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Department of Ironic Defense


Like so many other US military bases overseas, the Okinawan locals who oppose the base are told that the US military is there to protect them. Indigenous opposition is brushed aside by the presumption of position–there is one way to protect people and the US military is the best at it.

Increasingly, Okinawans resist such arguments. Land usurpation, sovereignty cancelation, foreigners with guns who commit crimes with legal and extralegal immunity, infernal jet and truck noise at all hours, clogged roads and traffic accidents, human trafficking and military personnel sexual crimes against locals, ruined coastline, contaminated air and water, military aircraft crashes, massive local resource consumption and the endless experience of living under occupation frustrate indigenous Okinawans and they are not alone. Who’s watching the watchers? has now become protect us from the protectors.

The latest small but telling twist of profound irony is the discovery that a US Kadena Air Force base building used to screen children for developmental concerns has drinking fountains that have been delivering water-borne lead to those children for many years–even despite reports that the lead content was at unsafe levels in that building more than a decade ago.

A single incident like this is alarming to locals who want the foreigners to leave–isn’t 69 years of foreign military occupation enough to assess and neutralize the Okinawans’ desire to conquer the world? But this happened at similar buildings on two other US military bases last year in Okinawa. Thanks for your care for the children, US military! Please show even more care and leave, at long last.

It has never stopped hurting Okinawans that they have been repeatedly devastated by foreigners and many even regard Japanese as foreigners. As usual, the UN is far ahead of the US on this question, pointing to history of independence and national separation so profound that even the islands’ (an arc of them some 683 miles long) unique flora and fauna–and human culture–should be respected and preserved as sovereign.

One of the four primary steps in principled negotiation is to insist on fair standards. This has been a failure at every level of this occupation for nearly 70 years. This small but telling issue of lead in the water (yes, the fountains have been ordered disconnected, presumably by a touchingly sensitive USAF public relations officer) is an example of abuse of those standards. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. No lead at all is the only safe standard. So of course the USAF decided that 20 ppb is a safe standard. The child development buildings had levels even in excess of that manipulated ‘safe’ standard. This is a bit like the state legislature of Indiana almost declaring a new value for pi in 1897 (3.2, much simpler). Neither that legislature nor the USAF gets to change reality to suit their fancy.

The only thing worse than all the occupation for almost seven decades is the Asian Pivot, sending massive US military forces to that region, presumably to protect everyone from China. It is time to pivot home, to stand down, to close foreign bases and stop polluting everyone else’s countries. There is enough remediation to do back here in the US. There are hundreds of US taxpayer $billions to be saved doing this, and a huge amount of goodwill we can generate by closing down, cleaning up, and coming home. It’s time.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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