Saturday, April 24, 2010

Okinawa Protests

Among the many interesting results of the DPJ’s rejection of the LDP-negotiated Futenma Air Station relocation plan has been the further empowerment of the citizens of Okinawa. Always Japan’s backwater and where Tokyo confined the majority of U.S. military bases, the prefecture has traditionally had little clout in the capital. Now, the Okinawans are leading an international movement for base closure. Their mascot? An endangered manatee.

Ever since Okinawa was returned to mainland Japan in 1972, politics was merely the art of obtaining and dividing up economic development and construction funds. The anti-text book protests in 2007 were the first effective push back at Tokyo. Okinawans objected to moves to modify and tone down passages in textbooks that say Imperial Japan’s Army ordered Okinawans to kill themselves rather than surrender. Over 100,000 turned out in protest on September 29, 2007. The government soon stepped back and ordered reinstatement of references to the military's role in forcing civilians to commit mass suicide during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Another protest on Okinawa as large or larger than the textbook rally is expected Sunday, April 25th, or the evening of April 24th Washington time. This is against the expansion of U.S. military bases on the island. The effort to close the dangerous Futenma Air Station and move it to Camp Schwab and Henoko Bay is viewed by many on Okinawa as less a consolidation of resources than a further entrenchment of the U.S. military on the island. This view is intensified by the DPJ’s campaign pledge to move Futenma off of Okinawa.

Environmentalists have also targeted Okinawa as a prime example of how military installations ruin local environments and threaten endangered species. They point to a United States District Court for the Northern District of California summary judgment in 2008, holding that the Defense Department violates the National Historic Preservation Act by "failing to take into account the impact of the project on the Okinawa dugong."  Ironically, April is the when the Department of Defense announces its environmental awards. Each year since 1962 the secretary of defense has honored individuals, teams, and installations for their outstanding achievements to conserve and sustain the natural and cultural resources entrusted to the Department of Defense.

If you want to watch “history in the making,” you can watch the Okinawan Rally by relay through this WEBSITE. It is from 3:00 pm Japan time (2:00 am DC time) until the end of the rally.

No matter how you think about the necessity of the U.S. military on Okinawa, worth taking note is that the Sunday protest is the first time there has been substantive collaboration with international peace, religious, and environmental activists. Americans have recently organized into the Network for Okinawa and there is significant cooperation of other groups across the Pacific from Hawaiians to Chamorros, from Filipinos to other Pacific Islanders. They will be coordinating rallies for Okinawa in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Honolulu as well as throughout Japan.

For more details on the Close the Base movement see these websites:

2010 Okinawa

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