Thursday, August 14, 2014

Struggle for the Soul of Okinawa: "I saw so many military boats in the sea around 7 a.m. It reminds me of 1945."

Henoko on August 14, 2014. (Photo: Chie Mikami on FB)

Film director Chie Mikami on August 14, 2014, on location at Henoko : "I saw so many military boats in the sea around 7a.m. It reminds me of the history of Okinawa, year: 1945."

Today the Japanese government sent a military flotilla to Henoko, Okinawa, to put up buoys and patrol an "exclusion zone" in their plan to force drilling, dredging, landfill, and construction of a US military base at the the Sea of Henoko.  Observers said there were so many vessels, they were uncountable.

Japanese military flotilla surrounds the Sea of Henoko - August 2014. (Image: Ryukyu Shimpo)

US amphibious assault on Okinawa in 1945. 

Local residents have been protested and staved off repeated attempts military base construction at the dugong habitat and coral reef—the most biodiverse and best in Okinawa—since 1962. The current struggle has been ongoing for 18 years.

They are led by the Henoko elders, child survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, the Pacific War's worst battle, and the only battle fought on Japanese territory.  In 1997, they created the “Inochi o Mamoru Kai” (Society for the Protection of Life) to oppose the destruction of the Henoko Sea, which fed them during the Battle of Okinawa, when there were no other food sources. The dugong and the sea both reflect and symbolize the Okinawan core value of Nuchi du Takara: the sanctity of life and the right to life for nature that nurtures life, and human right to live in peace.

85-year-old Fumiko Shimabukuro speaks at a June 28 rally at the Henoko Tent City sit-in. 
During the Battle of Okinawa, she suffered burns from American flamethrowers 
while hiding in a small cave with members of her family and three other families. 
Mrs. Shibakukuro joined the Tent City sit-in on the beach in 1996, when the plan was first announced.
 Mrs. Shimabukuro told the media in Dec. 2013, “This (approval) is not the end. As long as I am alive, 
I will continue to fight the government’s plans." (Photo: New Wave to HOPE)]

The islands have only been a part of Japan only since the late 1800s, when the Meiji government seized the Ryukyu Kingdom and renamed it Okinawa Prefecture. At the end of the Pacific War, knowing defeat was inevitable, the Japanese militarist government used Okinawa as a sacrificial pawn in a battle of attrition against the U.S. The fighting destroyed all the material culture on Okinawa Island and killed around 140,000 Okinawans, one third of the Okinawan population. After the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty were signed in 1951, Okinawa Prefecture was under U.S. military rule until 1972.  While Okinawa constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan's land area, more than 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan were built there. Even after reversion to Japanese rule, the military bases remained.

Okinawans are comparing the forced expansion at Henoko not only to 1945, but also to the traumatic "Bayonets and Bulldozers" period of the 1950's, when the US military used coercion and violence to seize entire villages, the best farmland, the best coastland, utaki (sacred sites), and ancestral tombs throughout Okinawa prefecture to make way for  base expansion. Both Futenma in the middle of Ginowan City and Camp Schwab next to Henoko were built on forcibly acquired Okinawan private property.

This was also the period that the all-Okinawan nonviolent movement began. 250,000 rallied on June 30,1956 in Naha and Koza (Okinawa City). The Japanese and international media covered the struggle, generating global attention. The then president of the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the US Army asking it to halt land seizures and related human rights violations. Most of this history has been buried outside of Okinawa. However the Battle of Okinawa and "Bayonets and Bulldozers" remain a living part of the present for Okinawans who see the ongoing struggles as not new "anti-base" protests, but, instead, part of the latest chapter in a seventy-year struggle for property rights, human rights, environmental protection, democracy and peace in the islands of Okinawa.

Okinawan women protest US military seizure of their homes and land in Isahama (Ginowan) in July 1955.
Between 1954 and 1955, the US military forced owners from their property Isahama, 
to make way for the construction of Camp Zukeran, a training base and launchpad for the US war in Vietnam. 
(Photo: Okinawa Prefectural Government)).

In 1957, the US Army constructed Camp Schwab on land acquired by coercion that the Japanese government "leases" for the US  from local owners. The 5,000-acre base is used for live-fire and amphibious assault training, and the 300-acre Henoko ordnance depot, stores ammunition for most of the U.S. Pacific command.

In 1962, the US government began bombing the coral reef to build a military port. This blasts killed large numbers of fish and marine life.  Local resistance halted the destruction then (and again in 2004, the last time the Japanese government attempted a forced construction).

During the US military build-up in Okinawa during the Vietnam War, outsider organized crime gangs came to Henoko to open more bars and brothels. Members of the military trafficked drugs from Southeast Asia and sold military property in the black market. There were two discrete worlds in Henoko: the traditional fishing and farming village and a foreign wartime military subculture, serviced by a seedy, parasitic organized criminal subculture. Locals don't want to see the latter resurrected again, which would happen if the base construction continues.

Okinawan author Tatsuhiro Oshiro has written about Okinawa as a "sacrifice zone" where state power imposes sacrifice upon the weak.  In 2011, Oshiro published Futenma yo (To Futenma), a book of short stories that explores the human consequences of governmental abuses of power. In the first story, Oshiro addresses the history of Futenma through a family whose home and land was taken to expand the training base. The story ends with the heroine continuing to perform a traditional Ryukyu dance although the musical accompaniment is drowned out by the noise from U.S. aircraft training. Her determination symbolizes local Okinawan culture that refuses to be defeated by the heavy oppression of military bases. Oshiro explains. "My intention was to write about the identity of the Okinawan people who want to weave our history together and regain the land that's steeped with memories."

