Okinawans Fight for End to U.S. Occupation
Tuesday, October 6, 1998
MILITARY: Philippine Senate pushes for American military bases on once-independent Pacific islands
By Ryan Masaaki Yokota
These are troubling times in which the news is a buzz with talk about the economic crises rumbling through Asia, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Russia. Yet as the news focuses on these events, there is little talk about how the United States and its corporate interests are taking advantage of these instabilities to further penetrate Asian markets through bail-outs proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Alongside of this economic push, however, the United States is also tying up its military strangleholds in Asia and is trying to establish even more of a military presence in these countries.
The main issue that has developed in recent months has been the push within the American-controlled Philippine Senate to re-establish U.S. military bases in their lands through a new Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). What this would do, in effect, is turn the Philippines into one huge military base for the United States. Yet as activists are urging the rejection of the VFA, we can look at the situation in Okinawa, Japan, to see just how terribly U.S. military forces can affect the peoples within a specific country.
To begin with, Okinawa currently is the name given to the group of islands to the south of Japan. Just as the Philippines had to deal with the direct U.S. military presence in their lands before 1992 and are now having to deal with the VFA, the people of Okinawa are still under the control of the U.S. military. Yet in a greater twist, the people of Okinawa, like many other nations in Asia, are faced with imperialism and colonialism from two imperialist nations: from not only the United States but also Japan.
To understand the complexity of this situation, it is important to know a little history. In a way, the story of Okinawa and its relationship to Japan is similar to the situation between Hawaii and the United States.
The Okinawan people were an independent nation previous to their colonization and incorporation into Japan in the 1880s, much as Hawaii was an independent island kingdom before the United States overtook it. Previous to formal annexation and colonization by the Japanese, Okinawa and the islands surrounding it were collectively known as the Ryukyu Kingdom.
The Okinawan people have always referred to themselves as Uchinanchu, a term which literally refers to "the people."
In the period after Japanese occupation, the Japanese forcibly erased much of the traditional Ryukyu language, customs and culture in the same way that Japanese colonization impacted other nations in Asia, such as Taiwan, Korea or China. In fact, Okinawa and her people were always considered as an expendable appendage of Japan, despite official language naming Okinawa as a part of Japan.
Even in the final days of the second World War, Okinawa was used as the last military staging ground of the Pacific War during the Battle of Okinawa. In that battle, Japan made an explicit move to conduct the mass of its fighting in Okinawa, so as not to have a full scale invasion on "Japanese" soil.
Additionally, in the atrocities of that battle, many Uchinanchu were forced to commit mass "suicides" by the Japanese military as their "duty to the Japanese emperor." These incidents and many others linger in the minds of many Uchinanchu who still have bitter memories of their treatment at the hands of the Japanese military.
This all changed, however, in 1945 when Japan was defeated by the United States at the end of World War II.
But it didn't change for the better.
As part of the peace treaty signed with the United States, Japan agreed to cede the islands of Okinawa to the United States in exchange for their own version of a Japanese "Marshall Plan." In essence, Japan gave Okinawa to the United States to use as a military base, and in return the United States helped Japan to rebuild its economy and be its crony in Asia.
This was the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Okinawa which lasted for 27 years, from 1945 to 1972.
In a situation analogous to places like Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico, Okinawa was forcibly annexed to the United States and had to deal with the consequences of foreign domination by the United States. This was also the beginning of the Uchinanchu's direct problems with the U.S. military and the beginning of a long record of insults and injuries, which have included rape, theft and murder of the Uchinanchu.
This is not to mention the continued use of Okinawa as a rest and relaxation facility by the U.S. military in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the vice and prostitution which that "R&R" brought to the islands.
As part of the occupation process, the Okinawan people's lands were taken without compensation, political processes were controlled, and basic rights to self-determination were negated. Even today, U.S. military bases cover 20 percent of Okinawa's total land area, or 40 percent of the island's arable soil.
Of all the U.S. military forces stationed in Japan, 75 percent of these forces are in the islands of Okinawa.
In 1972, after Okinawa reverted to Japanese control, its problems with the U.S. military did not cease, as reversion to Japan did nothing to change the complete domination of Okinawan affairs by the U.S. military bases. Numerous incidents, including rapes of women and children and killings by U.S. servicemen continued to be documented by the people of Okinawa during this time.
Following the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three U.S. servicemen, massive anti-base protest activities were organized by the Women's and Peace Movements in Okinawa.
Voicing longstanding resentment at the U.S. military presence, the people in Okinawa held continuous demonstrations, culminating in a huge anti-base rally of 85,000 people which represented roughly 10 percent of the total population of the islands. Holding a non-binding plebiscite, a majority of the Okinawan people voted for the removal of the U.S. military bases.
Even now the protests and work are continuing, and on Oct. 7, a delegation of women from the Okinawan Peace Movement will be coming through UCLA to raise the issues of the Okinawan peoples. These issues include issues of violence against women, military toxins and environmental issues, American Asian children and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
But most of all, these Okinawan women wish to build greater links between all peoples around the issues of the U.S. military in order for us all to fight back against the monster which is the U.S. imperialist system of military domination.
Undoubtedly, those of us on the side of justice stand firmly in support of the struggle against the VFA and against the ongoing push by the U.S. military to place their bases in our lands. No longer will we abide by the U.S. military staying in our lands and denying the people their rights to self-determination.
This issue has special significance to all conscious peoples everywhere who support peace and the right to self-determination.
Those of us who are American citizens should realize that our tax dollars support this military presence in Asia. Our own military forces could better be applied at home, providing food, shelter and clothing to thousands of impoverished families. Or these same funds that support the military could be applied toward making our educational system more affordable and accessible to all.
All in all, we need to stand up for the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere and against the U.S. military when it attempts to infringe on native people's liberties. As people dedicated to liberty and genuine democracy everywhere, that is our promise and our duty.
In Hogen, the indigenous language of the Uchinanchu, there is a phrase that we use that I hope that you will remember. Just as many years ago, the Zapatistas in Chiapas asked that a small piece of your heart be Zapatista, I now ask that a small piece of your heart be Uchinanchu. "Okinawa Kaiho" means "Liberate Okinawa." In the spirit of peace and freedom, I ask that you remember this and keep it close to your heart.