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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail