Monday, November 29, 2010

Yoshio Shimoji: Comment on Japan Today's "DPJ relieved after Okinawa vote"

Yoshio Shimoji regards Governor Nakaima's reelection (in conjunction with almost 50% of the votes for opponent Yoichi Iha, mayor of Ginowan City) as a referendum by Okinawans against the construction of another U.S. mega-military "replacement" base in Henoko.

His comment on Japan Today's Nov. 28 article "DPJ relieved after Okinawa vote” reflects his reasoning:
In yesterday's gubernatorial election in Okinawa, candidate Hirokazu Nakaima, an incumbent Governor, garnered 335,708 votes (52%), candidate Yoichi Iha 297,082 votes (46%) and candidate Tatsuro Kinjo 13,116 votes (2%), of the total 645,906 valid votes.

Nakaima and Iha campaigned on an almost identical platform that the 2006 Futenma relocation plan agreed to between Japan and the U.S. should be scrapped while Kinjo ran on a "Futenma to Henoko" platform. Of the three candidates, then, it's only Kinjo who precisely represented both (Washington & Tokyo) governments' stance regarding the Futenma issue. But his vote count was only 13,116 or a meager 2 percent.

U.S. policymakers should recognize this hard fact and, if they consider the U.S. as a great democracy, never attempt to force their failed plan on Okinawa -- an undemocratic and immoral action on the part of the U.S.

Yoshio Shimoji
Naha, Okinawa
Yoshio Shimoji was born in Miyako Island, Okinawa. He received his M.S. from Georgetown University, and taught English and English linguistics at the University of the Ryukyus from April 1966 until his retirement in March 2003.

Mr. Shimoji's "The Futenma Base and the U.S.-Japan Controversy: An Okinawan Perspective" was published at The Asia Pacific Journal earlier this year.

See also his letter letter, "How dare Obama ask Hatoyama to act without regard to democratic process in Okinawa?" published at the The New York Times on May 28, and "'Thanks' Doesn't Allay Okinawans" published on July 11 at The Japan Times.

(Human chain demanding the removal of U.S. Marine Base Futenma & no further base construction in Okinawa. Photos: Yoshio Shimoji )

Martin Frid: "Okinawa Election Results"

Many thanks to Martin Frid for his excellent post on the Okinawa election results.
(Banner: "We do not need U.S. military bases in Okinawa." (Image: Kurashi)

Kurashi - The "Eco-Blog" - by Martin J Frid
Monday, November 29, 2010
Okinawa Election Results

The results of the election on Sunday in Okinawa are as follows, according to Ryukyu Shimpo, the local newspaper. NHK also notes that the LDP-backed candidate, Nakaima, 71 years old has won.

335708 仲井真弘多 Nakaima Hirokazu
297082 伊波 洋一 Iha Yoichi

Both said they want Futenma, the US military training base, moved out of Okinawa. Peace activists, however, doubt that Nakaima Hirokazu will follow up on this pledge. To NHK (video) he notes on Sunday night that the US military bases are not there just for the sake of Okinawa, but for the sake of the entire country. He also says, again, that the base should be relocated outside of the prefecture of Okinawa.

While Iha Yoichi unequivocally opposes a new base in Okinawa, there has been some confusion by incumbent governor Nakaima's expression of his intent to call for relocation of MCAS Futenma "outside of Okinawa." However, throughout the campaign, he has avoided the question of whether he really opposed the government's plan to build a new base in Henoko. "It appears that Nakaima wants to gain Okinawans' support but wants to avoid confrontation with the Japanese government at the same time," the newspaper's editorial suspects. Iha, on the contrary, "will not accept any negotiation based on the current US-Japan plan and challenge the both governments to give up the plan."

(Quote and translation by Vancouver-based Satoko Norimatsu of Peace Philosophy Centre: To stop the Henoko base plan, IHA must win. 沖縄に基地を作らせないためには伊波候補が勝たなければいけない)
Read more about the peaceful protests at the Tent Village, Henoko, Okinawa at The Asia-Pacific Journal: "Henoko, Okinawa: Inside the Sit-In" by Yumiko Kikuno:
On December 25, 2009, I visited “Henoko Tent Village” in Okinawa, with Satoko Norimatsu, Director of the Peace Philosophy Centre, a peace education centre in Canada. The “village” has acted as a base for the 13-year long nonviolent anti-base movement. On the day we visited it was raining, which made Henoko beach look like it was crying. We were welcomed by Toyama Sakae, the “mayor” of Henoko Tent Village, and by other activists, including Nakazato Tomoharu, “Yasu-san,” and “Na-chan.” Mr. Toyama invited us to have a seat and proceeded to explain the history of the movement to save Henoko.
And Japanese bloggers of course are also covering this important election: Chura umi o maore (Protect our ocean) and Henokohama Tsushin (Reports from Henoko Beach) and Michisan (a blog to help you know what local Okinawan newspapers are saying) and Sumichi and Takae and News for the People of Japan...

(Above photo from Rimpeace, stating without a doubt that the Okinawan people do not want (a new mega-military base destroying the beautiful Henoko coast or) US Osprey aircraft on their soil.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tim Shorrock: South Korea admits to firing the 1st shot (during live-fire U.S.-S. Korea military exercises)

Most of the U.S. media is framing the tragic latest from the Korean peninsula as if N. Korea fired upon S. Korea out-of-the-blue. Few reports, if any, mention the important fact that this year, the U.S. and South Korea have been holding frequent (almost monthly since July) joint military exercises directed at North Korea.

Here's crucial context from Tim Shorrock in a recent Democracy Now interview:
AMY GOODMAN: The fighting came just days after was revealed North Korea had made rapid advances in enriching uranium at a previously undisclosed plant. For more, I’m joined by Tim Shorrock, an investigative journalist who has covered Korea for more than 30 years and grew up partly in South Korea. Tim, welcome to "Democracy Now!" First, explain exactly what happened.

TIM SHORROCK: Over the last couple of days, the South Korean military, which is part of a joint command with the U.S. military, held massive exercises in a disputed area, near the disputed maritime zone area on the west coast of Korea. These exercises had been planned months in advance and North Korea of course knew about then. They involved tens of thousands of South Korean soldiers, many warships and air force planes as well as personnel from the U.S. Marines and Air Force. And these exercises, as you said, they are live fire exercises.

North Korea, shortly before, in the days leading up to these exercises, warned they would react if shells fell in their line of this maritime line, demarcation line, which they dispute and have disputed for years. Apparently, some shells did land on their side of this line and they retaliated by shelling this island and causing many, you know, some casualties. It was a very serious and grave incident that deserves the very serious and sober analysis, which we have not seen in the U.S. media in the past 24 hours. That is what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by what has taken place? The media is making a great deal of the North Korean leader taking his young son, heir apparent on a tour of a soy sauce factory while this was going on.

TIM SHORROCK: You’re always kind of surprised when these things happen.

But in the context of the last 50 years, it is not really that surprising, particularly if you look at the maritime zone and particularly if you look at the history of U.S.-South Korean military and its standoff with the North Korean regime.

First of all, over the last few years, there has increasing tensions over this zone. As I said, this border area in the sea, this border line was imposed unilaterally by the U.S. Navy in 1953 right after the Korean war. That line has never been recognized by North Korea, nor by the international community.

A few years ago, under the former presidency of Roh Moo-Hyun, there was actually a meeting, a summit meeting, between the president of South Korea and Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea. They sat down and worked out sort of a set of agreements to try to decrease tensions in that maritime area, including the making of free fishing zones and having discussions to alleviate the attention to make sure there were no incidents like this.

This new president Lee is very conservative man who has rejected the former sunshine policies of Kim Dae-Jung and his predecessor, who were much more open and tried to cement closer relationships and end the enmity between North and South Korea. Lee unilaterally pulled away from this agreement.

And over the last few years, our listeners and watchers will remember, there have been quite a few incidents. Earlier this year, in March 2010, a South Korean naval ship was blown up allegedly by North Korea by a torpedo and sank, killing about 33 sailors. This was also a very serious incident. And many people who watch North Korea believe that that particular attack, if North Korea did it, was in retaliation for an incident that took place last year when South Korea fired on a North Korean ship that had crossed the line and many North Korean sailors were killed in that attack. And so you know this has been going on.

