Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jon Mitchell: "What awaits Okinawa 40 years after reversion?"

(Photo: The Japan Times)
"Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, but the Okinawan people's hopes for peace were not fulfilled, and Okinawa was used to strengthen US military power. So, this monument is not an expression of joy nor victory."

- Inscription on a monument at Kunigami Village, Cape Hedo, at the most northern point of Okinawa
Via The Japan Times, Jon Mitchell's sensitive and comprehensive, "What awaits Okinawa 40 years after reversion? Looking back at Okinawa's troubled past — and forward to its uncertain future," explores concerns expressed by former Governor Masahide Ota, over widespread US military environmental contamination of the prefecture:
On May 15, 1972, Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan once again. Up until then, for 27 years since World War II — when the islands endured some of the most intense fighting of the entire brutal conflict — Okinawa had been under U.S. military administration, so reversion to Japanese rule should have heralded more peaceful and prosperous times...

"Even if MCAS Futenma is returned tomorrow, it may be decades before it can be put to civilian use due to contamination of the land. Take for example Onna Communication Site; the U.S. military gave it back almost 20 years ago but we still can't use it because that ground is contaminated with seven different toxic chemicals."

As for removal of the other U.S. military facilities on Okinawa, there is little impetus to encourage the U.S. to vacate them. Japanese taxpayers contribute ¥190 billion a year for the upkeep of their runways, mess halls and golf courses, making it cheaper for the Pentagon to keep its troops on the islands than bring them home.

But even a U.S. exit tomorrow couldn't turn back the clock on the almost 70 years during which the U.S. military has used the bases to store (and sometimes dump) a witches' brew of poisonous materials — from Nike nuclear missiles and mustard gas in the 1960s, to depleted-uranium munitions in the '90s and, currently, irradiated equipment from its relief operations near Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Recent revelations from the pages of The Japan Times have added Agent Orange — the Vietnam War defoliant containing large volumes of extremely toxic dioxin — to this list of pollutants on the U.S. bases...

In the past, no matter what form of contamination, and despite protests from the prefecture and local residents, the U.S. government has repeatedly refused to foot the bill for the massive clean-up costs of former bases. Quite how it will approach the issue of Agent Orange contamination remains to be seen.

For Ota, this environmental threat far outweighs the danger most usually cited to justify the continued American military presence — China [an unlikely military aggressor as Tokyo's largest trading partner].

No comments: