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
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail