In January this year, the U.S. Navy’s former aircraft parking apron of Kadena Air Base was relocated in accordance with the 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) agreement to reduce noise in neighboring residential areas. However, on June 1, a representative from Kadena Air Base expressed that the base will continue to utilize the former parking apron in Kadena Town, Okinawa during an interview with Ryukyu Shimpo. The representative’s understanding was that this “does not violate” the agreement.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) and Kadena Town have been protesting the use of the former parking apron. Following a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft flying in from South Korea’s Osan Air Base on May 31, the prefecture and town claim that the use of the parking apron is a violation of the SACO agreement; the U.S. military denies this. The U.S. military is seemingly not holding up their end of the bargain. The local government has been strongly opposing this since it is counteractive to “reducing (their) burden.”
On June 1, a representative from Kedena Air Base responded to Ryukyu Shimpo’s interview. The representative denied violating the agreement and said, “The temporary use of the north aircraft parking apron (Navy’s former aircraft parking apron) is in line with the agreement made by both the Japanese and U.S. governments.” On May 31, the Japanese government requested that the U.S. Air Force carry out “operations that would take the noise reduction initiative from the SACO Final Report into account.”
A representative from the Kadena Air Base commented, “[We’ll] only use the north aircraft parking apron only when there is no other choice.” The representative then commented, “[We] have operational demands for Kadena Air Base.” The representative expressed that Kadena Air Base intends to continue to use the former parking apron.
Following a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft using the former parking apron on May 31, OPG official Takekuni Ikeda called Colonel Paul Oldham, Commander of the 18th Mission Support Group, Kadena Air Base over the phone and requested for the base to stop using the parking apron. It was pointed out that the use of the parking apron “clearly goes against the intent of the SACO agreement.” Commander Oldham argued otherwise and said, “It does not violate the SACO agreement.”
Even after the relocation in January, transient aircrafts (KC-135 Stratotanker and C-146A Wolfhound) have flown in and have temporarily landed at the former parking apron. People from Kadena Town are upset, claiming that the relocation effort was pointless.
According to a representative from the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the U-2 reconnaissance aircrafts will continue to use the former parking apron for about a month.
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.
Japan’s Defense Ministry plans to start a new phase of works to relocate a US military base within the southern prefecture of Okinawa despite local opposition.
Ministry sources say that if weather permits, the Okinawa bureau will start constructing seawalls on Tuesday to surround an area where an alternative facility for the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station will be built.
The bureau began reclamation works in February and has installed silt fences to stop muddy water from spilling.
Workers will sink stones into the sea, and fill the encircled area with soil and sand.
The seawall construction marks the start of full-scale reclamation works. The walls are expected to make it difficult to return the area to its original state.
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga has attempted to stop the relocation plan many times.
Onaga argues that the defense bureau has not obtained permission from the prefecture to destroy seabed rocks to install the fences.
He indicated that that he may file a lawsuit to seek a court order to stop the construction.
The US and Japanese governments agreed to relocate the air station from a densely populated area in Ginowan City to a coastal area of Nago City.
On Thursday, Japanese authorities arrested a woman and charged her with causing bodily injury and obstructing a police officer after biting an officer outside of US Marine Corps Base Camp Schwab in Okinawa.
The woman was arrested around 9:25 a.m. local time, and was one of three arrests made near US military bases in Okinawa that day, Stars and Stripes reports.
A Nago prefectural police spokesman said the officer was attempting to stop the woman from running to the highway near one of the base’s gates when she bit the officer on the arm, leaving bite marks.
Authorities have not released information on the woman, and it is not yet clear whether she belongs to protests groups that often demonstrate against the US military’s presence on Okinawa. Two people who ignored police warnings and crossed property lines at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and at Schwab were also arrested that day.
The Act on Special Measures Concerning Criminal Cases, a provision under a bilateral security treaty, prohibits anyone entering US military installations without permission.
According to police, the cases went to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Naha District on Friday.
Okinawa houses about 50,000 Defense Department employees, troops and families, and sees nearly daily protests against the American presence on the island, which holds strategic value for Washington due to its close proximity to North Korea and China.
ometimes these demonstrations grow quite large, with one June 2016 rally growing to an estimated 65.000 people. The protesters held placards that read, “Marines, get out,” and “Our rage beyond the bounds.”
In February it was announced that the Japanese government was going to pay $265.9 million to Okinawa residents living near the Kadena Air Base in an aircraft noise settlement.
To lighten the island’s load, bases have recently been consolidated and Marines have been shipped to Guam and a number of other US bases.
