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Okinawa Has Sacrificed Enough

Published Wednesday, July 19, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
BY GWYN KIRK

This weekend, Okinawa -- a tiny island chain on the other side of the Pacific and the southernmost prefecture of Japan -- hosts the annual meeting of the world's most powerful nations. These are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States, known as the G-8. On our TV sets we may see snatches of the flag-waving, Okinawa's beautiful beaches and traditional music and dance. We may also see the U.S. military bases that take up 20 percent of Okinawan land -- a strategic location off the mainland of Asia. What we won't see is the real story behind this event.

This year the Japanese government picked the coastal town of Nago to host the summit as a ``reward'' for Okinawa's accepting a new U.S. Marine base there. This is to be a high-tech floating heliport, built off the coast, and paid for by Japanese taxpayers. The snag is, Okinawans have not accepted the heliport. They have had it foisted on them by Tokyo and Washington. Okinawan people continue to campaign against it, and on June 25 voters elected an anti-bases candidate, Mitsuko Tomon, to the Diet in Tokyo, giving a clear message that it is not a done deal.

Okinawans have been protesting the presence of U.S. bases since 1945 when their land was confiscated for this purpose at the end of World War II. In a 1996 prefecture-wide referendum, 95 percent of voters wanted the bases removed. They cited hillsides burned by live-ammunition drills and damage to marine life from military pollution. They cited severe noise as contributing to deafness in older people and low birth-weight babies born to women in residential areas near military operations. They mentioned crimes against host communities, especially hit-and-run accidents. They were outraged by the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995 -- just one incident of sexual violence in a list that dates back to 1945. Yet, less than three weeks before the G-8 summit, a drunken Marine broke into a house at night and molested a 14-year-old girl while she slept.

Among the roster of official visits, G-8 leaders will go to the Cornerstone of Peace, an impressive black marble memorial engraved with over 200,000 names -- casualties of the three-month-long Battle of Okinawa of 1945 that turned this lush island into a devastated treeless rubble.

During the past month, activists, researchers, lawyers, policy-makers and scholars from many countries have gone to Okinawa to participate in meetings and protests that challenge the military security promoted by the G-8. They argue that genuine security requires a sound physical environment, an economy that provides for local needs, and respect for all people. They oppose the building of the heliport at Nago and urge a phased withdrawal of U.S. bases.

This land should be cleaned of environmental contamination and redeveloped to meet local people's needs -- to provide job opportunities, decent housing, health care, and schools. These seemingly simple principles constitute cornerstones of peace -- not only in Okinawa, but throughout the world.

Gwyn Kirk lives in San Francisco and is a member of the Bay Area Okinawa Peace Network.

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