Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Takae under V-22 Osprey helipad construction siege, despite 1996 promise to return forest (used by US for weapons testing & war training) to Okinawa

Takae residents block a military construction truck on July 20, 2012. 
(Photo: Takae Blog)

Encompassing 64,000 acres of mountainous land in northern Okinawa, Yanbaru subtropical rainforest is home to 4,000 species of wildlife, including many endemic endangered species. Yanbaru provides Okinawa with the majority of its drinking water. Because of its ecological significance and biodiversity, Yanbaru is slated for recognition as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

Tragically, the subtropical rainforest of Yambaru, an ecoregion that includes Henoko's coral reef and dugong ecosystem, has endured a battle for survival since 1957, when the US military seized vast acreage to create a "jungle warfare" training ground to prepare American soldiers to fight for "democracy" in Southeast Asia.

During the Vietnam War, the US used Yanbaru to practice "jungle" war games and to test Agent Orange. More recently, the US has been using the delicate subtropical rainforest as a site for low-level helicopter and V-22 Osprey aircraft  flight practice for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Vietnam War years, residents of Takae, an eco-village in Yambaru, were made to dress like "Viet Cong" to make US warfare training more realistic. Even with the end of the Vietnam War, the American soldiers never left; instead, their next target appeared Takae itself.

Since 2007, residents of Takae, have been protesting US insistence upon the forced destruction of some of the best preserved part of the forest (adjacent to their village) to make way for US military V-22 Osprey aircraft training helipads.

Japan-based Welsh journalist Jon Mitchell wrote about the Takae residents' struggle in "Postcard from...Takae," in an Oct. 5. 2010 article at  Foreign Policy in Focus:
The residents of Takae, a small village in the hills of northern Okinawa, are no strangers to the American military. Since 1957, they’ve been living next to the world’s largest jungle warfare training center - and many of them are old enough to remember the days when the U.S. Marine Corps hired locals to dress up as Vietcong for its war games.

The 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa was supposed to reduce the U.S. presence in the area. Convened to quell public fury over the rape of a 12-year old girl, it pledged to return large swathes of military land to Okinawan residents - including over half of the jungle training center. As the months passed, however, the promise failed to materialize. Even when a Marine helicopter crashed near Takae’s elementary school in 1999, the daily bombing runs and roof-high helicopter sorties continued unabated.

Then, in 2006, the U.S. military made an announcement. Before returning the territory, it first wanted to build six new [V-22 Osprey aircraft] helipads on the land it was retaining on the outskirts of the village. The residents repeatedly lodged complaints with the prefectural and national governments, but they were ignored. In 2007, construction crews from the Okinawa Defense Bureau arrived to start laying the foundations for the 250-foot helipads. Takae’s villagers were waiting for them. They linked arms to block the gates to the worksite, they surrounded the trucks and appealed to the builders to stop their work. When they refused to listen, the protesters sat in the way of their heavy machinery. But the crews continued to unload bags of cement over their heads. Only when the police arrived did construction stop out of concern for public safety.

Since that day, over 10,000 locals, mainland Japanese, and foreign nationals have participated in a non-stop sit-in outside the planned helipad sites. So far, they’ve managed to thwart any further construction attempts. At small marquee tents, the villagers greet visitors with cups of tea and talk them through their campaign, highlighting their message with hand-written leaflets and water-stained maps...
Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy analyst John Feffer followed up in "Okinawans continue to resist in Takae" published at HuffPost on Feb. 25, 2011:
Some animals should be endangered. Consider the V-22 Osprey. The tilt-rotor aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane, costs more than a $100 million apiece, killed 30 personnel in crashes during its development stage, and survived four attempts by none other than Dick Cheney to deep-six the program. Although it is no longer as crash-prone as it once was, the Osprey's performance in Iraq was still sub-par and it remains a woefully expensive creature. Although canceling the program would save the U.S. government $10-12 billion over the next decade, the Osprey somehow avoided the budget axe in the latest round of cuts on Capitol Hill.

It's bad enough that U.S. taxpayers have to continue to support the care and feeding of this particular Osprey. Worse, we're inflicting the bird on others.

In a small village in the Yanbaru Forest in northern Okinawa, the residents of Takae have been fighting non-stop to prevent the construction of six helipads designed specifically for the V-22. The protests have been going on since the day in 2007 when Japanese construction crews tried to prepare the site for the helipads.
Tokyo's forced subtropical rainforest destruction and military construction on behalf of the US military V-22 Osprey testing and flight training program began again in early 2012; then stopped during the spring because of local community disapproval and widespread protest.

However, the Japanese government has submitted to the Obama administration's insistence on using Okinawa as a training ground for US military V-22 Osprey  (and mainland Japan, including Tohoku) despite increasing opposition over public security and environmental degradation. Okinawans are angry that Washington refuses to give them the same consideration as accorded to Colorado residents who put a stop to V-22 Osprey flight testing and training in their backyards, citing similar concerns of safety, noise, and pollution.

See more information on Yanbaru here and at the Takae blog (in Japanese).

See this post about the plan to test/flight train V-22 Osprey throughout mainland Japan and Okinawa.

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