I think the first thing that needs to be done is it would be important to restore some kind of discussion, some kind of negotiation so they can reduce tensions in that specific area.
Read the rest of the interview here.

More important context (via Tim Shorrock's blog) by staff writer Son Won-je of the South Korean newspaper, The Hankyoreh:
North Korea’s artillery attack Tuesday on Yeonpyeong Island was a high-intensity military provocation without precedent since the armistice that ended the Korean War. Unlike previous military clashes over the year, private South Korean homes and civilians were subjected to an indiscriminate attack.

For the time being, North Korea is using South Korea’s military defense exercises as its rationale for the attack. On Tuesday morning, Pyongyang sent a message to South Korea criticizing the exercises as “effectively an attack on North Korea.”

The Hoguk Exercise in question involve 70 thousand South Korean armed forces troops, 600 tracked vehicles, 90 helicopters, 50 warships, and 500 aircraft. The U.S. military is contributing the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and 7th Air Force to the land and air training exercises, respectively. Pyongyang regards the exercises as training for an attack on North Korea, citing the fact that it is a large-scale joint South Korea-U.S. exercise encompassing naval fleets, air forces, and land exercises.

A former [South Korean] Navy admiral with experience as a squadron leader around the West Sea Northern Limit Line (NLL) said that Yeonpyeong Island “was probably chosen as the site for the attack because it is closest to the North Korea coast, allowing for easy firing and high precision.”

The former admiral added, “Given that civilian homes were also targeted, it is too deliberate to be viewed simply as a response to the defense exercises.”

Analysts have suggested that the different form of military behavior seen this time stemmed from an urgent situation within North Korea.

Korea National Defense University Professor Kim Yeon-su said, “There is a possibility that the reason North Korea has shown this pattern of provocation, ratcheting up the crisis index on the Korean Peninsula, has to do with some problem that arose in the establishment process for the leadership succession system.”

In other words, North Korea may have sensed a need to deal a high-intensity international and domestic shock in order to surmount the immense challenges presented in the succession system establishment process.

Observers predict that this attack will have the effect of increasing solidarity behind the Kim Jong-un system, which emphasizes songun, military first, domestic policy. This analysis suggests that North Korea may have been attempting to foment the belief that amid a situation of military confrontation with South Korea, there is no alternative to a response centered on the Kim Jong-un succession system, which has inherited Kim Jong-il’s songun policy.

Another possibility mentioned by analysts is that the attack was ultimately intended to promote and strengthen Kim Jong-un’s leadership by effecting changes in Washington and Seoul’s North Korea policy through hardline military measures.

The prevailing analysis is that the decision to wage an attack on the area near the West Sea NLL, coming on the heels of the sudden disclosure of a uranium enrichment facility recently to a U.S. expert visiting North Korea, carried the political message of “highlighting the seriousness of the political situation on the peninsula.”

An expert who requested anonymity said, “North Korea’s recent actions may in some respects be aimed at forming an environment favorable for negotiations in the long term, but at least in the short term they strongly suggest a show of force to indicate that Pyongyang is not going to be dwelling on negotiations.”

Another possibility mentioned by observers was that the move was based on the calculation that if North Korea ratcheted up the peninsula’s crisis index, the United States would inevitably be compelled to pursue negotiations with Pyongyang in order to manage the situation. In spite of North Korea’s recent “dialogue offensive,” Seoul has maintained the position that the resumption of large-scale aid and Mt. Kumgang tourism is an impossibility.

“Since the recent conciliation offensive spearheaded by the United Front Department did not work out, it may be the case that North Korea is trying to spark conflict within South Korea by using shock treatment methods to shake up South Korean society, thus pressuring Seoul into taking part in dialogue,” said an expert at one state-run think tank.

With this latest incident, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has plunged into a murky crisis where it is impossible to see what lies ahead. While the sudden revelation of North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility is likely to have more of a negative impact on the Northeast Asia situation in general than on inter-Korean relations, Tuesday’s artillery battle around Yeonpyeong Island is a major disaster that will deal a fatal blow to already strained inter-Korean relations. Depending on the way in which the situation unfolds, it could go beyond this to have a major impact on the political situation surrounding the peninsula.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Peace Carnival Part II: NO BASE! MORE MUSIC! Friday 11/26 @ Chikyuya (Kunitachi, Tokyo)

Friday, November 26th
8:00 PM (Doors open at 7:30)

Please join the second installment of the Peace Carnival event series, which will feature a discussion on the U.S. military base situation in Okinawa led by Professor Satoshi Ukai from Hitotsubashi University, as well as several incredible (and activist-minded!) acts from the Tokyo music scene:

☆Jintara Brothers

Special unit featuring Wataru Oguma (powerful performer from the Tokyo underground chindon group Cixla Muta) together with solo artist Hiroshi Kawamura (previously of Soul Flower Union)

☆ Singer/guitarist Pak Poe together with Satchan (Hana and Phenomenon)

Anbassa (roots reggae unit)

Chikyuya Live House (Kunitachi, Tokyo)
1-16-13 B1 Kunitachi Higashi

(Head down Daigaku-dori (University road) from the North exit of Kunitachi station for about 5 minutes. Chikyuya is in the basement on the left side, just before a shop on the corner with a neon yellow sign.)

Entry: 2000 yen (plus one drink)
* 1500 yen entry is available by making advance reservations at Chikyuya 042-572-585 (between 7PM and 1AM).

Event organizer: Peace Carnival Committee (
Additional support: Peace Not War Japan (

For more information, see the event blog (Japanese only).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mark Driscoll: In danger: Takae, a village in Okinawa's Yanbaru Forest, a place flourishing with biodiversity

"When the Pentagon "Kill Machines" Came to an Okinawan Paradise: Undermining of Democracy in Japan" published at Counterpunch earlier this month, UNC-Chapel Hill East Asian history scholar Mark Driscoll puts a human face to the story of a peaceful eco-community struggling against U.S. military violence (enabled by the Japanese government) for decades:
When I arrived at the small village of Takae in the northernmost part of the main island of Okinawa to spend 5 days at a sit-in protest there in mid-July, my first image of the place was the unusual municipal charter that greeted me as I got off the bus. Codified in 1996, the residents pledge to:
1.. Love nature and strive to create a beautiful environment resplendent with flowers and water;

2. Value our traditional culture, while always striving to learn new things; and

3. Create a municipality in which people can interact in a spirit of vitality and joy.
The charter mentions no human founding fathers of Takae, rather it followed with lavish descriptions of the village flower (azalea) and bird (sea woodpecker) in addition to details about the gorgeous waterfalls and the rare combination of seacoast and mountains that creates a strong impression of a tropical paradise; UNESCO has identified the ecological diversity of this area as among the richest in the world.

The sense of paradise is what brought Ashimine Genji to Takae ten years ago. Ashimine, a native of Okinawa who moved to the Japanese mainland during the economic bubble period in the mid-1980s, moved back to Okinawa when he got tired of the frenetic Tokyo life and exhausting wage labor. With his lover he bought some land in the mountains amidst waterfalls, animals and birds and started raising their 3 kids, while constructing a small organic restaurant. During my interview with him he insisted that the family was committed to living as simply, slowly, and sustainably as possible, and they deliberately spent the first two years in Takae without electricity, reluctantly attaching to a grid only when their oldest kid’s complaints wouldn’t stop.

It’s hard to avoid the descriptive mantra of Okinawan life as “simple and slow” in Japanese lifestyle magazines (with, in the last two years, “sustainable” [saiseisan] commonly appended) and perusal of these magazines convinced Naoko and Kôji Morioka to relocate to Takae four years ago. Amateur organic farmers and part-time artists raised in Tokyo, they had lived in Africa, India and Nepal before relocating with their two small kids to Takae to start full-time organic rice farming. Also refusing electricity, they built a small house from scratch just 30 yards north of a gorgeous waterfall and 300 yards from the sea, determined both to pioneer a new path of zero growth against Japanese postmodern capitalism and to enjoy the close community of Takae, consisting of farmers, fisherfolk and several convivial story-tellers...

While about a fourth of Takae’s 160 residents are eco-conscious transplants from Tokyo and their kids, several claim descendants going back a millennium who have enjoyed the fruits (mango) and vegetables that grow wild in the area. Right smack in the middle of this sustainable paradise is where a large part of the newest US military base is about to be built.

Takae residents were kept in the dark about the base until just before construction was to begin. Leaks, reported in the Okinawa Times in late 2006, forced the Japanese Defense Ministry to hold an information session in early 2007. It was only here that the Ashimines and Moriokas were informed that the main helicopter base for the US military in Japan was about to be built in their backyard, including facilities for 3 Osprey heli-planes. When the Defense Ministry showed the people of Takae a Power Point slide of the projected base area, they realized that two of their homes would be within 400 meters of the proposed new base.

Ashimine recalled how he felt after the session. “One minute I was living a life of harmony with nature with my family and friends, and the next minute I was being told that these killing machines (kiru- mashin) were coming to within a few hundred meters of my house; the disconnect (iwakan) was overwhelming” (Ku-yon June 2010; 101).

Within a few months, Takae locals obtained a fuller picture of what was going on: based on a secret agreement between the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the US Pentagon made in 1996—finally signed into a dubious kind of legality in February 2009—the large, but increasingly obsolete US military base Futenma in central Okinawa was to be relocated with completely new infrastructure to northern Okinawa. The plan was to transfer the infrastructure of Futenma to the smaller US base Camp Schwab located 20 miles from Takae. But airport and helicopter facilities were necessary to fill out Futenma’s capacity and this is where Takae and the equally pristine fishing village of Henoko, 30 minutes southeast of Takae, would come into play. The old airport at Futenma would be replaced with a new V-shaped one carved out of the beach in Henoko, while Takae would get all the CH-47 and CH-54 helicopters together with the behemoth Ospreys.  

Henoko’s proximity to Camp Schwab has created a palpable anti-base sentiment there, and local activists started mobilizing opposition to the proposed airport construction in 2004. With help from the all-women anti-base group Naha Broccoli, situated in the Okinawan capital of Naha, activist information sessions and bus tours of the proposed base areas began in June 2007 which jumpstarted regular contact among Takae, Henoko and Naha.

Encouraged by activist friends in Tokyo to go Okinawa to look around, in July 2007, with about 40 others, I participated in the second Broccoli bus tour and was stunned—but I should have known better. The lack of transparency on the side of the Pentagon and the deafness to local Japanese concerns were standard neocolonial postures of US base presence in Asia going back to just after World War II.

But witnessing the sustained protest in Henoko by anti-war activists spanning 3 generations inspired all of us on the tour. The required environmental assessment for new base construction had been underway for over a year and Henoko activists were doing their best to disrupt it, including a blockade of Japanese Navy vessels with cordons of local fishing boats and, with air tanks and wet suits, conducting underwater direction action against young Japanese Navy divers trying to complete the seabed assessment. In November 2007 a Henoko activist almost died when the breathing line to his airtank was severed. Just after our bus tour, protest signs and colorful anti-base paintings started to show up around the two main gates to the newly fenced-in Takae helicopter facility. By August 2007, Rie Ishihara, a Takae mother of two started daily sit-ins in front of the main entrance by herself; soon she was joined by other locals and then by Naha activists.

Quickly, anti-base Japanese started coming from the mainland, often devoting one day of their Okinawa vacation week sitting in at Takae. The mushrooming anti-base movement in Takae caught the Japanese Defense Ministry in Okinawa off-guard and when the environment assessment group started its two-year survey at the Takae site a year later, the Okinawan office of the Japanese Defense Ministry—the local defender of the US bases— preemptively took the whole town to court, serving 15 Takae residents a summons for “disrupting traffic” on Dec. 16, 2008.

Ishihara told me that when she got the summons she thought it was a practical joke as everyone knows there is no traffic in Takae and a few local residents even refuse to drive cars because of the impact on the environment. But this was no joke, as the drawn-out legal hearings lasted a year and forced the Takae farmers to spend money on lawyers and court fees. On December 11, the provincial court in Naha ruled in favor of 13 defendants, although it ruled against Ashimine and the head of the Takae residents anti-base group Toshio Isa. Isa and Ashimine can now be forced to stand trial in Tokyo at any point the Japanese government decides.

While the events were unfolding in Okinawa, politics on Japan’s mainland were revealing similar anti-US patterns. During the campaigning for the crucial Lower House elections in July 2009, the upstart Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) promised in their manifesto to establish a “different policy with respect to the US-Japan alliance,” one central aspect of which would be a “significant re-thinking (minaoshi) of the US military in Japan including the situation of all the US bases”.

Soon to be Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama refined his critique of the US-Japan security framework by focusing on the unfair “burden” placed on Okinawa by having some 24,000 US troops stationed there, including 18,000 Marines—65% of the US military presence in Japan installed on a land mass less than 1% of Japan’s total. The party in power for all but one year since the end of the US Occupation of Japan, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had been losing support since it ordered Japanese soldiers to deploy to war-zones in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002-03 in the face of Japanese public opposition polling at 80-90%.

The historic victory of the DPJ over the LDP in August 2009 should be seen as the culmination of multiple forms of opposition to the LDP’s blind allegiance to the US, together with a pragmatic understanding that Japan’s economic future lies more closely entwined with China. In addition to pledging to reform aspects of Japan’s military-security framework with the US, the DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa promised to enhance ties to China beyond the economic sphere, where China is now Japan’s largest trading partner. The double whammy of a confirmation that closer ties with China are beneficial together with a groundswell of resistance to the US military swept the DPJ into power.

Right away, new Prime Minister Hatoyama went to work on his party’s campaign promise and started exploring ways to reform the US-Japan alliance; in a flush of post-victory confidence he wondered out loud what a future security framework would look like with “zero US troops stationed in Japan” (chûryû naki ampô). Several months earlier, Ozawa insisted that, “the [US Navy] 7th Fleet alone is sufficient,” meaning that as far as the DPJ leaders were concerned, the remaining 35,000 US troops should begin packing up their things to leave Japan permanently.

Although the US media underplayed this challenge, the Pentagon understood exactly what was at stake and wasn’t liking it. Despite President Obama’s cautious wait and see approach to the democratic regime change in Japan, the Pentagon immediately starting sparring with the Japanese Ambassador to the US Ichiro Fujisaki in Washington over issues like the Guam Treaty signed by the weakened LDP in early 2009, which dictated the terms of the new base construction in Henoko/Takae and the planned move of somewhere between 3000 to 9000 of the 18,000 Marines in Okinawa to new facilities in Guam—with Japanese taxpayers forced to pay 65-70% of the costs for both the move and the new base in Guam.

During the July 2009 campaign several DPJ candidates echoed the argument made by Okinawan critics that the Guam Treaty was clearly unequal because it obliged the Japanese to construct one new base in Okinawa and to contribute most of the money toward building another in Guam, while the American side merely offered an ambiguous pledge to withdraw some troops while reserving the right to change its commitments when it wanted. Furthermore, critics argued that the Guam Treaty was illegal as it violated Article 95 of Japan’s constitution, which stipulates that any law applicable only to one locale requires the consent of the majority of the voters of that province, and support for the construction of the new base among Okinawans had been almost completely absent.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Tokyo for two days of meetings in late October 2009 clearly intending to muzzle the critiques of the US presence in Japan and to remind the new DPJ leaders of the post-WW II status quo, where senior (US) and junior (Japan) partners would continue to work together to contain China and North Korea. “It is time to move on,” Gates scolded the new Japanese leaders on October 22, calling DPJ proposals to reopen the base issues “counterproductive.” Then, deliberately insulting the DPJ in the eyes of almost all Japanese commentators Gates refused to attend the welcoming ceremony and formal dinner organized for him at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on October 23.

In enumerating the insults and behind the scenes threats made by Gates in Tokyo a few days after his departure, the Okinawan newspaper the Ryukyu Shimpo lambasted the “diplomacy of intimidation” practiced by the US in its editorial of October 26...
Read the rest of Driscoll's report here. His informed (he is a scholar in Japanese colonial history) analysis is a rare example of on-the-ground reporting from Okinawa in the English-language media.

Most U.S. & other English-language media reports on Okinawa are written by reporters who are not only not based in Okinawa or Japan but who also have not visited Okinawa. That's why these reports routinely refer to Henoko and Takae, sanctuaries of Okinawa's rich and beautiful biodiversity, simply as a "less populated area in the north." This over-used and misleading description from Washington's and Tokyo's points-of-view obscures what is at stake in Okinawa. Driscoll's democratic take provides a full, authentic picture, from multiple POVs, including those of Okinawans.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speakers contemplate Palestinian human rights, urge action at Tokyo event

May Shigenobu and Anna Baltzer

“Imagine, just for a moment, that in order to come to today’s lecture, you had to leave your house at 6AM instead of 1PM—and that you were stopped by authorities multiple times along the way in order to show identification and answer questions.”

“If you can envision what this might feel like, you will have had only the slightest glimpse of what life is like every single day for people living in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.”

And so began the lecture of Jewish-American human rights activist Anna Baltzer, who spoke to a group of around 100 people in a Tokyo university auditorium this past Saturday afternoon. Currently visiting six Japanese cities as part of her international speaking tour, titled "Life in Occupied Palestine: Eyewitness Stories & Photos", Anna was also joined on Saturday by journalist and Palestinian rights activist May Shigenobu.

Through Anna’s slideshow presentation and heartfelt commentary, audience members learned of the daily injustices suffered by a people who have been marginalized in their own homeland for decades. Many of her stories were heartbreaking, such as that of her friend’s six month old son, who died of a treatable asthma attack after Israeli soldiers refused to let the family pass through a checkpoint station to reach a local hospital—the type of incident that sadly occurs on a regular basis. She also pointed out the absurdity of the fact that as a Jewish American, she could easily go live in the home and farm the land of displaced Palestinians—and that the Israeli government would actually pay her a significant sum of money in order to do so.

“The media presents us with images of Palestinians as violent, but the fact is that they are practicing nonviolent resistance every single day just by virtue of going about their daily lives,” Anna pointed out. She then highlighted several types of creative civil disobedience acts, such as murals being painted on the separation Wall (which was erected by the Israeli government as a further means of control over Palestinians’ movements), as well as billboards bearing messages of resistance, and other artistic means of protest such as concerts and theater.

"Taste the Revolution" (from Anna Baltzer's website, Witness in Palestine)

“When children who refuse to allow their education to be disturbed wake up at 3:30 every morning to pass through the checkpoints and reach school on time, this is also a form of nonviolent resistance,” she emphasized.

Anna’s presentation was followed by a talk from May Shigenobu, a Palestinian-Japanese who was born in Beirut, Lebanon and is now a journalist, doctoral candidate and activist based in Japan.

“Within the political climate following September 11th, 2001, any and all resistance has tended to be characterized as terrorism—including even nonviolent means of protest that are completely within the law,” she noted. “While nonviolent resistance is obviously the ideal under any circumstance, there does come a point when the limits of human endurance are reached, and people tire of seeing their families exploited from generation to generation. And it is important to note here that international law actually provides a right of defense within its frameworks.

“For example, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter says that ‘a state which forcibly subjugates a people to colonial or alien domination is committing an unlawful act as defined by international law, and the subject people, in the exercise of its inherent right of self-defense, may fight to defend and attain its right to self-determination"—a perspective that is outlined further in this thought-provoking piece.

May went on to explain the different categories of Palestinians, who all face varying hardships depending upon their situation: those living within the occupied territories (West Bank and Gaza) who face an apartheid-like situation characterized by no legal rights; those living as refugees in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq, whose living conditions and rights are completely dependent upon the host country; and those living within Israel itself, where Palestinians comprise 20% of the population but are treated as third-class citizens. She also discussed the difficulty of being stateless as a Palestinian refugee (a situation that she herself faced prior to obtaining Japanese citizenship in 2001).

Both speakers emphasized that the present conflict is one of human rights and justice—and most certainly not one of Islam vs. Judaism. They also both encouraged everyone attending the event to take action on the issue, whether by joining an organization, visiting the region, or just sharing knowledge with others.

Personally speaking, I found the event to be extremely inspiring and healing insofar as both speakers were coming from different backgrounds and ideological perspectives in order to passionately embrace the same goal. Numerous attendees voiced similar comments during the lively Q&A session, where students, grassroots activists, and local community members thanked the speakers for their gracious presentations and shared their own anecdotes.

Anna finished the session by reminding the audience: “Israel today is afraid. By coming together and taking action, we can most definitely succeed in restoring rights to the Palestinians.” She urged attendees to become involved with Japan-based campaigns to help make this happen, such as the current effort by the Palestine Forum organization to hold a boycott of the popular MUJI home goods store if it proceeds with plans to build a store in Israel—part of the Global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) initiative. The BDS movement is discussed at length in this fascinating interview with Jewish-Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, who devised a creative plan to publicize the Hebrew version of her best-selling book The Shock Doctrine using a grassroots-level anti-occupation Israeli publisher, and launched her book tour at a Palestinian-Israeli theater house.

For more inspirational stories of Jewish and Palestinian people coming together to launch joint projects for peace and social justice, see Anna Baltzer's website A Witness in Palestine, as well as The Parents Circle, Combatants for Peace, Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group, and the Seiichi no kodomo youth exchange project (last website in Japanese only).

Young, Jewish and Proud, affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, also has an inspiring video of their recent disruption of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Jewish General Assembly by broadcasting messages against the Palestinian occupation, and its website features a rousing message for a new generation of young activists.

Speakers together with event organizers and graduate students at Daito Bunka University.
 (Photo: Eric Baudelaire)

--Kimberly Hughes

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Peace and Human Rights in Palestine - the Occupation as witnessed by Anna Baltzer @ Kyoto, Tues, Nov 16

Palestinian peace activists
(Photo Courtesy of

Anna Baltzer serves as the voice of the voiceless. The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and a Jewish-American human rights activist, she speaks on behalf of the Palestinians and Israelis alike searching for a peaceful solution to the war and aggression confronting the people living in Occupied Palestine and Israel. As part of a speaking tour throughout Japan, this Tuesday, November 16th, Anna will address an audience at Kyoto University about the occupation of Palestine and the search for peace and respect for human rights in the region.

Anna writes on her blog about how she first learned of the Palestinian Occupation:
Like many Americans and many Jews, I grew up with a positive view of Israel as a peace-seeking democracy. Israel symbolized to me the one protection that Jews had against the type of persecution that had plagued families like mine throughout history. I saw the Jewish state as a tiny and victimized country that simply wanted to live in peace but couldn’t because of its aggressive, Jew-hating Arab neighbors.

In 2003, during a backpacking trip through the Middle East, I began to meet Palestinian refugees from 1948. I didn’t know who the Palestinians were, or where Palestine was, and through my new acquaintances I began to hear a narrative about the history and present of Israel/Palestine that was entirely different from the one I had learned growing up in the United States.

My first reaction was disbelief, and anger. Families told me stories of past and present military attacks, house demolitions, land confiscation, imprisonment without trial, and torture. It seemed that these actions were not carried out for the protection of Jewish people, but rather for the creation and expansion of a Jewish state at the expense of the rights, lives, and dignity of the non-Jewish people living in the region. It was hard for me to believe that Israel could act so unjustly.

Not believing what I heard, I decided to do some research to prove myself right. Immediately, I was shocked to find how much I didn’t know about the situation on the ground. Not knowing who or what to believe anymore, I decided to go to see the situation with my own eyes. Since I returned, I’ve dedicated my life to informing fellow Americans and others about what I found, and what they can do to support a just peace for all peoples in Israel/Palestine.
After spending eight months as a volunteer with the International Women's Peace Service* in the West Bank, she has written countless articles about the Palestinian experience in Israel, and has detailed her experiences in her critically acclaimed photo reportage, Witness in Palestine (available for screening). She also supports the work of a the Palestinian group, Slingshot Hip Hop, who utilizes hip hop as a "tool to surmount divisions imposed by occupation and poverty."

