FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Preventing the Next Battle of Okinawa

by JON MITCHELL

During the Battle of Okinawa, thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire as U.S. and Japanese troops waged one of the final – and bloodiest –  fights of World War Two. The combat lasted for more than three months, devastated the south and centre of the island and forced starving refugees to flee to the relative safety of the north. There, they turned to the place which had always sustained them during difficult times – the sea.

One of the areas whose seaweed, fish and shellfish provided relief for traumatized survivors was Cape Henoko. Located on the north east shore of Okinawa, Henoko is still held special by many elderly Okinawans who remember the way its bounty supported them – and today, it remains one of the environmentally-richest areas in Japan. Home to mangrove forests, sea turtles and a large colony of endangered blue coral, in 2009, researchers from the World Wildlife Fund discovered 36 new species of crustaceans. For many people, what makes the place so unique is its population of dugong – a relative of the Florida manatee and once revered as a mythical animal by Okinawans – whose tell-tale grazing trenches have been spotted throughout the area.

For decades, this abundance of nature has existed uneasily alongside a sprawling U.S. marine base, Camp Schwab. During the 1960s, the installation housed nuclear warheads and U.S. veterans claim that Agent Orange was stored there in large quantities; run-off from the defoliant has been blamed for wiping out the area’s seaweed farms.

Now, Henoko faces a threat even more serious than these weapons of mass destruction – the construction of a new US military base. If built, the installation will bury beneath concrete between 120 and 160 hectares of the bay – wiping out the dugongs’ pastures, destroying swaths of coral and disrupting the very currents which make the bay and the surrounding seas so alive. Just as harmful is the extinction of local fishing crews’ trade, the constant roar of low-flying aircraft and the 24-7 threat of accidents.

Although the Pentagon first spelled out plans for a new base in Henoko in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, its most recent incarnation dates to the mid-1990s. Following the gang-rape of an Okinawan school girl by U.S. service members, Tokyo and Washington attempted to placate Okinawans’ rage with a promise to shut the marine corps base in Futenma – the widely-feared installation in the urban heart of the island. But this closure would come at a price – before Futenma was returned to civilian usage, Washington demanded that a replacement facility be found. The Pentagon saw this as their chance finally to get the Henoko base it had been wanting for 40 years – a particularly sweet deal given the fact that the cost of its construction – currently estimated at $2 billion – would be entirely financed by Japanese tax-payers.

In preparation for the destruction of Henoko, the Japanese government began a survey of the area in April 2004. The response of Okinawans and their supporters was immediate. Over the next 18 months, 60,000 people – many of them old enough to recall firsthand how the bay’s bounty had saved them during World War Two – embarked upon a three-front campaign of civil disobedience. On the land, they lay down in front of bulldozers. When the government attempted to bypass them by heading out to sea, demonstrators took to canoes. Beneath the waves, some protesters donned scuba tanks and confronted government divers. Faced with such overwhelming opposition, in September 2005, the Japanese government backed down.

But it hadn’t given up.

Over the next years, both Tokyo and Washington persisted with the plan – holding Okinawa residents to ransom with a refusal to close dangerous Futenma until the new base had been built. Meanwhile, the Japanese government poured sweeteners into the island amounting to $3 billion a year -which did very little to dent poverty in Japan’s poorest prefecture.

Having completed its seriously-flawed environmental assessments (which unsurprisingly claim the environmental impact of decimating Henoko is minimal), now all Tokyo needs is one final legal requirement – the approval of Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima.

The 73-year old politician is in a difficult position.

Nakaima is a member of the Prime Minister’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party but he has staunchly refused to support the Henoko base plan – making him a renegade and outcast in his own party. Tokyo has a variety of underhand techniques with which they can pressure him to sign – they might threaten to withhold funds set aside for Okinawa or even sue him as they did Masahide Ota, the former governor who refused to renew land leases for U.S. bases in 1996.

Public opposition to the Henoko Base is adamant – a 2012 newspaper poll found that 90% Okinawa residents oppose the plan and the leaders of all 41 of the island’s municipalities are also against it.

