• Abe and Okinawa’s Governor Square Off on U.S. Base Plans

    March 23, 2016 // 2 Comments »


    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and the governor of Okinawa Takeshi Onaga agreed in early March to take a dispute over the future of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (seen above) out of the courts and back offline to the negotiating table.

    Abe “accepted” a freeze on construction work at a contentious new location planned for the base as part of the agreement, though work had already been put on hold while Tokyo and Okinawa fought a legal battle over the site.

    The deal is only the latest step in a more than two decade long tussle by Japanese and American officials to move the base. National officials want to move the base to a less crowded part of the island, but Onaga and a majority of Okinawans oppose the plan because they want the Marines moved off Okinawa altogether, to Guam. Currently, about half of all American military personnel assigned to Japan are on Okinawa.

    Also, a group of 70 prominent Americans, including filmmaker Oliver Stone, have signed a petition criticizing U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy for her backing of the plan to relocate the Marine Corps base.

    Adding to the complexity, the proposed relocation site on Okinawa, Henoko, would see a pair of runways built on landfill in what is now a pristine coral-filled bay.

    Okinawa, Tokyo and the Americans

    Memories on Okinawa are long, and anger over the relationship among the island, the central Japanese government and the Americans runs deep.

    For centuries the Okinawan people have seen themselves as separate from mainland Japanese. The islanders have their own native language, a long, unique, cultural tradition and, many believe, even a completely different genetic makeup than “the Japanese.” Natives refer to the archipelago as the Ryukyu Islands, not Okinawa. Feelings that the island is ruled by mainland, but is not a part of it, are widely-held.

    Tangled in all that is a belief that Okinawa was the scene of some of the WWII’s bloodiest land fighting, with massive civilian casualties, because Tokyo was prepared to sacrifice the island to slow down the overall American advance towards the home islands. It was Imperial Japanese Army soldiers who spread rumors among the local people that the Americans would slaughter them, forcing mothers to watch their children die. Whole grades from a girls’ school leapt off a cliff together into the sea.

    In 1951, America formally annexed the island of Okinawa, running it under the control of an American governor until the place was “returned” to the Tokyo government in 1972. During this period of time, massive American bases were established, ultimately to consume a significant percentage of the useable land area of Okinawa. In the 1950s when they were established, a fair number of the facilities were on the outskirts of urban areas, but growth over the years has seen the cities envelope the bases such that transport planes land at rooftop level over homes, and fighter jets crack the skies at night. Add to that the steady beat of crimes American military personnel commit on Okinawa, to include several high-profile rape cases. It is not a pretty picture.

    Art of the (Non-) Deal

    There is no end in sight to the conflict among Tokyo, the U.S., and Okinawa.

    Abe and Onaga have not budged from their fundamental positions. “Relocating to Henoko is still the only option,” Abe said. Onaga insists he will not “allow a new base to be built at Henoko.”

    This month’s deal only requires Tokyo and Okinawa to drop their competing lawsuits and return to negotiations; there is no timetable for the talks. Japanese and American officials had hoped to move Futenma to its new location on Henoko Bay by 2023. Admiral Harry Harris, head of the United States Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the move would be delayed to 2025 or later.

    Some media outlets have played this story as a victory for one side or another. That is a false narrative; instead, following a long-used Japanese negotiating strategy, both sides chose to withdraw, waiting for an opening to allow them to reengage the attack under more favorable circumstances.

    With that in mind, 2025 is probably a very optimistic estimate.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Military

    The Scat of Empire: US Navy Rape in Okinawa

    October 18, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    With the exception of a few left over pieces of the old British Empire (Diego Garcia the island, not your pool boy), the U.S. is pretty much the last imperial power. Certainly no other nation maintains so extensive a necklace of military bases around the world. In almost every case, those bases were “acquired” by the U.S. simply by taking land it needed after conquering some formerly sovereign nation. Hell, we took Guantanamo from the freaking Spanish when they still counted as an empire of their own. The U.S. holds bases all across Europe appropriated after WWII and, quite significantly, bases taken from occupied Japan.

    The cornerstone of U.S. military presence in East Asia is ever-compliant Japan, the Koreans and Filipinos having semi-quietly pushed some U.S. troops out, the Vietnamese more forcefully. Of all the U.S. military in Japan, about half the forces are piled on to the small island of Okinawa. The tight confines and relative safety of Okinawa also means that the military and the civilian population come into frequent contact. This is not always good.

    The latest not good side of the ongoing U.S. presence in Okinawa took place October 16, when two U.S. sailors were arrested over accusations that they raped a woman on the island of Okinawa. One of the assailants has supposedly admitted to the crime. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima said it went “beyond madness” that the alleged attack took place only two months after a U.S. Marine was arrested over accusations he assaulted and molested a woman in Naha, the capital of Okinawa. Many Okinawan residents recall too easily the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995 by three U.S. military personnel, as well as allegations that a Marine raped a 14-year-old girl in 2008. These signature incidents took place alongside a steady litany of vehicular homicide and drunk driving cases.

    For the U.S. side, America’s ambassador to Japan has promised another full investigation. As with Hillary in Libya, when caught like this, the default State Department position is to promise full cooperation and an investigation and hope the press moves on (they will).

    A Thought Experiment

    The usual response from most Americans to news like this is something along the line of “Tragic, but it is only news because it involved the military” and “Sadly, Japanese-on-Japanese rapes happen all the time and this is blown out of proportion because of the military angle.” The same logic is often applied to American-committed atrocities in Afghanistan.

    So let’s try a simple thought experiment.

    Imagine that a foreign power, oh, say India, had 50,000 troops stationed in bases in Florida. Do you think anyone in America would notice if two Indian sailors raped an American woman?

    More on all this from Chalmers Johnson…

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Military