Friday, July 16, 2010

Historian Masanao Kano: "Tokyo must answer Okinawa's cries of agony"

Many thanks to the Asahi for publishing renowned historian Masanao Kano's "Tokyo must answer Okinawa's cries of agony." Kano, a "people's historian," focuses on the voices of ordinary Okinawans, not those of Washington-Tokyo politicians, in his July 14 analysis of the history of US military bases in Okinawa:
Tokyo and Washington have reached a new agreement on the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture. While the accord is extremely close to the existing plan, there are also signs that the Okinawa problem might move forward, albeit slightly.

Last year's change of government gave hope to the people of Okinawa that they may finally be about to part company with the politics of necessitarianism; in doing so, they inevitably made the U.S. bases problem one that does not concern Okinawa alone, but the entire nation. The movement to reject U.S. military bases started with a sit-in protest in Nago's Henoko district at the close of the last century, and has already reached the stage of no-return.

As a mainlander, while shaken by the events in Okinawa, I feel the situation has given rise to a wide variety of flashpoints that could spark ideological controversy. Why does Okinawa alone have to suffer? The frustration and anger that arose among residents led to cries of "discrimination" and a "rift" with the rest of Japan.

With Okinawa's agony etched in my mind, I can recognize that at least two major questions are being addressed to us.

One is that the core assertion of Okinawans is not "relocation" of U.S. bases but their "removal" and "closure" altogether. The assertion is based on three political viewpoints:

* Their judgment that they do not need the U.S. Marine presence;

* Their refusal to entertain any attempt to strengthen the functions of the bases in the guise of relocation; and

* Their determination that they will no longer accept the status quo of having to make an agonizing choice or settle for second best.

Another reason they argue for the removal and closure of the bases is that they don't want to pass their burdens on to others through relocation of the facilities.

In short, their awareness is changing. They are now hoping to exist without bases, as many mainland people do, instead of continuing to share the sufferings of other base-hosting communities.

In trying to sever the negative chain reaction of shared suffering, they are also trying to fight on behalf of Tokunoshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture as well as Guam and Tinian in the western Pacific Ocean, thereby transcending national borders.

They are concerned that the rights to self-determination of those islanders could be disregarded.

The other point is that the vast majority of Okinawans share the historical view that their island prefecture's primary role for the past 65 years has been to serve as a site for U.S. military bases.

Okinawa reverted to Japanese sovereignty in 1972. But the significance of that date is rapidly fading in their minds.

When the hand-over of sovereignty was decided in the late 1960s, Seizen Nakasone (1907-1995), a teacher who led the Himeyuri student corps, a group of female high school students who served as a nursing unit for the Imperial Japanese Army during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, heaved a sigh of grief. He said, "For the past 24 years, we have been calling for reversion to Japan. What we achieved is the situation in which we must keep repeating, from square one, the movement to call for a reduction of bases."

Looking back, we realize that is precisely what Okinawa has kept doing, just as Nakasone predicted.

This status aroused anger and grief among Okinawans because they thought that Okinawa had yet to enter the postwar period in a proper sense. At the time of the Battle of Okinawa, Tokyo positioned Okinawa as "a sacrifice stone." U.S. forces occupying the island saw it as "a keystone."

It means that the Japanese government is trying to use Okinawa as a sacrifice stone to host the new base, which is a keystone for security policy. It also ensures that the new base is not built on the mainland.

Okinawa has been forced to bear the excessive burden of hosting bases under the pretext of deterrence in the event of emergencies. This "abnormal" situation has lasted so long that local people are numb to it. In that sense, the rejection of bases is none other than a declaration of their determination to take a new approach to the longstanding issue.

Okinawans have had many years to fine-tune their thoughts on the inequality they face in hosting so many U.S. bases. That is all the more reason they form those questions directly at the mainland.

It behooves us to squarely face another question; that is, whether the mainland has really thought about military emergencies. Rather, have we not taken the Japan-U.S. security alliance for granted and, in the process, become lackadaisical? These questions punch home.

So, how should we answer these questions posed by Okinawa? I believe what the Japanese government must do at this juncture is not to focus on the problem as a domestic issue but hold face-to-face talks with Washington and the U.S. military.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. As a political problem, the movement in Okinawa put before us the question whether the Japan-U.S. security system should be kept as it is. It may be a distant goal to abolish the security alliance.

But at least the government should present a package of three proposals:

* That the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement be revised;

* That sympathy budget allocations for U.S. forces stationed in Japan be scrapped; and

* That the Futenma airfield be closed.

Only when it does, can this year be the start of the process to re-examine the security alliance. I think voicing such thoughts is the least we can do to respond to the cries of agony of Okinawa.

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