Anna is not alone in her struggle for peace in Palestine. In fact, she is just one of many Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Americans, and other people from diverse backgrounds working for a peaceful solution. By working side-by-side with Palestinians and speaking out against the occupation, Anna gives us hope that there will one day arise a non-violent, peaceful solution that will allow the people in Israel and Palestine to live in peace with one another once again. She also gives us hope that the voices of the countless numbers of Jews and Christians and Muslims and peoples of all faiths working together to overcome the painful violence that characterizes the lives of people in Palestine and Israel, will be heard.

Event information--------------------------------------------------

[Date] Tuesday, November 16, 2010, from 18:30 to 21:30 (doors open at 18:00)
[Venue] Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies,
Kyoto University, Yoshida Minami campus, Basement Lecture Hall (Map)

Registration - Advance registration is required at: [at]

★Please register in advance so handouts and brochures can be prepared
Brochure fee: 1000 yen

[Languages of event] English and Japanese (Japanese translation is provided)

For all enquiries, contact: [at]


★ Yoshida Minami campus is the south campus, on the opposite side of the road from the main campus with the famous clock tower. The closest entry point to the site is from the west gate of Higashiooji Street. Enter the west gate, go straight and then turn right towards the venue: a modern five-storey building. The venue is in the eastern side with glass facade on the first storey. The building houses the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies. Please check the map before visiting. An image of the building can be found here and here (the photograph of the building is on the right).

*The International Women's Peace Service welcomes human rights volunteers. Click here for more info.

-Posted by Jen Teeter

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Special Premiere Screening of Hiroshima Nagasaki Download in NYC tomorrow, Nov. 14

Via Yumi Tanaka of the New York Peace Film Festival:

I'd proud to announce NY Premiere screening of "Hiroshima Nagasaki Download" directed by Shinpei Takeda. This film was screened at 1st Nagasaki International Peace Film Forum that spread out my New York Peace Film Festival. The film is to be released in nation-wide theaters next summer.

Mr. Takashi Thomas Tanemori, a Hiroshima survivor living in San Francisco, will be present at the screening to answer Q and A after the screening with the director.


Upon the end of the World War II, some people who survived the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki immigrated to the USA, bearing both physical and psychological wounds. These survivors have lived quietly in a country formerly considered their "state enemy."

Sixty-four years later, two former high school friends journey to seek "Hiroshima" and "Nagasaki" as they are ingrained in the collective psyche of modern Japan. They drove down America's West Coast to visit eighteen other survivors who shared memories that changed the lives of the friends forever.

Director: Shinpei Takeda

The first feature film by Shinpei Takeda, a director based in Mexico who has followed the atomic bomb survivors in North and South America for the last 5 years.

When & Where:

■ Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010 at 2:30pm ~ (Door opens at 2:00pm)

■ Anthology Film Archives:32 Second Avenue (at 2nd St), New York, NY 10003

■ Q and A session after the screening with a director and one of the survivors who appeared in the film

■ Admission: $9

■ Advance Ticket:

■ Website:

■ Follow us on twitter:
In Japanese:









■ ドキュメンタリー映画『ヒロシマナガサキダウンロード』(上映時間73分)

■ 11月14日(日)午後2時半〜4時半 (開場午後2時)

■ Anthology Film Archives: 32 Second Avenue (at 2nd St), New York, NY 10003 MAP

■ 上映後、竹田監督および出演の在米被爆者とのQ&Aセッション

■ 入場料: $9

■ 前売り:

■ ウェブサイト

■ ツイッター

監督:竹田信平(たけだしんぺい):1978年京都市生まれ。幼少時代は家族と共にドイツ、米国に滞在。2001年、米国デューク大学卒業後にサン・ディエゴで渡米難民の子供への絵画・写真技術を指導するNPOを立ち上げる。2004年、ロバート・リクター監督、キャサリーン・サリバン監督の「最後の原子爆弾(The Last Atomic Bomb)」の製作にアシスタントとして携わる。その後、北米・南米在住の被爆者の体験談の収録し始める。ブラジルやメキシコで展示会やメディアキャンペーン等を催すと同時に、国立長崎原爆死没者追悼平和祈念館に在外被爆者の体験談の映像を歴史的資料として寄贈する。2008年には、戦前にメキシコに移住した日本人写真家の一生を描いた「メキシコに最も近い日本(和訳)」を自主製作・監督。本作品で長編映像デビュー。

Friday, November 12, 2010

Vandana Shiva on industrial agriculture's use of war chemicals and food sovereignty versus the new colonialism

This is an excerpt of Vandana Shiva's talk about the role of war chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers) in industrial agriculture's new colonization in her talk on food and seed sovereignty at the International Meeting on Resisting Hegemony held 2-5 August 2010 in Penang, Malaysia.
I'm going to talk about the work I've been doing for the last 30 years on issues of biodiversity, food, and agriculture, largely because of the recognition this is the cutting edge of the new colonization and the new imperialism...

For me, 1984 was significant because of two major events, both very tragic. One was June 4, when the Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple, was invaded by the Indian Army, largely because of the unrest and the extremism that had built up in Punjab, and the extremists were hiding in the Golden Temple. And, later that year, we had the Bhopal tragedy where the pesticide plant leaked and killed 3,000 people in one night. 25,000 since then...

Bhopal is historically a watershed in terms of the structures. Part of it involves "shedding," First shedding hazards and then shedding liabilities related to hazards. Bhopal is a watershed where sacrificing the rights of people in the time of industrial genocide starts...

Someone mentioned Lawrence Summers who is currently Obama's chief economic advisor. But I first came across Lawrence Summers in 1992 when he was the chief economist of the World Bank because he wrote a memo saying it makes good economic sense to move pollution and hazards to developing countries. First because it's cheaper to find labor and therefore costs come down. And when people fall ill, it's cheaper. And when people die, it's cheaper, because their lives are worth less. So that's 3/5 of a human being on a scale issue. This continues in the contemporary calculus of what is a life worth.

Because of this series of violent episodes, I decided to start looking at what is really happening to agriculture....

Because of this series of these very violent episodes, I decided to start looking at what is really happening to agriculture. And in those days, I was associated with the peace and global transformation program that the CSDS that used to have...I decided to study what happened to Punjab...I was young, an innocent physicist with no idea of what was going on in agriculture...

A series of things I learned during that study. First, that agriculture had become the place to extend the war economy. Every input in agriculture is a war chemical. Every agrichemical is a war chemical. Herbicides were used in Vietnam. Pesticides were used to kill people which is why Bhopal killed people. Fertilizers came out of explosives factories...

The other day I was at some gathering and there was someone who is very close to the U.S. security establishment and they said Iraq was easy because the weapons were very evident. The weapons had been bought on global markets. Afghanistan is tough because the weapons are fertilizer bombs made from the fertilizer the U.S. distributed. So this is, in fact, the fertilizer coming back to its original purpose. And of course, it's not just that these are just war chemicals extending into agriculture.

But bringing them into agriculture is very much part of the new imperialism. The common narrative of the Green Revolution is India chose it. The reality of it is that the defense labs of the U.S. started to work in the '40's on how do you retool these chemicals for agriculture...So you had to change the plants to adapt to the chemicals...

Rather than calling them varieties bred for chemicals, they were now called "high-yielding" varieties. In fact, they were even called "miracle seeds." And the first 12 people they trained were called...the "wheat apostles" introducing these new seeds...

In the colonization through agriculture, land was emptied of its biodiversity...

This whole structure only worked because when these varieties were ready, the U.S. government was waiting for an opportunity to push them. And it was a drought that took place in 1965 that provided that opportunity because the need for additional imports became the time for imposing conditionalities: "We won't send you wheat unless you change our agriculture." Our prime minister at that time said "no." He died soon after, in Tashkent, under very mysterious conditions. And the conditions continued. The two foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford and the World Bank joined hands to create this package of conditionalities...

You couldn't borrow unless you proved you had taken money and subsidies for chemicals. You couldn't get any benefits from any government program unless you showed you were planting the new seeds. The Green Revolution didn't spread because of the choice farmers were making, but because of conditionalities...

A lot of my work in the Punjab study showed that actually food production went down. Rice and wheat production went up, but only because you displaced all the other crops. In an Indian diet, you need your pulses, your oil seeds, lots of vegetables. All of that disappeared. Now you had a monoculture...

We had a huge decline in pulses, the basic protein for a vegetarian diet. Quite clearly, the West never understood because they never had pulses in their diet...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Korean farmers win latest against U.S. industrial agriculture (a/k/a "Food, Inc."); How about Japanese farmers?

Koreans say "No" to U.S. industrial agriculture (a/k/a "Food, Inc.")
 (Photo: No Base Stories of Korea)

Martin Frid at Kurashi has posted on the Obama White House's latest attempts to put Japanese and Korean farmers out of business so U.S. industrial agriculture (a/k/a "Food, Inc.") can move in:
The U.S. wants more free trade to export its beef and cars to Asia. Yonhap, the official South Korean news channel says, there is no deal, as Obama fails to get Korea to agree.

Meanwhile, Japan is up in arms against the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), another badly-thought-out deal, that would make it impossible for Japanese farmers to compete with cheap imports from the U.S.

We know that beef and cars are the main culprits that cause climate change and environmental havoc, and we have noted that the U.S. Officially Do Not Care (C). Case in point, the Obama administration is not even thinking about joining international efforts like protecting biological diversity on this beautiful planet. He will also not visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki when he arrives in Japan this fall.

We do know that there are a lot of intelligent and socially aware citizens in that country who would like to combat climate change and stop the madness, be it nuclear or biocidal. We just wish they would stand up and join the fight against so-called free trade agreements (there are actually clauses that are worse than the WTO TRIPS agreement, to impose strict patent rules on stuff like DNA, that the U.S. Department of Justice has just told courts to be null and invalid).

Note that this is all Orwellian speech: there is nothing "free" about trade for countries that sign up to these rules. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the risk was of "competitive devaluation of currencies reminiscent of the Great Depression" - according to a good sum-up of the G20 talks in Seoul by Yahoo/AFP: Currency disputes dominate G20 summit.

The TPP is a Free Trade Agreement in disguise, pushed by a government that is now printing paper money (600 billion dollars as we blog) while trying to get Korea and Japan and others to sign up to its so-called policy of "Quanitative Easing" which you have to explain to me. "Easing?" What is so "quantitative" about it...

More beef (pumped up with artificial growth hormones, force-fed with patented GMO feed) and cars? If you can even call them cars. Just how will this solve the global economic pain?

No thanks...
Mainichi: "Japan will have tough time protecting farmers from trade liberalization under TPP"

Japan has already come under mounting pressure from the United States and other countries involved in the TPP to eliminate import tariffs on beef and these countries will not likely agree to exempt rice from trade liberalization, as Japan has demanded during past international trade negotiations.

"Far more effective measures to protect domestic farmers are necessary in preparation to participate in the TPP than those taken when Japan signed the 1993 trade agreement in the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade talks in 1993, under which Japan partially liberalized rice imports," says a high-ranking government official.
Over the next few days we will find out if great countries like South Korea and Japan with a long history will abandon all the efforts to seriously deal with real global issues like peak oil, climate change, and food security. I hope they have a better plan. Stay tuned.
See Martin Frid's entire post here.

To find out more about GMO and pesticide-dependent industrial agriculture, see Food, Inc.":
Approximately 10 billion animals (chickens, cattle, hogs, ducks, turkeys, lambs and sheep) are raised and killed in the U.S. annually. Nearly all of them are raised on factory farms under inhumane conditions. These industrial farms are also dangerous for their workers, pollute surrounding communities, are unsafe to our food system and contribute significantly to global warming...

Some of our (U.S.) most important staple foods have been fundamentally altered, and genetically engineered meat and produce have already invaded our (U.S.) grocery stores and our (U.S.) kitchen pantries...

In January 2008, the FDA approved the sale of meat and milk from cloned livestock, despite the fact that Congress voted twice in 2007 to delay FDA's decision on cloned animals until additional safety and economic studies could be completed...

Cancers, autism and neurological disorders are associated with the use of pesticides especially amongst farm workers and their communities...

Approximately 1 billion people worldwide do not have secure access to food, including 36 million in the US. National and international food and agricultural policies have helped to create the global food crisis but can also help to fix the system.

Vandana Shiva urges "Time to End War on the Earth" in Sydney Peace Prize speech

Dr. Vandana Shiva, recipient of this year's Sydney Peace Prize, urged the cessation of war on the earth (in the form of unsustainable environmentally destructive genetically modified, pesticide-intensive industrial agriculture); the end to the commodification of every aspect of life; and the promotion of "Earth Democracy" in her Nov. 5 acceptance speech:

When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits - limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration.

A handful of corporations and of powerful countries seeks to control the earth's resources and transform the planet into a supermarket in which everything is for sale. They want to sell our water, genes, cells, organs, knowledge, cultures and future.

The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and onwards are not only about "blood for oil."  As they unfold, we will see that they are about blood for food, blood for genes and biodiversity and blood for water.

The war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from the names of Monsanto's herbicides - ''Round-Up'', ''Machete'', ''Lasso''. American Home Products, which has merged with Monsanto, gives its herbicides similarly aggressive names, including ''Pentagon'' and ''Squadron''. This is the language of war. Sustainability is based on peace with the earth.

The war against the earth begins in the mind. Violent thoughts shape violent actions. Violent categories construct violent tools. And nowhere is this more vivid than in the metaphors and methods on which industrial, agricultural and food production is based. Factories that produced poisons and explosives to kill people during wars were transformed into factories producing agri-chemicals after the wars.

The year 1984 woke me up to the fact that something was terribly wrong with the way food was produced. With the violence in Punjab and the disaster in Bhopal, agriculture looked like war. That is when I wrote The Violence of the Green Revolution and why I started Navdanya as a movement for an agriculture free of poisons and toxics.

Pesticides, which started as war chemicals, have failed to control pests. Genetic engineering was supposed to provide an alternative to toxic chemicals. Instead, it has led to increased use of pesticides and herbicides and unleashed a war against farmers...

Making peace with the earth was always an ethical and ecological imperative. It has now become a survival imperative for our species.

Violence to the soil, to biodiversity, to water, to atmosphere, to farms and farmers produces a warlike food system that is unable to feed people. One billion people are hungry. Two billion suffer food-related diseases - obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancers.

There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites...

The elevation of the domain of the market, and money as man-made capital, to the position of the highest organising principle for societies and the only measure of our well-being has led to the undermining of the processes that maintain and sustain life in nature and society.

The richer we get, the poorer we become ecologically and culturally. The growth of affluence, measured in money, is leading to a growth in poverty at the material, cultural, ecological and spiritual levels.

The real currency of life is life itself and this view raises questions: how do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a money-making and resource-guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end?

I believe that ''earth democracy'' enables us to envision and create living democracies based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures - a just and equal sharing of this earth's vital resources, and sharing the decisions about the use of the earth's resources...

We have to make a choice. Will we obey the market laws of corporate greed or Gaia's laws for maintenance of the earth's ecosystems and the diversity of its beings?

People's need for food and water can be met only if nature's capacity to provide food and water is protected. Dead soils and dead rivers cannot give food and water.

Defending the rights of Mother Earth is therefore the most important human rights and social justice struggle. It is the broadest peace movement of our times.
Find out more about Dr. Shiva's book, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace here at South End Press.

In "The Corporate Killing Fields" published at Asian Age in July of this year, Dr. Shiva reveals that pesticides kill 220,000 people every year and shows that " ecologically organic agriculture produces more food and better food at lower cost than either chemical agriculture or GMOs."

Read more about Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 16 states in India, here.

See Sarah Ruth van Gelder's great 2002 interview with Dr. Shiva about the "earth democracy" at Yes! Magazine:
There is, I think, a spontaneous resurgence of thinking that centers on protection of life, celebrating life, enjoying life as both our highest duty and our most powerful form of resistance...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How did Moscow come to claim the Ainu Kuriles? "Divine mission" & the fur trade • What fuels interest now? Fish, oil & gas, strategic location...

The volcanic island chain connecting Hokkaido with Kamchatka received their name from the Ainu, the islands' original inhabitants. "Kur" means "man" in Ainu. The latest manifestation of the 20th-century dispute between Japan and Russia over the Kuriles continues to obscure prior historical Ainu ownership of these tiny islands.

