Monday, May 26, 2014

Nago Mayor Says US Bases “A Legacy of Misery” in Okinawa

Thanks to Susan Miyagi Hamaker at Japan Culture-NYC for her great article, "Nago Mayor Says US Bases “A Legacy of Misery” in Okinawa." Sensitive reportage with depth and integrity; excerpt:
Mayor Inamine was re-elected to his second term in January of this year, running on a platform against the construction of the [US air training and military port] base in Henoko, Oura Bay, a pristine ecosystem of mangrove forests and rivers in eastern Nago...

The mayor appeared in New York to help people understand US-Japan relations as it pertains to the military situation in Okinawa. Saying his subject matter was “a challenging theme,” Mayor Inamine began by giving a brief history lesson of US-Japan relations after World War II ended in 1945, when “Japan became a US colony and did General McArthur’s bidding, whatever he wanted,” says Mayor Inamine. In 1952 Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and regained its independence, but at the expense of Okinawa...

The main island of Okinawa comprises 0.6% of Japan’s land area and is smaller than Long Island, yet it hosts 74% of the US military bases in Japan...

Talks of returning the land which Futenma currently occupies began in 1996, when then Ambassador Walter Mondale and then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto agreed that Futenma would be returned to Okinawa in seven years. Mayor Inamine maintains that these talks started only because a year earlier, in 1995, three US military personnel raped a 12-year-old girl, sparking outrage among Okinawan citizens, who demanded the removal of the base.

(Map: Okinawa Prefectural Government)

“After they promised to return the land to Okinawa, they decided to change the conditions and say that it would be moved to a different location on Okinawa,” says Mayor Inamine. “We have struggled mightily ever since then, and we believe that in 69 years after the war, we have suffered enough under the presence of the US military bases. We have no more capacity to accept a new base on the island...”

The plans for the relocation include expansion well beyond the dimensions of the current airbase, calling for landfill to accommodate its new dimensions. The building out of the bay to create space for runways and docks will negatively impact the biodiversity of that area, effectively destroying the coral and the natural habitat for the dugong.

“They’re not just moving Futenma, they’re adding a great deal of additional facilities that now Futenma lacks,” says Mayor Inamine. “An armory for storing ammunition, ports for battleships, runways...

“Twice I stood for mayor in the election, and the biggest promise I made was that we would keep the new base out of our city, and both times I won those elections because the citizens, while they were voting ‘Yes’ to me as mayor, they also voted ‘No’ to the new base. I think that these election results speak for themselves, and they are critical for democracy. Denying those election results is denying democracy itself.”

Joining Mayor Inamine in discussion were Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University and coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, an online journal offering analysis of what’s happening in Asia, and Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies at Brown University, an Asia-Pacific Journal Associate, and translator of Okinawan literature...

“We don’t like to use that term ‘colony,’ but Okinawa was an American military colony from 1945 until 1972, and I want to ask whether it remains an American military colony today in a different sense,” says Selden. “It seems to me [the Japanese government officials] are going to have to be ready to lock up and maybe beat up the grandmothers and grandfathers that have been resisting all these years.”

Selden called Mayor Inamine the “soul of the Okinawan resistance” and “an important person to have here in America at a time when the United States is talking about an Asian pivot, expanding our military presence in Asia,” stating that it is his hope that “the voices that Mayor Inamine is so eloquently bringing to the States and the voices of others will be heard and sanity, justice, and democracy can prevail in the case of Okinawa.”

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