Since 2002, at least 270 environmental accidents on U.S. Marine Corps bases on Okinawa have contaminated land and local waterways but, until now, almost none of these incidents has been made public. U.S. Marine internal reports highlight serious flaws in training and suggest that the lessons of past accidents have not been effectively implemented. Moreover, recent USMC guidelines order service members not to inform Japanese authorities of accidents deemed “politically sensitive”, raising concerns that many incidents may have gone unreported.
Catalogued in 403 pages of USMC handbooks and reports obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the accidents occurred on three of the USMC’s most important installations on Okinawa: MCAS Futenma, Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab. The earliest report is dated June 2002 and the most recent June 2016.
Although the original FOIA request sought documents from 1995 to 2016, only three reports were released for the period between 1995 and 2005. Likewise, no reports for Camp Schwab were released for the years 2008 and 2010, nor were there any documents related to the crash of an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter on Camp Hansen in August 2013. At the time, the crash caused a public outcry because it occurred near a dam and dangerous levels of arsenic were later discovered in the vicinity.1
According to the documents that were released, between 2005 and 2016 MCAS Futenma experienced 156 accidents resulting in the release of 14,003 liters of fuels (including jet fuels and diesel). Between 2004 and 2016, Camp Hansen experienced 71 accidents, including the leak of 2596 liters of fuels and other substances such as 678 liters of antifreeze. Between 2002 and 2016, Camp Schwab experienced 43 incidents, involving 2628 liters of fuel; in 2002, there was a 4024-liter spill of mixed water/POL (Petroleum, Oils And Lubricants) – one of the largest of the recorded accidents.
Of the 270 accidents, it appears that only 6 were reported to Japanese authorities – 3 of which because the USMC required the help of local emergency services to clean up.
Environmental accident handbooks from 2013 and 2015 reveal that USMC staff are under orders not to inform Japanese officials of “non-emergency and/or politically sensitive incidents.” Only when an accident is deemed an emergency that poses a threat to people, drinking water or the environment off base, are marine staff permitted to notify Japanese authorities. The decision whether to classify an incident as “politically sensitive” is left in the hands of the USMC.
On October 28, Defense Minister Inada Tomomi, said she would seek clarification on the policy from the U.S. military and she would press them to report spills promptly to local authorities.2 At the time of publication of this article, the government of Japan had made no updates on the issue.
U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Maj. John Severns defended the policy: “The decision to notify ODB (Okinawa Defense Bureau) is made by USFJ in accordance with Joint Committee agreements,” Severns wrote by email. “These agreements with the Government of Japan describe what situations require notification.”
Even when the USMC decides to report incidents to the Japanese authorities, the FOIA-released documents reveal discrepancies about what is told Tokyo.
In June, 2016 an accident on MCAS Futenma resulted in the spill of 6908 liters of aviation fuel. The internal accident report suggests the accident was due to human error, however Japanese authorities were informed it occurred because of a “valve misalignment.”
Moreover, although USFJ told Japanese authorities the spill had been dealt with “immediately”, the documents reveal it wasn’t fully under control until the following day. USFJ did not inform the Japanese government of the scale of the incident, which ultimately necessitated the disposal of 11 208-liter drums of contaminated earth and 3028 liters of contaminated water.
After the accident, an inside source slammed the safety standards of the USMC at Futenma. The expert explained that the cause of the accident was marines overriding a safety solenoid with a plastic tie. “Such accidents are typical of the U.S. Marines. To put it bluntly, their work is lazy and they act stupidly,” he says.
On Thursday some 22,000 people living near Kadena Air Base were collectively awarded $265.9 million in an aircraft-noise settlement. This is the largest reward levied in a noise case against the US military in Japanese history, with each plaintiff to receive roughly $12,000.
The Japanese court dismissed the residents’ demand to scale back the US military presence, however, stating that it is essential to regional security, but the judge did criticize the government for not addressing the noise issue.
Yoshinori Yamada, a 76-year-old plaintiff said after the verdict, “The court found that the noise was harmful but it cannot stop it…I am outraged.”
The residents will appeal the military presence aspect of the case, an end result that they desired, according to reports, over monetary compensation. The Japanese government could appeal to a higher court to lower the award, as was done in a December 2016 noise complaint case at Atsugi Naval Air Facility. Similar suits were filed in 1982 and 2000.
This most recent case was filed in 2011, with some of the complaintants dying in the midst of litigation, and others blocked due to their Filipino national origin.