Tokyo's claim makes no sense within a contemporary indigenous rights framework that posits indigenous peoples as equals within a community of nations (not to mention historical rectification for historical wrongdoing against them). However, the Japanese claim may have made some sense in the past within an outdated "Age of Imperialism" territorial framework based on the idea of privilege over indigenous peoples and their lands—given proximity of the Kuriles to Japan. (Historian Leo Ching writes that Japanese colonialism needs to be viewed historically and spatially within the larger context of global colonialism by which European nations had seized 85% of the world's land mass by the turn of the 20th century).

In contrast, Russia's claim to the Kuriles is much more of a stretch, even within an imperialistic paradigm. How did Russia (ostensibly a European nation) come to control an empire over the vast breadth of Siberian Asia (first inhabited by indigenous peoples with rich cultures much older than Moscow's) beyond the Pacific to the Kuriles—even farther off the Asian mainland than Sakhalin)?

Revenge and a sense of divine mission (Russia's version of "Manifest Destiny") fueled its adventurers' and soldiers' violent predatory march across Asia, writes Scott Malcolmson in his 1994 history/travelogue, Borderlands: Nation and Empire:
The question of what Russians are doing in Asia has preoccupied Russians more or less since the birth of Russia itself...The traditional date for the founding of "Russia" is 862. By 882, Oleg had established a strong state with its capital at Kiev...

Kievan Russia broke up into principalities in 1054 and was destroyed in 1237 to 1240 by Mongols and Tatars. The latter proceeded to dominate the Russians until 1840...Russians know the 1240 to 1480 period as the "Tatar (or Mongol) yoke," and appear never to have forgiven Asians for humiliating them.

They also appear to have developed a strong sense of mission. Under Ivan III's successor, Basil III, some Russians came to imagine themselves as the army of God and Moscow as the Third Rome...Basil's successor, Ivan the Terrible, began Russia's conquest of Siberia, and Russians continued expanding their territory into Asia until Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan. That makes nearly five hundred years of steady imperialism...
Anna Reid provides an economic explanation for Russia's claim in her luminous history of the indigenous peoples of Siberia, The Shaman's Coat, in which she cites the fur trade (seal and sea otter in the Kuriles) as fueling Russia's march through Asia:
What drew them on, swiftly and surely as gold drew the conquistadores to Peru, was fur, especially that of the ferret-like sable. Blacker than night, softer than a snowfall, sable pelts had been the ultimate status symbol since history began...

In the 1500's European demand for fur expanded, thanks to the influx of New World buillion and rise of a showy new merchant class. Chief supplier to the growing market was Russia, whose European forests were soon hunted out...

There duly appeared in Siberia a hereogeneous breed of trapper-fighter-explorers, not unlike the French woodrunners who first penetrated Canada. In theory, they divided into two categories: commercial operators, self-financed or under hire to merchants, and 'servitors' — mostly the unruly soldiers known as Cossacks — in salaried government service. In practice, they behaved so similarly and worked together so often as to be virtually indistinguishable, giving rise to a continuing debate over whether Siberia's conquest was primarily the result of conscious government policy or of haphazard private enterprise. Both groups went armed...

Like their Canadian equivalents, they travelled as far as possible by river, dragging their boats from headwater to headwater and building wooden strategic confluences...From these they set off on fur-gathering expeditions, in the rouse of which they both trapped themselves and extracted pelts, by violence or by barter, from nearby native settlements. Seduced or subjugated, each tribe's duty regularly to produce furs in the future was made official by the imposition of an oath upon its leader...

Haphazard as it was, the conquest of Siberia transformed Muscovy, helping turn it from an obscure princedom on civilisation's fringes into a great European power. Until the end of the seventeenth century, one historian estimates, the fur trade contributed more to the country's economy than any other single activity save agriculture...In 1595 Boris Dogunov was embarassed by a request from the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, for military assistance from the Turks. Not wishing to jeopardise trade with Constantinople, he compromised by sending Rudolf the pelts of 337,235 squirrel, 40,360 sable, 20,760 marten, 3,000 beaver and 1,000 wolves...

In the meantime, Siberian furs had not only lured Russia into Asia, but helped poltically consolidate the Russia state...

(Stalin with the daughter of a Buryat Party chief. Two years after this once-popular propaganda photograph was taken, her father was shot and her mother sent to a labour camp. Image: Yury Artamonov's Photo Archive

In Siberia the Russians had won themselves a continent, a land on which the sun never set, one of the biggest empires the world had even known... The indigenous people overcome by Moscow included the Khant; the Buryat (the largest indigenous group in Siberia, practitioners of shamanism and Tibetan-inspired Buddhism from the 1700's); the Tuvans (known for throat-singing and shamanism); the Sakha (Russia subjugated Sakha into forced labor long before sending political prisoners to Siberia. Stalin established Gulag forced labor camps on their land where many thousands of Sakha disappeared along with ethnic Russians); the Chukchi (their land was also a site of the Soviet Gulag. Traditionally a nomadic reindeer herders, Chukchi who resisted collectivization were sent to forced labor in mining and logging camps. Between 2-3 million Chukchi died from forced labor); the Ainu; and the Nivkh (banning the Nivkh language and culture, Soviet Russia showcased the Nivkh as a 'model' for a culture that transformed from the Neolithic age to a socialist industrial model).

From 1945-1948, Moscow forcibly deported many Nivkh, Ainu, along with half of the Sakhalin Oroks, and most Japanese to Hokkaido. Since January 2005, the descendants of the remaining Nivkh, and the Uilta, another indigenous people of Sakhalin have engaged in nonviolent protest, demanding an independent ethnological assessment of Shell's and Exxon's oil exploration off the coast of Sakhalin.

(Contemporary Buryat. Image: "A Pearl in the Forest - the movie")

Russia also deported Ainu from Kuriles to Japan (in a related attempt to undermine prior indigenous claims on the seized islands and to shift indigenous social and historical burdens to Japan). However Moscow's attempt to deny the reality of the historically-based indigenous rights of the Ainu and other indigenous people in the Kuriles and Sakhalin has not succeeded. In the past two decades, as a global indigenous rights and historical rectification movement has strengthened indigenous power, Ainu have reasserted their prior claim to the Kuriles.

The Independent reported on the Ainu claim to the Kuriles during the 1992 eruption of the Russian-Japanese dispute in "Ainu people lay ancient claim to Kurile Islands: The hunters and fishers who lost their land to the Russians and Japanese are gaining the confidence to demand their rights:"
Mr. Akibe is from the Ainu people, an ethnic minority who live mostly on Hokkaido and who have been fighting discrimination by the Tokyo government for years. 'The Kuriles are not Russian, and they are not Japanese either,' said Mr Akibe, who was wearing traditional Ainu robes and an embroidered headband. 'We were the first inhabitants of these islands, and lived there before this territorial problem even appeared.' Some Russians laughed nervously while Japanese listeners studied their shoe-laces.

Mr. Akibe produced a map of the Russian Far East, the Kurile Islands and northern Japan, showing the extent of Ainu settlements throughout the region up to the beginning of this century. Fishers and hunters, the Ainu had occupied the Kuriles for centuries before the Russians and the Japanese discovered them in the 19th century. 'You (Russians and Japanese) should both remember the historical rights of the Ainu when you conduct your negotiations,' he said.
In 2005, Ainu representatives again objected to Russian and Japanese claims of ownership:
Representatives of the Ainu nation, an indigenous group in northern Japan, issued a joint statement on November 14 to the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Tokyo claiming territorial rights to the South Kurile Islands and demanding that Japan and Russia cease talks of governmental ownership....

The Ainu explained in their statement that "the four Kurile Islands belong neither to Japan nor to Russia," and that the Ainu have inhabited the territory "since time immemorial," according to Itar-Tass News Agency.

The Ainu have asked that they be granted free access to the islands, and hope to make them an autonomous area of the Ainu nation in the future.

