
Nishimatsu Construction. Ozawa has been cleared 
of the first charge and has yet to be indicted for the second.

But the damage to the DPJ had been done. With 
Hatoyama unable to fulfill his campaign promise 
to prevent new base construction in Okinawa and 
reduce the US military’s footprint in Japan, the 
well-covered allegations of dirty money involving 
Ozawa and other DPJ leaders made the Japanese 
public think that the modus operandi of the 
corruption-prone LDP and the new DPJ were 
ultimately indistinguishable. The week after 
Ozawa’s secretaries were indicted, support for 
the DPJ dropped below 50%, and continued to 
plummet thereafter. Less than 9 months after 
their overwhelming victory, on May 25, 2010 
Hatoyama announced that with all other options 
exhausted, construction on the new US base in 
Henoko/Takae would move forward. In dramatic 
contrast to their position of August 20009, 
Hatoyama spoke for the DPJ in saying that now, 
the US and Japan are in “complete agreement” on 
military-security matters. The DPJ’s coalition 
party, the leftist Social-Democratic Party, 
subsequently withdrew from the government; 
finally on June 2, Hatoyama himself was forced to 
resign. The Democratic Party, along with the 
democratic process, has been successfully undermined in Japan.

Japanese taxpayers continue to foot the bill for 
the US military presence in their own country. In 
Okinawa in recent decades, 80% of base costs are 
payed by Japan’s Foreign Ministry directly to the 
US who then pay “rent” to a few Okinawan 
landowners, a situation designed originally to 
camouflage the fact that the US military simply 
took at gunpoint the Okinawan land it wanted for 
new base construction. As the respected historian 
of post-WW II Okinawa Moriteru Arasaki has 
described in several books, the forced seizures 
(kyôsei sesshû) of Okinawan land by the US were 
largely of lush agricultural flatlands in the 
center of the main island, where the Futenma, 
Hanson and Kadena bases are located today. 
Arasaki explains that 44% of the pre-WW II rice 
farming area in Okinawa was stolen by the US, and 
these fields were filled in with sea water, sand 
and cement, a combination guaranteeing that they 
can never again be used as farmland. This 
situation transformed Okinawa from being an 
exporter of agricultural goods for 500 years into 
an importer overnight and made Okinawa dependent 
on shrinking development assistance from Tokyo. 
Moreover, the Marines have not proven to be the 
roles models for the new post-WW II democratic 
order that the US Occupation promised the 
Japanese people they would be. But in fairness to 
individual Marines, the legal structure of the 
Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement excuses outlaw 
behavior as soldiers are largely shielded from 
Japanese law. It took the gang rape of a 
5th-grade Okinawan girl by 3 Marines in 1995 to 
slightly alter the situation of total 
extraterritoriality enjoyed until then. 
Furthermore, as Okinawa Times journalist Tomohiro 
Yara puts it in his 2009 book The US-Japan 
Alliance of Sand, the absurd fiction of owner 
(Japan) and renter (US military) encourages bad 
boy behavior in Okinawa. “What do you expect,” 
Yara quips, “when what has to be the most lenient 
landlord in the world pays 80% of the rent, 
doesn’t charge for any of the utilities, and then 
has to do the repairs himself when the renter decides to trash the place?”

But the last three years of anti-US sentiment in 
Okinawa has brought with it a renewed desire for 
independence­from the US military and from the 
Japanese government. The economic austerity 
facing Japan means that the old LDP mode of 
silencing Okinawan opposition through bribes and 
development assistance­what Okinawan leftists 
call “sweets (ame) to make us forget the 
whippings (muchi) handed out by the Marines”­is 
no longer feasible. Tokyo started being stingy 
about handing out sweet treats to Okinawa over a 
decade ago, leaving only the “whip” of the US 
military for Okinawans. The predictable outcome 
of the withdrawal of the sweets is the almost 
complete absence of Okinawan support for the new 
US base; a May 31, 2010 poll conducted by the 
Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper found only 6.3% of Okinawans supporting it.

Mark Driscoll is an Associate Professor of East 
Asian History at the University of North 
Carolina, Chapel Hill. He can be reached at: 
<mailto:mdriscol at email.unc.edu>mdriscol at email.unc.edu

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