Monday, October 11, 2010

Okinawa: Imperialism By Any Other Name

I had the opportunity to meet with a group of Japanese protesting the continued U.S. occupation of Okinawa in front of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo the other day. This has been a huge issue of national sovereignty for the Japanese in general and the long suffering Okinawans in particular who have had to put up with a huge U.S. military presence there since the end of WW 2. Chalmers Johnson describes the dimensions of the American presence:

"Okinawa, Japan's most southerly prefecture and its poorest, has been the scene since 2001 of a particularly fierce confrontation between Washington, Tokyo, and Naha over the Japanese-American SOFA and its use by American authorities to shield military felons from the application of Japanese law. To many Japanese and virtually all Okinawans, the SOFA represents a rebirth of the "unequal treaties" that Western imperialists imposed on Japan after Commodore Perry's armed incursion in 1853. On November 15, 2003, in talks with Japanese officials in Tokyo, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he planned "to press anew for the Japanese government to relent on a long-standing U.S. demand for fuller legal protections for members of its military force accused of crimes while serving in Japan."4 Most American press accounts avoided details about what this enigmatic comment might mean, including whether the American defense secretary was equally concerned about legal protections for Japanese citizens forced to live in close proximity to American soldiers and their weapons and warplanes.

As of November 2003, the United States had stationed in Japan some 47,000 uniformed military personnel, not counting 14,000 sailors attached to the Seventh Fleet at its bases at Yokosuka (Kanagawa prefecture) and Sasebo (Nagasaki prefecture), some of whom are intermittently at sea. In addition there were 52,000 American dependents, 5,500 civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and 23,500 Japanese working for the U.S. forces in jobs ranging from maintaining golf-courses and waiting on tables in the numerous officers' clubs to translating Japanese newspapers for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).5 This large contingent was deployed at ninety-one bases on Japanese soil, of which thirty-eight are located in Okinawa, where they occupy some 23,700 hectares or 19 percent of the choicest territory of the main island. Okinawa is host to some 28,000 American troops plus an equal number of camp followers and Defense Department civilians. The largest contingent of U.S. forces in Okinawa consists of 17,600 Marines, followed by Air Force pilots and maintenance crews at the huge Kadena Air Force Base, the largest U.S. military base in East Asia. Even without these unwelcome guests, Okinawa is an overcrowded island with an indigenous population of 1.3 million in a land area smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Marines are spread out in huge forbidding enclaves from the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Foster (the 3rd Division is the only one of America's three Marine divisions located outside the continental United States) to Camp Hansen in Kin village, Camp Courtney in Gushikawa, Camp Schwab in Nago, and the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma located in the dead center of Okinawa's second largest city, Ginowan, where it takes up fully a quarter of the city's land area. All have been there since the battle of Okinawa in the spring and summer of 1945 or the height of the Cold War in the 1950s.

There is nothing particularly unusual about this manifestation of American military imperialism in Okinawa except for its concentration."

I informed the protesters that while many Americans were sympathetic the majority are so poorly informed as to the extent and nature of our "Empire of Bases" that just educating people is a huge challenge. The fact that the country is essentially broke and heading for international irrelevance may speed up the process. These guys can be contacted at the following:

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