Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Echoes in Okinawa

From "Ten Thousand Things"

An informative and touching article on Okinawa and the way the traumatic past weaves its way into the present. This is one of the dynamics that Avery Gordon refers to so poetically and so aptly as "ghostly matters." The way in which boats off the coast of Okinawa today don't simply remind people of the horrors of the past, but keep that past and all the injustice that comes with it, alive. Protestors of the past and those of today can have the same ghostly threads about them. They represent stories, memories and dreams that refuse to die, even if governments do their best through force, through coercion, through tokens, to make sure they are forgotten.

The article is below:


Henoko on August 14, 2014. (Photo: Chie Mikami on FB)

Film director Chie Mikami on August 14, 2014, on location at Henoko : "I saw so many boats in the sea around 7a.m. It reminds me of the history of Okinawa, year: 1945."

Today the Japanese government sent a military flotilla to Henoko, Okinawa, to put up buoys and patrol an "exclusion zone" in their plan to force drilling, dredging, landfill, and construction of another US military base at the beautiful Okinawa dugong and coral reef habitat.  Observers say there were so many vessels, they were uncountable.

Local residents have been protested and staved off repeated attempts at drilling for 18 years.

They are led by the Henoko elders, child survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, the Pacific War's worst battle, and the only battle fought on Japanese territory. The Japanese government used Okinawa as a sacrificial pawn in a battle of attrition, in an attempt to garner better surrender terms. The fighting destroyed all the material culture on Okinawa Island and killed around 140,000 Okinawans, one third of the Okinawan population.

The islands have been a part of Japan only since the late 1800s, when the Meiji government seized the Ryukyu Kingdom and renamed it Okinawa Prefecture. After the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty were signed in 1951, Okinawa Prefecture was under U.S. military rule until 1972.  Even after reversion to Japanese rule, the military bases remained.  While Okinawa constitutes only 0.6 percent of Japan's land area, more than 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan were built there.

Okinawans are comparing the forced expansion at Henoko to the traumatic "Bayonets and Bulldozers" period of the 1950's, when the US military used coercion and violence to seize  entire villages, the best farmland, the best coastland, utaki (sacred sites), and cemeteries throughout Okinawa prefecture to make way for base expansion and new bases. Both Futenma in the middle of Ginowan City and Camp Schwab next to Henoko were built on forcibly acquired Okinawan private property. This was also the period that the all-Okinawan nonviolent movement began. The ongoing struggles are not new "anti-base" protests, but, instead, part of the latest chapter in a seventy-year struggle for property rights, human rights, environmental protection, democracy and peace in the islands of Okinawa.

Between 1954 and 1955, US military forced owners from homes and rice farms in 
the former village of Isahama, to make way for the construction of Futenma, a weapons training base. 
(Photo: Okinawan Prefectural Government)

Okinawan author Tatsuhiro Oshiro has written about Okinawa as a "sacrifice zone" where state power imposes sacrifice upon the weak.  In 2011, Oshiro published Futenma yo (To Futenma), a book of short stories. In the first story, Oshiro addresses the history of Futenma through a family whose home and land was taken to expand the training base. The story ends when the musical accompaniment to a traditional Ryukyu dance is drowned out by the noise from U.S. aircraft training, but the heroine continues to perform. Her determination symbolizes the local culture that refuses to be defeated by the heavy burdens of military bases. At the same time, the heroine's grandmother's plan to find a family heirloom buried on ancestral lands taken by the U.S. military ends in failure. Oshiro explains. "My intention was to write about the identity of the Okinawan people who want to weave our history together and regain the land that's steeped with memories."

Okinawan women protest US military seizure of their homes and land in Isahama (Ginowan) in July 1955.
(Photo: Okinawa Prefectural Government)
Oshiro's story reflects the roots of the fierce struggle over Henoko, which may be viewed as a continuation of the post-1945 battle against the civilian Okinawans, a traditionally pacifist culture, over land and local determination.  Postwar U.S. military rule followed the Imperial Japanese pattern of using force to impose a militarist culture upon the islands.  After the Pacific War's destruction of almost all material culture, all that was left was the natural environment and intangible culture.

Okinawans are fighting for their soul at Henoko, a place steeped in what little of traditional Okinawan culture survived: the living sea and the living Okinawa dugong, a cherished, sacred icon. The Henoko sea fed the elders during the Battle of Okinawa, when there were no other food sources. The dugong and the sea both reflect and symbolize the Okinawan core value of Nuchi du Takara: the sanctity of life and the right to life for nature that nurtures life, and human right to live in peace.  This has been the Okinawan message to the world for 70 years, their unstoppable witness for Nuchi du Takara was borne out of the devastation they suffered.

Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Okinawa has become a focus for the study of peace because of the Battle of Okinawa, and  because Okinawans continue to appeal for relief from U.S. military bases and US military expansion in their prefecture. Former Governor (1990-1998) Masahide Ota, a child survivor of the battle, created  Okinawa International Peace Research Institute to study war and peace,  to introduce traditional Okinawa peace culture to the world, to lead Okinawa's transformation to "islands of peace" and build a global peace network, and to promote positive peace, peace education, and a peace economy.

Upper House Member of Parliament, Ms. Keiko Itokazu, 
protesting the Japanese government's installation of buoys to create an exclusion zone 
for drilling into and landfilling over live coral and dugong habitat at the Sea of Henoko.

Henoko residents had been supported by an all-Okinawa political coalition until late last year, when under claimed duress by the Japanese government, the governor broke his 2010 campaign promise to protect Henoko, and signed an approval for landfill that was predicated on environmental protection information certified by engineers, not marine biologists or ecologists.  The engineers admitted their lack of expertise.  This is one example of the long, corrupt road to today's flotilla invasion of Henoko.

Henoko residents have been supported by global peace, democracy, faith-based, and especially environmental advocates who repeatedly praise the wetlands, mangrove forests, rivers, unique and delicate biodiversity of the Sea of Henoko's ecoregion. Its coral reef, the best in Okinawa, is renowned among marine biologists for its vitality and unique species. Most of the coral reefs on Okinawa are dead from landfill, pollution, and disease. The Sea of Henoko also has the largest and best sea grass beds, thus habitat, for the Okinawan dugong.
The dugong, a sacred icon, is of great cultural and historical significance in Okinawa.
(Image: Ryukyu Postal’s stamp to commemorate the Okinawa dugong's designation 
as a natural monument in 1966 (Via Save the Dugong Campaign Center)

In 2004, the American environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of Okinawan, Japanese, U.S. environment protection groups, and Okinawan residents filed a federal lawsuit , the "Okinawa Dugong versus Rumsfeld," in San Francisco, asking for protections for the dugong. The case  is still open; after a 2008 ruling that the defendants must negotiate with the plaintiffs regarding environmental issues and protection of dugong habitat. The plaintiffs are still waiting for this discussion. Therefore on August 1, Earthjustice filed a new lawsuit in the same court,  asking the US government to halt construction plans.  The critically endangered Okinawa dugong is a protected natural monument under the National Historic Preservation Act.

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