Hundreds of people took to the streets of Tokyo to pay tribute to the memory of a young Japanese woman killed by a US marine a year ago and to protest the relocation of the US base in Okinawa. A separate rally was held in Okinawa prefecture.
The demonstrators in Tokyo marched through the streets holding banners including ones reading, “No base in Okinawa!” The father of the murdered woman also issued a message calling for the removal of the US military bases from the island prefecture, local media report.
“Those incidents occur because Okinawa hosts US military bases. I want the bases to be removed without further delay, which is the wish of many Okinawa residents as well,” the man said in his statement.
“I have nothing to say to the defendant. We, the bereaved family, can never forgive him. We tolerate or trust no excuses from him,” he added. At the same time, he expressed his gratitude to all those people who expressed their support and sympathy to his family.
“Our sorrow for losing our daughter will never disappear, but our hearts will always be with her and we will continue to pray for the repose of her soul,” he said.
On April 28, 2016, the 20-year-old woman, Rina Shimabukuro, was raped and murdered by a 32-year-old civil contractor and former US Marine Kenneth Franklin Gadson, who goes by his Japanese wife’s family name of Shinzato. He admitted that he had strangled and stabbed his victim.
The incident provoked a wave of outrage in Japan. In June 2016, at least 50,000 people protested against heavy US military presence in Okinawa following the murder. Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga and some officials from opposition parties also took part in the rally at the time.
Facing public outcry, the US military has introduced curfews, movement restrictions and an alcohol ban off base, lifted 11 days after it was imposed.
In the meantime, another rally was held in the Henoko district of the city of Nago located in the Okinawa prefecture. Some 3,000 people took part in that demonstration, according to the local media.
The protesters, who came to express their discontent with the relocation of the US Futenma air base to the Henoko district, also began their rally with a minute of silence in the memory of the murdered woman.
The protesters gathered in front of Camp Schwab, the US military base located in Henoko. The demonstration was attended by the Nago city mayor.
In the meantime, the construction of the new US military base in Henoko took another step forward despite strong opposition from local residents. On April 25, cranes started dropping nets containing crushed rock along the shore north of Camp Schwab.
The rocks will likely serve as the foundation of a seawall built along the outer perimeter of the planned runway site, according to The Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Full-fledged landfill work inside the sea walls is set to take place in the first half of next year.
Katsuhiro Yoshida, a senior Okinawa prefectural official, who particularly deals with issues concerning the US bases in the area, said that the move “ignored the local will” and is “authoritarian,” adding that the local residents simply cannot accept it.
Okinawa hosts about 75 percent of all US military installations in Japan, and is an important geopolitical outpost for Washington allowing to project power in the region that neighbors China and Southeast Asia.
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 March 25, the “prefectural people’s rally calling for immediate cancellation of unlawful land reclamation work and abandonment of the plan to build a new base in Henoko”, organized by the All Okinawa Coalition to Prevent Construction of a New Base in Henoko, was held in front of the gate to the U.S. military’s Camp Schwab. According to organizer estimates, more than 3,500 participants joined the rally.
Governor Takeshi Onaga attended the rally and announced, “with strength, I will absolutely revoke” the approval to reclaim land off the shore of Henoko, which is needed build the new base. It was the first time Governor Onaga clearly stated his intention to revoke the land reclamation approval. It was also the first time the governor attended a citizens’ rally in Henoko since taking office.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
Activists opposing the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a location in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, paddled out into the coastal waters to disrupt preparations for its construction on the 1st of February.
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.