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Just ‘An Island in the Pacific’: How Washington Demeans Its Colonial Conquests

From Hawaii to Okinawa, Pacific islands seem relegated to serve as neverland vacation getaways — as well as outposts for US military empire.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently earned a news cycle’s worth of negative press after an interview in which he seemed to dismiss the entire state of Hawaii, where a federal judge earlier this year blocked the Trump administration’s ban on refugees and on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.

“I really am amazed,” Sessions complained, “that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Sessions’ comments were widely seen as ignorant and arrogant, dismissing U.S. federal district judge Derrick Watson and the “island in the Pacific” on which he sits. Hawaii’s Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz were quick to fire back on Twitter, with Schatz reminding Sessions that that island is called Oahu, and it happens to be part of a U.S. state.

The dustup came one day after South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham made comments which received far less attention. Speaking in a Today Show interview, Graham said that a war on the Korean peninsula would be “bad for China, bad for Japan, bad for South Korea, it’d be the end of North Korea,” but quickly added, “what it would not do is hit America.”

It was as if Graham was saying: Relax! We’re only talking about destruction on a peninsula in the Pacific.

Sessions and Graham’s remarks might have been more shocking if they weren’t preceded by the U.S. president’s own steady stream of outrageous comments — including his latest ally-enraging (and inaccurate) suggestion  that Korea was once part of China, and appearing not to know the difference between three generations of North Korea’s Kim dynasty. In Washington, the intellectual and moral bar has been set so low, it’s now in danger of being run over by rats and lemmings.

Truth be told, Sessions, Graham, and Trump hardly hold a monopoly on disrespect and disconnect to the Asia-Pacific. Even those who were quick to blast Sessions’ remarks operate on their own ingrained assumptions about the region.

By their nature, Pacific islands are geographically smaller and distant from continents and have long been seen through the lens of conceit. (Henry Kissinger was famously quoted saying of the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. conducted nuclear testing from 1946 to 1958, “There are only 90,000 people out there. Who gives a damn?”)

It’s why, in part, places like Hawaii, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and Okinawa have been relegated to serve as neverland vacation getaways as well as outposts for our military empire — places to store, stage, test, and train for tomorrow’s wars.

Sessions’ dismissive island in the Pacific comment and Graham’s cavalier admission that a new Korean war would be a disaster for “them” but not “us” (sucks to be you!) cut to the heart of questions of sovereignty and servitude — and why there is so little recognition of the degree to which islands in the Pacific are commodified and militarized.

And while Jeff Sessions surely knows that Hawaii has been a U.S. state since 1959, he and others would do well to remember that the formerly independent Kingdom of Hawaii was, in fact, illegally overthrown by the United States in 1893 — and that Hawaiian legal scholars and others still dispute the validity of the U.S. annexation of Hawaii. The subsequent road to statehood and attendant impacts to Hawaiian culture and society, land rights, and the environment stand out as a glaring example of what can happen to an island in the Pacificwhen it catches the eye of a great power.

On the other side of the date line, the U.S. territory of Guam is highly valued by the U.S. military as its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the Western Pacific, anchored strategically near East Asia. But most Americans would struggle to find it on a map. Guam has one of the highest military enlistment rates in the U.S. but remains divided over its political status.

There’s an effort underway to hold a plebiscite that would address the island’s political status as an “unincorporated territory.” A vote on whether Guam should pursue statehood (like Hawaii), forge a free association with the U.S. (like Micronesia’s three COFA nations), or seek full independence would be a significant step toward ending its colonial status and move toward self-governance.

Like Guam and Hawaii, the Republic of the Marshall Islands knows all too well what it means to be an island in the Pacific. The impact of the 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the U.S. in the northern atolls (most famously on Bikini) is measured not just in contaminated islands and devastating cancer rates, but in the profound changes to Marshallese culture and society. Entire communities were moved around like furniture to accommodate U.S. weapons tests.

Often overlooked is the Marshall Islands’ Kwajalein atoll, home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, which is so valued by the U.S. that it has negotiated a lease that runs through 2066 (with an option to extend to 2086). Much of the base’s unskilled labor force is made up of Marshallese who live in impoverished, crowded conditions, often lacking the most basic services and utilities, on a tiny sliver of sand called Ebeye island a short boat ride away from America’s sophisticated Death Star in the Pacific.

The widely accepted premise that islands in the Pacific make great military bases extends to southern Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, once the independent Ryukyu Kingdom until it was absorbed by Japan in the 1880s. After the horrific battle of Okinawa at the end of World War II, the U.S. claimed Okinawa as its own — the spoils of war — and occupied it outright until its reversion to Japan in 1972.

Today Okinawa is fractured as its people continue to protest around the clock against the lopsided U.S. military presence there. At least 70 percent of all U.S. bases and half of U.S. troops in Japan are crowded on Okinawa into less than 1 percent of Japanese territory, with new U.S. installations being forcibly built under the heavy fists of Tokyo and Washington.

This denial of how the U.S. disrespects islands extends beyond the Pacific. It’s why Diego Garcia, where the U.S. and British expelled an entire indigenous population to build a U.S. military base, is just an island in the Indian Ocean. It’s why Puerto Rico and Cuba are just islands in the Caribbean.

When geographically and politically dominant nation-states invade, conquer, annex, or otherwise absorb smaller, distant islands, entire populations are displaced, cultures are appropriated or extinguished, and colonization and militarization are normalized.

When Jeff Sessions made his smug comment about an island in the Pacific, he was lambasted for disrespecting Hawaii. But a more subtle, far more pervasive kind of disrespect forms the basis of a narrative so widespread it transcends political boundaries, linking those on the right with those on the left in a way that never seems to make the news.

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Elderly Women on Okinawa Unite Against Plans to Move U.S. Military Base

On a Japanese island famous for long life expectancies, elderly women are at the forefront of the continuing protest movement against U.S military installations.

For an entire year, 60-year-old Kumiko Onaga slept in a tent across the street from a U.S. military base on Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island. In the middle of the night, when trucks carrying construction material approached at the entrance gate of the base, she jumped out of her sleeping bag and tried to block the vehicles. Then, each morning, she drove home, showered and went to work as one of her town’s few women city council members.

“People know me as ‘the sleeping bag councilwoman,’” Onaga says with a smile, adding that more people know her by her nickname than her real name.

Onaga and others on Okinawa have long opposed the relocation of the contentious Futenma Marine Corps base to the remote fishing village of Henoko on the northern part of the island. Part of the plan involves the construction of military runways in the coral-filled coastal waters next to the base.

“We were forced to accept these bases,” says Kyoko Matayoshi, 66, who lives just over a mile from the Futenma base. She and many local residents say their biggest concerns are noise, pollution and safety.

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Kyoko Matayoshi, 66, has long called for the closure of Futenma Marine Corps base, citing worries about noise, pollution, helicopter accidents and reports of rapes by US servicemen stationed on the island.

In 1995, the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl on the island by U.S servicemen prompted huge protests and ultimately led to the decision to move the Futenma base from a densely populated area to northern Okinawa. Though these incidents are rare, a string of rapes by U.S. servicemen stationed on Okinawa has rattled nerves over the years. Last year, a former U.S. Marine was arrested for the gruesome murder of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman. This sparked a fresh wave of demonstrations against the American military presence on the island.

Matayoshi and others are part of a women’s group that protests the Futenma base. “When we started 20 years ago, we never had the intention to do this movement for such a long time,” she says. “It’s not even activism, we’re just doing this to survive.”

Matayoshi says instead of relocating the base within Okinawa, the Japanese government should move it to the mainland. Former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed to this plan several years ago, but backtracked on his promise in 2010 and later resigned.

An unfair burden

“In Okinawa, we have been double-colonized and dominated,” says Matayoshi. Before Japan annexed the island in the late 1800s, Okinawa flourished as the independent Ryukyu Kingdom, trading with nearby nations. During World War II, the Japanese military government used the island as a bloody battlefield, and tens of thousands of Okinawan civilians died. After the war, the island came under U.S. control.

Okinawan women have a long history of resistance, and many of them organized grassroots rallies when their families’ land was turned into U.S. military property. “Those women who survived the war and post-war period became our role models and our teachers,” Matayoshi says.

Under a treaty that dates back to the end of World War II, U.S. forces defend Japan from rival nations, such as North Korea and China. Now, about 27,000 troops are stationed on the island, and it’s considered a strategic defense location in the Asia Pacific region.

While Okinawa is home to roughly 70 percent of the U.S. military bases in Japan, it has less than one percent of the nation’s landmass, angering many Okinawans who say that’s an unfair burden.

Women at the Frontlines

Etsuko Urashima, 68, lives near the village of Henoko, where the Japanese government is preparing to construct military runways. The soft-spoken writer has become one of the most well-known organizers of the protest movement.

In 2011, Urashima co-founded a women’s group to support the city’s anti-base mayor. “The anti-base people with official leadership positions are mostly men, but the main force of this movement is women,” she says. “When women are at the frontlines, it’s said those movements are successful.”

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Writer Etsuko Urashima, 68, has become one of the faces of the protest movement. “If we had not been doing these protests, the base in Henoko would have been built a long time ago,” she says.

“If we had not been doing these protests, the base in Henoko would have been built a long time ago,” Urashima says. One major concern, she says, is that the proposed plan to build aircraft runways on the environmentally fragile coastal waters will damage the area forever.

Construction of the new runways started a few years ago, but stalled last year after significant local opposition and a lawsuit filed by Okinawa’s governor against the plan. It was a small victory for many of the protesters, until Japan’s Supreme Court overturned the lawsuit in December 2016, and work resumed in February.

Protecting Future Generations

“I’d never taken part in any civil movement before,” says Onaga, the “sleeping bag councilwoman.”

“I was even scared to just do a sit-in, because I wasn’t used to it.” At demonstrations outside military bases, Japanese riot police gather and physically carry protesters out of the area.

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City councilwoman Kumiko Onaga, 60, slept in a tent across from a US military base for entire year to protest the construction of a new base and aircraft runways on coastal waters.

“In one late-night protest, the riot police formed a human fence to block us as construction material was transported into the military base,” she says. “The police hit me in the back and broke my rib. It took a month and a half to heal, and it was very scary and painful.”

Onaga says women are a big part of the protest movement because they want to protect future generations. “We’re a tiny island, and the bonds are strong here,” she says. “I think Okinawan women feel that they all collectively share the responsibility of raising our children.”

Her views have also brought unwanted attention from right-wing groups in Okinawa. “I get a lot of abuse and threats online,” Onaga says. “The very first time they uploaded something about me, I did get scared, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from protesting.”

Resistance in the Forest

Protesters have also set up tents in Okinawa’s northern Yanbaru forest, where the U.S. military is constructing six helicopter landing pads. Twice a week, crowds gather to demonstrate, while riot police closely guard the area and film protesters with camcorders.

Eiko Ginoza, 69, often protests with an 86-year-old woman who survived the Battle of Okinawa.

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Ginoza vividly remembers when a U.S. military fighter jet crash-landed into an elementary school in her town in 1959, killing 11 students and six locals. Now a grandmother of seven, she says, “My grandchildren are scared whenever they see an aircraft because they fly really low.”

At a morning rally, Ginoza and other protesters chant slogans. As a truck pummels down the two-lane road carrying construction materials for the helipad, they surround the vehicle and try to block it. The truck continues on and enters the construction site.

“We are nonviolent, and we don’t want to harm people,” she says. “We just stand in front of the trucks, or we lay down under the trucks.”

She and the other elderly women protesters say they won’t give up their fight. “We only have one chance to live, so we’ll continuously say no to the base,” Ginoza says.

Gay Acceptance in the U.S Military

Throughout its history, the US Military  had an inconsistent policy when it came to homosexuals in the military. Prior to World War II, there was no written policy barring homosexuals from serving, although sodomy was considered a crime by military law ever since Revolutionary War times. In 1778, Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin became the first soldier to be drummed out of the Continental Army for sodomy.

Homosexuality Policies in the Korean War and Vietnam War

During World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the military defined homosexuality as a mental defect and officially barred homosexuals from serving based on medical criteria. However, when personnel needs increased due to combat, the military developed a habit of relaxing its screening criteria. Many homosexual men and women serviced honorably during these conflicts. Unfortunately, these periods were short-lived. As soon as the need for combat personnel decreased, the military would involuntarily discharge them.

1982 – Complete Ban of Gays in the Military

It wasn’t until 1982 that the Department of Defense officially put in writing that “homosexuality was incompatible with military service,” when they published a DOD directive stating such. According to a 1992 report by the Government Accounting Office, nearly 17,000 men and women were discharged under this new directive during the 1980s.

The Birth of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” 1993

By the end of the 1980s, reversing the military’s policy was emerging as a priority for advocates of gay and lesbian civil rights. Several lesbian and gay male members of the military came out publicly and vigorously challenged their discharges through the legal system.

By the beginning of 1993, it appeared that the military’s ban on gay personnel would soon be overturned.

President Clinton announced that he intended to keep his campaign promise by eliminating military discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, this didn’t sit well with the Republican-controlled Congress. Congressional leaders threatened to pass legislation that would bar homosexuals from serving if Clinton issued an executive order changing the policy.

After lengthy public debate and congressional hearings, the President and Senator Sam Nunn, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reached a compromise which they labeled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue. Under its terms, military personnel would not be asked about their sexual orientation and would not be discharged simply for being gay. However having sexual relations, or displaying romantic overtures with members of the same sex, or telling anyone about their sexual orientation is considered “homosexual conduct” under the policy and is a basis for involuntary discharge.

This is was known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and became the Department of Defense policy.

Changing Times for Society and the Military

At the time, most military leaders and young enlisted folk (who were forced to live in the barracks with a roommate) took a conservative view about allowing gays to serve openly in the military. But the attitudes of society changed through the next two decades. By 2010, most junior enlisted (the one’s who have to live in the barracks), today, saw nothing wrong with homosexuality and would not be bothered by serving with those they know to be gay. Today, almost everyone gets a single room (with no roommate) following basic training and job school. In those few situations where military personnel share living accommodations (such as deployments and ships), it is generally several military members living together.

Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell 2010

In December of 2010, the House and Senate voted in favor to repeal the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” President Obama then signed it into law December 22, 2010. A repeal is ant action of revoking or annulling a law or congressional act. The nation decided that by September 20, 2011, homosexuals would no longer fear discharge from the military by admitting to their sexual preference. Homosexuals have the freedom to serve in the armed forces openly.

Over 13,000 servicemen and women were discharged for being gay while the don’t ask, don’t tell policy was in effect. The repeal has prompted many to try and reenlist. Many men and women who have been serving came out of the closet on various media. Many organizations and groups supporting gay and lesbian military members surfaced and have even organized official public gatherings with the military.

Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages

Following the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the Department of Defense announced it would extend spousal and family benefits for same-sex marriages that would be the same as those given for traditional marriages.

Transgender Regulations Repealed 2016

Another frontier was crossed when the ban on service by openly transgender persons in the military was repealed on July 1, 2016.

Shocking Stories of Abu Ghraib Prisoners

Full disclosure on the appalling Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq

Soldier Telling about Cruel and Despicable Behavior of US Army

Oh, those bad soldiers were an exception? Most of the soldiers are very caring and thoughtful? Well: YOUR NATION elected your president, YOUR NATION decided to keep and follow him, YOUR NATION sent the army there, YOUR soldiers are officially representing your armed forces. Still excuses? Then you’ll have to give your enemy the same right for excuses and the same right to play down facts!

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