Chief Judge Tetsuya Fujikura said in the ruling, “While the benefits are enjoyed equally by the entire nation, the operations of the military cause various damages, inflicting a heavy toll on local residents…It is a grave unfairness that cannot be overlooked,” according to Stars and Stripes.
Jiji Press quoted the judge saying that the issue has “caused mental pain, disturbance to sleep and an increase in the risk of negative health effects from developing high blood pressure.”
Multimillion-dollar settlements have been paid out for noise complaints by the Japanese government just in the last year, although noise has been an issue in Okinawa since the US moved in after World War II. A case in November 2016 involving Marine Corps Air Station Futenma saw $22.6 million paid to some 3,400 residents. Altogether the government has paid over $90 million in noise settlements since the 1990s.
An American charged with raping and murdering an Okinawa woman blamed the victim and thought he would get away with the attack because of Japan’s culture of shame, according to a report.
The suspect, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, “didn’t fear being caught because of Japan’s low rate of reporting sexual assaults … due to cultural and social stigma,” according to a Stars and Stripes article published on Feb. 14.
The U.S. military newspaper quoted lawyers for Shinzato, 33, a former U.S. Marine who was a civilian worker at the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture.
Okinawa prefectural police initially arrested Shinzato in May last year on suspicion of abandoning the body of the 20-year-old woman who resided in Uruma in the prefecture. He was later arrested and indicted on charges of rape and murder.
“I intended to hit her with the stick and make her lose consciousness, then put her in the suitcase, take her to a hotel and then rape her,” the defense team quoted Shinzato as saying in the article.
Police suspect he ambushed the woman while she was walking for exercise in Uruma on the night of April 28. They believe Shinzato and the woman had never met before.
One of the lawyers told Stars and Stripes that the suspect believes “it was her fault for having been there at the time.”
The lawyer told The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 15, “My client is not expressing any remorse over the incident.”
The defense team plans to have the suspect undergo a psychiatric assessment before his trial starts around June.
According to the lawyer, a transcript of the defense team’s interview with Shinzato was released to Stars and Stripes because he wanted to tell his story only to fellow Americans.
Rice fungus released in at least two sites in early 1960s, documents show.
The U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa in the early 1960s, when the prefecture was still under U.S. rule, according to U.S. documents obtained by Kyodo News.
In the tests, conducted at least a dozen times between 1961 and 1962, rice blast fungus was released over paddies to see how it affected production, the documents made available by U.S. authorities showed.
Rice blast disease causes lesions to form on the plant, threatening the crop. The fungus, which is known to occur in 85 countries, is estimated to destroy enough rice to feed 60 million people a year.
The U.S. government has previously disclosed information on chemical and biological warfare tests it held at sea and on land in such places as Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Utah.
The United States is believed to have had China and Southeast Asia in mind in developing such crop-harming agents. The U.S. government decided to end all biological weapons programs in 1969.
An international convention against production and possession of biological weapons came into force in 1975.
The obtained documents mention test sites including Nago and Shuri, both in Okinawa, but it is not known whether the experiments were conducted on U.S. bases there.
In the field tests, the army “used a midget duster to release inoculum alongside fields in Okinawa and Taiwan,” measuring dosages at different distances and the effect on crop production, the documents said.
A separate document said: “Field tests for stem rust of wheat and rice blast disease were begun at several sites in the (U.S.) midwest and south and in Okinawa with partial success in the accumulation of useful data.”
After the war, Okinawa was administered by the United States until 1972.
Separate from the latest findings, it has been reported that the U.S. military stored defoliants on Okinawa during the Vietnam War.
According to past reports by Jon Mitchell published in The Japan Times, construction workers unearthed more than 20 rusty barrels from beneath a soccer field in the city of Okinawa in June.
The land was once part of Kadena Air Base — the Pentagon’s largest installation in the Pacific region — but was returned to civilian use in 1987.
Tests revealed that the barrels contained two ingredients of military defoliants used in the Vietnam War: the herbicide 2,4,5-T and 2,3,7,8,-TCDD dioxin. Levels of the highly toxic TCDD in nearby water measured 280 times the safe limit.
The Pentagon has repeatedly denied storing defoliants — including Agent Orange — on Okinawa. Following the discovery, it distanced itself from the barrels.
A representative said the Defense Department was investigating whether the barrels had been buried after the land’s return in 1987, and a U.S. government-sponsored scientist suggested they may merely have contained kitchen or medical waste.
However, the conclusions of the Japanese and international scientific community were unequivocal: Not only did the barrels disprove Pentagon denials of the presence of military defoliants in Japan, but the polluted land also posed a threat to the health of local residents and required immediate remediation.