Protesters waive banners at a rally held against the rape of a teenaged Okinawa girl by US marines. Tomohiko Futamata, head of the Hokkaido Defense Bureau said: “We take seriously the unforgivable incident in Okinawa and will strongly request that U.S. soldiers maintain strict discipline”.
REVERSE ISLAND HOP
Wherever the US military puts down its foot overseas, movements have sprung up to protest the military, social, and environmental consequences of its military bases. This anti-base movement has notched some successes, such as the shut-down of a US navy facility in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 2003. In the Pacific, too, the movement has made its mark. On the heels of the eruption of Mt Pinatubo, democracy activists in the Philippines successfully closed down the ash-covered Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Station in 1991-1992. Later, South Korean activists managed to win closure of the huge Yongsan facility in downtown Seoul.
Of course, these were only partial victories. Washingtonsubsequently negotiated a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines, whereby the US military has redeployed troops and equipment to the island, and replaced Korea’s Yongsan base with a new one in nearby Pyeongtaek. But these not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) victories were significant enough to help edge the Pentagon toward the adoption of a military doctrine that emphasizes mobility over position. The US military now relies on “strategic flexibility” and “rapid response” both to counter unexpected threats and to deal with allied fickleness.
The Hatoyama government may indeed learn to say no toWashington over the Okinawa bases. Evidently considering this a likelihood, former deputy secretary of state and former US ambassador to Japan Richard Armitage has said that the UnitedStates “had better have a plan B”. But the victory for the anti-base movement will still be only partial. US forces will remain in Japan, and especially Okinawa, and Tokyo will undoubtedly continue to pay for their maintenance.
Buoyed by even this partial victory, however, NIMBY movements are likely to grow in Japan and across the region, focusing on other Okinawa bases, bases on the Japanese mainland, and elsewhere in the Pacific, including Guam. Indeed, protests are already building in Guam against the projected expansion of Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam to accommodate those Marines from Okinawa. And this strikes terror in the hearts of Pentagon planners.
In World War II, the United States employed an island-hopping strategy to move ever closer to the Japanese mainland. Okinawa was the last island and last major battle of that campaign, and more people died during the fighting there than in the subsequent atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined: 12,000 US troops, more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers, and perhaps 100,000 Okinawan civilians. This historical experience has stiffened the pacifist resolve of Okinawans.
The current battle over Okinawa again pits the United States against Japan, again with the Okinawans as victims. But there is a good chance that the Okinawans, like the Na’vi in that great NIMBY film Avatar, will win this time.
A victory in closing Futenma and preventing the construction of a new base might be the first step in a potential reverse island hop. NIMBY movements may someday finally push the US military out of Japan and off Okinawa. It’s not likely to be a smooth process, nor is it likely to happen any time soon. But the kanji (a form ofJapanese writing) is on the wall. Even if the Yankees don’t know what the Japanese characters mean, they can at least tell in which direction the exit arrow is pointing.
John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and writes its regular World Beat column. His past essays, including those for TomDispatch.com, can be read at his website [ Copyright 2010 John Feffer].
Source: TomDispatch.com Image: Japanprobe.com
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