Scientists believe that several thousand years ago the Ainu ethnic group inhabited the whole of Japan, the lower reaches of the Amur River, the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Sakhalin and Kurile Islands.
For more on the Ainu and the breadth of their original territory, see the online presentation of The Smithsonian's pioneering exhibition, "Ainu: The Spirit of a Northern People" that reveals the magnificence of their sea-faring, trans-continental culture (incomparably more sophisticated, prosperous, and creative than the diminished and impoverished far-flung Russian satellite colony that exists in the Kuriles today).

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recognizing the individual and collective rights of the world's 370 million indigenous peoples (including the right to self-determination, and the right to give or withhold free, prior and informed consent when it comes to the exploitation of our lands, territories and resources) was adopted on September 13, 2007 following more than two decades of negotiations between governments and indigenous peoples' representatives. A majority of 143 states (including Japan, excluding Russia which abstained from voting) voted in favor of the Declaration. (Former British colonies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voted against the Declaration, but in the past three years, Australia and Canada reversed their position) In 2008, the Japanese government formally recognized the Ainu as "an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture".

(For recent coverage on Russia's continuing conflict with the indigenous people of Sakahlin, see this 2009 AFP video report. "Sakhalin Energy Project Hampering the Nivkh's traditional lifestyle" that shows how Russian oil exploitation has been destroying what remains of the Nivkh landscape, people and culture.)


Follow-up: On November 12, Canada also reversed its position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Two Activists Speak on Palestinian Rights in Tokyo this Saturday, Nov 13, 2010

(Left: Anna Baltzer; Right: May Shigenobu)

Jewish-American writer and activist Anna Baltzer, on an international speaking tour, will be traveling throughout Japan this week to deliver a lecture titled "Peace and Human Rights in Palestine: Witnessing the Occupation."

During her presentation in Tokyo this Saturday, November 13th, Baltzer will be joined by journalist May Shigenobu, who will speak from her own perspectives as a Palestinian rights activist who grew up in Lebanon before relocating to Japan. Baltzer will speak in Kyoto on November 16th at Kyoto University.

The event promises to be an interesting and informative one, and the organizers welcome all interested persons to attend!

Date/Time: November 13th, 2010 (Sat.)1:30 PM (doors open at 1:00)

Entry fee: Free

Venue: Daito Bunka Kaikan Hall, Daito Bunka University, Itabashi campus Tokumaru 2-4-21 (5-minute walk from Tobu Nerima station)

Access: From the North exit of Tobu Nerima station (which is 15 min. from Ikebukuro on the Tobu Tojo line), turn right at the first road (you will see Mister Donut on the corner). Daito Bunka Kaikan Hall is on the left side of this road after a 2-3 minute walk.

Organizers: JALT (Japan Association of Language Teachers) Gunma, GILE (Global Issues in Language Education)

Additional supporting organizations: ABAX ELT publishers, GALE (Gender Awareness for Language Education), CUE, Peace Not War Japan

About Anna Baltzer:

Anna Baltzer is a Columbia University graduate, former Fulbright scholar, and the granddaughter of Holocaust refugees. As a volunteer with the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank, Baltzer documented human rights abuses and supported Palestinian-led nonviolent resistance to the Occupation.

She has appeared on television more than 100 times (most recently "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") and lectured at more than 400 universities, schools, churches, mosques, and synagogues around the world presenting, "Life in Occupied Palestine: Eyewitness Stories & Photos," and discussing her book, Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories.

In 2009, Baltzer received the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee's prestigious Annual Rachel Corrie Peace & Justice Award and a Certificate of Commendation from the Governor of Wisconsin for her commitment to justice in the Holy Land. She is a contributor to four books on the subject, including Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation. She serves on the Middle East committee of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Board of Directors of The Research Journalism Institute, Grassroots Jerusalem, and Council for the National Interest.

For more information, please see Anna's website and her blog.

Anna will also present in several other Japanese cities during her tour of the country. The schedule for her speaking tour is available here.

About May Shigenobu:

May was born in Lebanon. She graduated from the American University of Beirut in Political Science and Public Administration, where she went on to become a graduate student in International Relations in addition to studying Journalism at the Lebanese University. She relocated to Japan in 2001, when she also obtained Japanese citizenship--having previously not been recognized as a citizen of any country. She now works as a preparatory school teacher and a freelance reporter for Middle Eastern television from Japan. She also regularly gives lectures and serves as a commentator on such topics as Palestinian rights, the Arab world and Islamic culture, and Middle Eastern-related political issues (including those relating to Iraqis and Kurds).

May is a doctorate candidate at Doshisha University in Kyoto, specializing in effects of Middle Eastern satellite broadcasting. She became an anchor in 2005 for the APF NEWS online program "The Olive Journal", and also worked as an assistant anchor for the Cable News Channel Asahi Newstar's program "Nyuusu no shinsou" ("In-depth News") until April 2010. She is the author of two books: Secrets - From Palestine to the Country of Cherry Trees, 28 Years With My Mother (2002) and From the Ghettos of the Middle East (2003). She is also featured in the film Children of the Revolution, which will screen later this month at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. More information is available here.

Palestine Eye

Post-event followup: See report of this amazing event at subsequent Ten Thousand Things post here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

20th Sunagawa Aki Matsuri remembers past struggles as it celebrates autumn

The soaring birds seem to ask:
Who created borders between countries?
Grass, birds, humans…
All are the same living beings.

Yesterday, in a tiny park located within the western metropolitan Tokyo city of Tachikawa, a collection of artists, musicians, political activists, local food growers, and community folks of all ages gathered for the 20th annual Sunagawa Aki Matsuri (Autumn Festival).

While the food stalls, children’s games, and overall festive atmosphere may have made the event appear to be just like any other neighborhood gathering, in fact there was a deeper story lying underneath the surface. Put in context of events occurring in the same vicinity 54 years earlier, the energy of the festival resonated with what might be described as pain that has been transformed into joy.

In October 1956, in land adjacent to the park, a collection of farmers, students, Buddhist monks, and other sympathetic citizens gathered to stop a group of surveyors and police officers who had come to measure the land for expansion of the nearby Tachikawa Airbase. The facility served as a launchpad for U.S. B-29 bomber planes, and plans were afoot to swallow up even more local farmland surrounding the existing base. When the protesters refused to back down, police began attacking them with batons. 500 people were wounded, resulting in a national outcry. Three days later, largely as a result of this fallout, the government canceled the surveys.

Dennis Banks, a Native American organizer and co-founder of the American Indian Movement, was stationed at the airbase at the time and witnessed the bloody melee of officers brutalizing the defenseless crowd, which included students as well as monks rhythmically beating their drums. When I had the fortune to speak with him several years ago in Hiroshima, he told me that this experience had had a huge impact on his psyche—and was one of the factors that helped lead him away from the U.S. military and into a life of activism.

The organizers of the Sunagawa Autumn Festival include several people who vividly remember the protests, and who view the event as a chance to help keep history alive. One such person is Katsuko Kato, the founder of the watchdog group Tachikawa Self-Defense Force Tent-Mura (known simply as Tent-Mura, or "Tent Village"). In 2004, three members of the organization were arrested and prosecuted after placing anti-war flyers in the mailboxes of a Japanese Self-Defense Force housing unit. Despite eventually losing at the Tokyo High Court to charges of trespassing, members still remain determined that peace and justice will prevail.

One case in point: at the edge of the park stands a small sign stating that the land is government property and not to be trespassed on. Holding the annual autumn festival there, as well as growing vegetables year-round in the adjacent field, therefore serve as small acts of civil disobedience on the part of organizers. Even in the face of government opposition, they continue to utilize the land to farm in peace--the natural, life-affirming purpose for which they believe it was always intended.

The daikon radish leaves rustle in the blue sky:
Autumn has arrived in Sunagawa.
Even the persimmon trees in the park
Beckon smiling visitors
As they continue to yearn for a true peace.

Left: Panel display featuring this year's festival theme of U.S. military bases in Okinawa

Right: Dancers dressed as yanbaru kuina (a bird native to the Yanbaru forest of Okinawa, which is now under threat of U.S. military construction of helipads for Osprey helicopters)

For more on the history of the Sunagawa Struggle, see this excellent article by Hasegawa Kenji.

--Kimberly Hughes

Poetry is from the Sunagawa Aki Matsuri event flyer (translations are my own).

Photos by Ishihara Mikiko

Text by Kimberly Hughes