Oshiro's story also reflects the roots of the fierce struggle over Henoko, which may be viewed as an ongoing chapter of a continuation of the post-1945 struggle of Okinawans, a traditionally pacifist people, for recovery of local determination of their land and society.  Postwar U.S. military rule followed the Imperial Japanese pattern of using force to impose a militarist culture upon the islands.

Okinawans are fighting for their soul at Henoko, a place steeped in what little of traditional Okinawan culture survived: the living sea and the living Okinawa dugong, a cherished, sacred icon. After the Pacific War's destruction of almost all material culture, all that was left was the natural environment and intangible culture. The dugong and the sea, symbols Nuchi du Takara, the sanctity of life and the right to life for nature that nurtures life, and human right to live in peace are cultural forms of the Okinawan message to the world for 70 years, their dedicated witness for Nuchi du Takara was borne out of the wartime devastation they suffered because of a Japanese war with the United States.

Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Okinawa has become a focus for the study of peace because of the Battle of Okinawa, and  because Okinawans continue to appeal for relief from U.S. military bases and US military expansion in their prefecture. Former Governor (1990-1998) Masahide Ota, a child survivor of the battle, created  Okinawa International Peace Research Institute to study war and peace,  to introduce traditional Okinawa peace culture to the world, to lead Okinawa's transformation to an "island of peace," and build a global peace network, and to promote positive peace, peace education, and a peace economy.

Upper House Member of Parliament, Ms. Keiko Itokazu, 
protesting the Japanese government's installation of buoys to create an exclusion zone 
for drilling into and landfilling over live coral and dugong habitat at the Sea of Henoko.

Henoko residents had been supported by an all-Okinawa political coalition until late last year, when under claimed duress by the Japanese government, the current governor broke his 2010 campaign promise to protect Henoko, and signed an approval for landfill that was predicated on environmental protection information certified by engineers, not marine biologists or ecologists.

However, this summer the movement regrouped at the "All-Okinawa Conference" held in Ginowan City on July 27, to an overflowing crowd, under the banner:  “Stop the Enforced Henoko Works - Okinawa United in Resolve."  Takazato Suzuyo, who has long been involved in the movement for human rights and against base and military-related violence against women, issued a call, “At this gathering of people from all over Okinawa let us affirm our determination to really stop Henoko!”The conference resolution concluded:
We reject any future for Okinawa that would continue to be dominated by the bases. It is our duty to pass on to our children an Okinawan future full of hope and we have every right to build freely and with our own hands a truly Okinawan caring society.
July 27 "All-Okinawa" conference in Ginowan City. (Photo: Ken Shindo on FB)

Henoko residents have also been long supported by global peace, democracy, faith-based, and especially environmental advocates who repeatedly praise the wetlands, mangrove forests, rivers that make up the unique and delicate biodiversity of the Sea of Henoko's ecoregion. Its coral reef, the best in Okinawa, is renowned among marine biologists for its vitality and unique species. Most of the coral reefs at Okinawa Island are dead from landfill, pollution, and disease. The Sea of Henoko also has the largest and best seagrass beds, thus habitat, for the Okinawan dugong. The adjacent Sea of Kayo also has seagrass beds, but they're small, and planned landfill and base construction would degrade and eventually destroy them.

The dugong, a sacred icon, is of great cultural and historical significance in Okinawa.
(Image: Ryukyu Postal’s stamp to commemorate the Okinawa dugong's designation 
as a natural monument in 1966 (Via Save the Dugong Campaign Center)

In 1955, the Okinawa dugong, a revered and sacred animal for native Okinawans, was designated as a protected cultural monument by the autonomous Ryukyu Prefecture. Since 1972, the species has also been listed by Japan's federal government as a "natural monument" under the country's Cultural Properties Protection Law. It is also protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Because of the historical and cultural importance of the critically endangered dugong, In 2004, the American environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of Okinawan, Japanese, U.S. environment protection groups, and Okinawan residents filed a federal lawsuit , the "Okinawa Dugong versus Rumsfeld," in San Francisco, asking for protections for the dugong, under the National Historic Preservation Act. The case  is still open; a 2008 ruling required the defendants to negotiate with the plaintiffs regarding environmental issues and protection of dugong habitat. The plaintiffs are still waiting for this discussion. Therefore on July 31, Earthjustice filed a new lawsuit in the same court,  asking the US government to halt construction plans.


"Okinawa’s “Darkest Year: The Battle of Okinawa, 2014," Gavan McCormack, The Asia-Pacific Journal, August 18, 2014.

“All-Okinawa Conference” Formed at Meeting of Over 2,000 People," Urashima Etsuko, The Asia-Pacific Journal, August 18, 2014.

”Assault on the Sea: A 50-Year U.S. Plan to Build a Military Port on Oura Bay, Okinawa,” Satoko Norimatsu, The Asia-Pacific Journal, July 5, 2010.

"Dugong Swimming in Uncharted Waters: US Judicial Intervention to Protect Okinawa's"Natural  Monument” and Halt Base Construction,"Hideki Yoshikawa, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Feb. 7, 2009.

” A message from Save Life Society, society for protection of all lives and livelihoods, Henoko, Okinawa, Japan,” June 26, 2008.

“Okinawan Dilemmas: Coral Islands or Concrete Islands,” Gavan McCormack, JPRI Working Paper No. 45: April 1998.

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