Out of this determination, a citizens’ movement has sprung up to fortify the will of the governor. Called the “Postcard campaign to save Henoko and Oura Bay,” hundreds of people from all over Japan and overseas have begun inundating the governor’s office with messages of solidarity.

Dr Masami Kawamura, the organizer of the campaign, says that its goal is simple. “We need to show the governor our support. We want him to stand firm and protect Oura Bay for future generations.”

School children have sent hand-drawn cards decorated with manga-cute dugong. Parents have sent pictures of their own children urging the governor to think about his legacy. Postcards have poured in from overseas.

The designs might be diverse but the message is united: Henoko is one of the world’s treasures and it needs to be protected – not buried beneath millions of tons of concrete.

Okinawa has already been destroyed by one war – and its residents know only too well that bases never protect civilians, they only make them more of a target.

These are dangerous days for the island. The governor – and the people of Okinawa – need all the support they can get.

Governor Hirokazu Nakaima

Secretariat Division,

Okinawa Prefecture,

Izumizaki,

Naha City,

Okinawa, Japan

900-8570

If you would like your postcard to be included on Dr Kawamura’s wall of support please take a snapshot before posting and email it to: http://postcardcampaignsavehenoko.blogspot.jp/

Email: okinawaor[at]gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 01, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Hillary: Ordinarily Awful or Uncommonly Awful?
Pam Martens
Clinton Says Wall Street Banks Aren’t the Threat, But Her Platform Writers Think They are
Jason Hirthler
Washington’s Not-So-Invisible Hand: It’s Not Economics, It’s Empire
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Marx on Financial Bubbles: Much Keener Insights Than Contemporary Economists
Pete Dolack
Brexit Will Only Count if Everybody Leaves the EU
Evan Jones
Ancillary Lessons from Brexit
Aidan O'Brien
Brexit: the English and Welsh Enlightenment
Jeremy R. Hammond
How Turkey’s Reconciliation Deal with Israel Harms the Palestinians
Margaret Kimberley
Beneficial Chaos: the Good News About Brexit
Phyllis Bennis
From Paris to Istanbul, More ‘War on Terror’ Means More Terrorist Attacks
Ishmael Reed
OJ and Jeffrey Toobin: Black Bogeyman Auctioneer
Ron Jacobs
Let There Be Rock
Ajamu Baraka
Paris, Orlando and Turkey: Displacing the Narrative of Western Innocence
Robert Fantina
The First Amendment, BDS and Third-Party Candidates
David Rosen
Whatever Happened to Utopia?
Andre Vltchek
Brexit – Let the UK Screw Itself!
Jonathan Latham
107 Nobel Laureate Attack on Greenpeace Traced Back to Biotech PR Operators
Steve Horn
Fracked Gas LNG Exports Were Centerpiece In Promotion of Panama Canal Expansion, Documents Reveal
Robert Koehler
The Right to Bear Courage
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Spin Masquerading as Science Courtesy of “Shameful White Men of Privilege”
Binoy Kampmark
Who is Special Now? The Mythology Behind the US-British Relationship
Mark B. Baldwin
Russia to the Grexit?
Andrew Wimmer
Killer Grief
Manuel E. Yepe
Sanders, Socialism and the New Times
Franklin Lamb
ISIS is Gone, But Its Barbarity Still Haunts Palmyra
Mark Weisbrot
A Policy of Non-Intervention in Venezuela Would be a Welcome Change
Cesar Chelala
How Tobacco Became the Opium War of the 21st Century
Joseph Natoli
How We Reached the Point Where We Can’t Hear Each Other
Andrew Stewart
Skip “Hamilton” and Read Gore Vidal’s “Burr”
Christopher Brauchli
Educating Kansas
George Wuerthner
Ranching and the Future of the Sage Grouse
Thomas Knapp
Yes, a GOP Delegate Revolt is Possible
Gilbert Mercier
Democracy Is Dead
Andy Piascik
The Hills of Connecticut: Where Theatre and Life Became One
Charles R. Larson
Mychal Denzel Smith’s “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: a Young Black Man’s Education”
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Four Morning Ducks
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail