Tokyo, Japan – On US television, in US newspapers, and on US-based Internet news sites this week there is a near-perfect silence as our government begins to build in earnest, on the island of a peaceful and democracy-loving people in Japan, another military base. The coral has been injured before, such as when they dropped concrete blocks on it, but only now it will be killed off for good, as they do the landfill work and bury it along with all its beautiful biodiversity. No news reports, no photos, no interviews with Okinawan intellectuals or protesters or politicians, not even with the new and interesting Governor of Okinawa, Denny Tamaki, who said that Okinawans will resist with “all methods” (arayuru shudan).
Another day, another base. Ho hum. Pass the cookies. What war-glorifying flick is on the tube tonight?
As if our hundreds of bases intimidating China, Russia, and North Korea were not enough. As if we were insecure on our continent surrounded by Canada and Mexico, and two vast oceans.
Almost all the world’s bases—the ones in other people’s countries—are ours, but we want another one? In the same way that billionaires need more jets? Really?! Is that what we are about? Because we are going to own this base, even as Japanese pay for it. We will own the destruction as well as the escalation of tension in Northeast Asia. We will ownthe hatred that it generates. We will own the image of the “brutal Americans,” who pushed the Japanese government to attempt to build a base for us on “firm foundation of mayonnaise.”
Because of our government, Okinawans have lived on a battlefield for the past several decades, ever since the Battle of Okinawa, when one third of their people were killed and almost all the survivors were rendered homeless. They are a people wronged over and over again, mainly by the US government, with Tokyo’s backing. Yet the people of the US are told almost nothing about Okinawa by their teachers, their government, or their journalists. Like East Timor—whose people were tortured with US weapons and US financial support for decades before I had even heard of the country.
It is possible to argue with a straight face that in some sense, Okinawans have been “protected” by our bases if listeners are convinced that North Korea was ever a threat to the US or that the Cold War was necessary. But the fact is that they do not want our “protection” anymore. Rapes and murders; the extinction of beautiful and fascinating sea creatures such as the dugong; jets and accident-prone aircraft like the Ospreys flying over their schools making a safe learning environment impossible; the threat of another war on their lands; toxic chemicals from bases flowing into their rivers and polluting their bodies; a democracy-thwarting central government in Tokyo whose arm is twisted by Washington to join in on the bullying; etc., etc. That is not their idea of security. They have a very different vision of where their country should be going. 80% or so of Okinawans do not want the new base in Henoko, Okinawa. And the majority of the citizens of Japan do not want it. (ANN News, 17 December 2018, “Henoko e no kichi isetsu kouji 55% ga hyouka sezu” [55% are not in favor of moving the Futenma Base to Henoko]).
Fortunately, some Japanese are paying attention. On December 14th, there was a lively and culturally interesting protest in front of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence in Nagata-chō, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo against the landfill work that has just begun to kill off the coral reef in Henoko adjacent to “Man Camp” (i.e., Camp Schwab. Only true men work there. They show those unarmed, non-violent locals and women who’s boss).
It looks just like another street sign, but this sign indicates that this is a place where power is concentrated, like the US White House.
Always black and ominous, the cars of fat-cat VIPs flowed out all day long from the entrance to the prime minister’s residence.
A comical song was sung with lyrics such as “Shinzo Abe, Taro Aso, Abe and Aso are not human” (Abe Shinzo, Aso Taro, Abe to Aso hito de nashi); “Quit Abe, Quit” (Abe yamero, Abe yamero”)
Taro Aso is Prime Minister Abe’s right hand man. He has served as the deputy prime minister and minister of finance. He is a card-carrying member of the ultranationalist club of Japan, as he is related to Kishi Nobusuke (Abe’s grandfather who narrowly escaped execution as an “A class” war criminal); has ties to the Imperial Family through his sister’s marriage to the Emperor’s cousin; and is the heir to a mining fortune that was partly built up by exploiting Korean forced laborers during the War.
The main theme of the protest was expressed by the red writing on the white background “Stop the Henoko Landfill” (Yamero! Henoko dosha tonyu).
Many different varieties of protestors participated, including feminists,
groups calling for Abe to step down,
Christians and conservationists,
anti-nuclear power activists,
and labor activists, and those who remember the victims of the Fukushima Dai’ichi disaster just as they remember the victims of the destruction of the homeland of Okinawans.
A photo of yours truly was kindly taken with a Japanese women’s rights group who have worked on protecting the rights of women, including the Korean women who were hurt by colonialist, patriarchal, sexual violence many decades ago.
The signs were bold, interesting, and original, such as:
“Don’t kill Okinawan hearts”
A handmade “No Base Henoko” banner in English by a group of ladies who felt that they had to do something, that they must stand with Okinawa.
“Don’t bury Henoko”
A cute pink model of a dugong, the very endangered species, of whom two members have gone missing, ever since a few weeks ago when the landfill work preparations began. The animals were probably scared off by the noise. These are sensitive creatures, no less than dolphins are sensitive.
The 9-hour-long protest on a Friday began at 9:00 AM and ended at 6 PM. Here is clip from the early morning:
And here is one from the evening, when the temperature was dropping quickly and the wind was strong:
The music was entertaining and eclectic. There were beautiful Okinawan songs.
A song about one’s hometown in summer.
A bluesy song with lyrics from an Okinawan dialect and English, such as “wake up, no way, no war, no cry.”
The chants were passionate.
Some of the speeches were angry and righteous. History will prove these protesters right. Who besides the Trump administration and the Abe administration are applauding the new Henoko base construction? Historians will not write that “that was money well-spent,” especially not Japanese historians, as it will later be shown that Japanese taxpayers were hoodwinked.
Never was there a dull moment during this long day, in fact. The Okinawans and Japanese who oppose the bases know how to protest in a way that is sustainable, meaningful, and even sometimes enjoyable.