Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Takeshi Ishida: Goals behind Japanese mass peace protests: "Widespread anti-war sentiment" & desire for a peaceful daily life

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens surrounded the Diet Bldg. in 1960, to protest AMPO, the US-Japan Security Treaty deal that would allow US military bases to remain in Japan and Okinawa (Photo: Mainichi)

Japanese and Okinawans have engaged in mass protests for peace since the end of the Second World War, when the U.S. military began establishing U.S. bases at former Japanese imperial military sites and seizing private and public Okinawan property to build the massive military complexes that take up much of the prefecture.  According to Takeshi Ishida, in Japanese Political Culture: Change and Continuity (1983):
In Japan, the goal underlying mass protests for peace has often been a combination of two forces: a widespread antiwar sentiment and the people's interest in maintaining a peaceful daily life, particularly in rural areas where, in a densely populated country, the attachment to landed property is very strong.

The first example of this kind was the Uchinada case, which began in 1953. Uchinada was a village located in Ishikawa prefecture on the Japan Sea; its principal industries were farming and fishing. A serious protest took place when the government decided to use the village land for artillery testing. The major slogans in the campaign against the government were "Compensation money is temporary, land is forever" and "Let us not lose the land where the graves of our ancestors are located..." A widespread fear of Japan's possible involvement in war because of the Cold War situation gave added strength to their cause...

The protest movement in Uchinada failed, but a similar case in Sunagawa brought victory for the protesters. The case began when in 1955, the government decided to expropriate peasant land in Sunagawa in order to expand the American air base located there. The movement continued for fourteen years and the government finally abandoned its plan in 1968. Initially, the Sunagawa case, like the Uchinada case, had as its strongest motivation the peasants' interest in the land...The goal of the movement gradually shifted from a particular interest to mroe general ones, such as the call for the abolition of American military bases and the condemnation of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. When the U.S. air force decided to leave the base in 1969, the leaders of this movement shifted their protest to opposing the military use of the land by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

A similar change in goal can be seen in the movement protesting against the target range at Kitafuji, north of Mount Fuji. Herea again, the movement was based on defense of land, in this case the peasants' rights to common land. One slogan, "Peasants are grass grown on the land," suggests the deep interest the peasants had in their land. As the movement developed however, more universalistic goals appeared, as seen in the slogan, "Don't connect Mount Fuji with Vietnam!" In the same way as in the Sunakawa case, the peasants in this area then switched their protest to opposing the military use of that land by the Self-Defense Forces.

Such changes in goals are more rapid in urban areas. In 1968 a protest movement emerged opposing the American military field hospital in Oji, located in the center of one of the most densely populated areas in the Tokyo metropolitan region. At first the people's major interests were the noise of the helicopters carrying patients from Vietnam, the danger of contagious tropical disease, the prostitution encouraged by the presence of GI's. The movement attracted much popular attention and gained wide support, finally attaining its objective when the hospital was removed.

Also in 1968, another protest movement against a field hospital was organized by intellectuals and citizens in Asaka. Here a "protest against the American invasion of Vietnam" was one of the initial goals of the movement in addition to the demands for the solution of noise and other problems resulting from the field hospital being located in that area. Activists even tried broadcasting over the hospital fence in an effort to persuade the GI patients to join the protest against the war in Vietnam. This kind of activiity was in the direction of international solidarity for peace rather than nationalist sentiment against foreign military forces.

In 1972, a movement was launched to prevent American tanks being transported to Vietnam from a supply base at Sagamihara...The most important slogan was "Don't connect Route 16 with Vietnam!"

...These historical examples indicate a change in goals from the preservation of particular vested interests or the fear of involvement of war, to a more universal active pursuit of peace and to criticism against the government's policy of supporting a war in Vietnam...A similar progression may be seen in the development of the anti-nuclear movement.

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