Sunday, 27 December 2015

Okinawa resistance to U.S. Military in Pacific Islands

Okinawa's place in the world. Okinawa borders Taiwan to its West, Phillipines to its south, Japan its to its North and hundreds of thousands of islands, atolls and isolated regions are surrounding it. Okinawa like many Pacific islands has a long history of being independent, with its own local language, cuisine and culture that mainlanders are still getting to know.



When people think of Okinawa the first thing that comes to mind is the world's oldest people living a beautiful island life in tranquility thanks to a healthy great cuisine. The people of Okinawa have been on nearly daily protest for the past 25+ years against the United States Military base on the small island. By extension many Okinawans have condemned U.S. militarism on their island and in the wider Pacific island regions. The U.S. maintains hundreds of military bases most unnecessary on thousands of islands around the Pacific region. The Okinawan base is the most strategic in Japan. From the tiny nation of Diego Garcia, whose indigenous Chiagosian people were forcibly removed in the 1940s and have been banned from returning to their own homeland on military grounds. Diego Garcia, Bikini Atolls and other Pacific islands were were turned into nuclear testing grounds (first the hydrogen bombs and other military WMDs) and Western military bases of operations to this day. Diego Garcia like Guam, American Samoa, Micronesia and other smaller overshadowed islands have become colonial territories (referred to as commonwealth or territories) of the United States, Britain and France. The U.S. insists that the Pacific Islanders from geographically strategic and resource rich nations need protection from their large neighbor Uncle Sam either from Chinese military expansion or the threat of terrorism. Even if the island nations and local people have no need for a military, oppose wars and conflicts in all its forms or have good relations with China, Russia, Japan and both Koreas, the U.S. government makes its case even louder for why the American presence is needed. Japan which for the last 70 years has had a pacifist constitution is also reestablishing its military and seeking to expand its defense policy outside the country to neighboring islands. Japan too has been criticized by Okinawans for allowing the base expansion and its growing nationalist militarism. Japanese citizens have also protested the government's defense policies and current bicketing with China over the resource rich Sekoku islands in the South China Sea.

Over 20 years ago, a local Okinawan girl was raped and beaten by U.S. personnel off base. The soldiers were only slightly punished for their brutal crime.  It enraged, disgusted and sparked the continuation of the long lasting anti-U.S. military and militarism protests by concerned and peace activist Okinawan parents, families and residents. Weekly and now daily protest have placed the reoccurring rapes of local women and militarism at the forefront of Okinawan/Japanese politics. Protesters make Japanese government officials nervous and military personnel uneasy. The U.S. military has a history of protecting its soldiers from being charged with serious crimes and from facing prosecution by local courts in hundreds of countries around the world. This too angers many local people who even work at the U.S. military bases and residents who are not fond of foreign military and governments dictating local politics and foreign policy. Okinawa has felt this weight for decades.

The Eisa dance, a famous folk dance performed in Naha, Okinawa. The Eisa dance is part of a larger 10,000 cultural parade that occurs every year on the island. Photo by Golden Jipangu


Although it is part of Japan, Okinawa known as Ryukyu islands has always felt strongly about independence. Okinawans have their own local culture, music and language that's entirely different from mainland Japan. Okinawa was an independent nation the Ryukyu Kingdom for much of its history until 1607 when it was conquered by Japan and made into a vassal state of the mainland land. In 1879, Okinawa officially became a Japanese prefecture. It ceased to exist as a sovereign nation. Like the Native Hawaiian or Taiwan independentists, Okinawans have reiterated that their island's heritage and culture are unique and their self determination was interrupted by Japanese occupation and colonialism. The U.S. began militarizing Okinawa and other Pacific islands after World War II. While some older Okinawans might've brushed off the military presence as a welcome from imperial Japan at the time, many younger Okinawans are abhorred by the presence and the cultural insensitivity of some military personnel show to Okinawan society. Today many Okinawans speak Japanese but still cling onto the local Ryukyu languages. There are bilingual and sometimes trilingual signs on the island. Okinawan cuisine has long been influenced by Chinese and South Asia and its recognized for its unique taste across Japan. diverse over the years like many island nations who have people from around the world coming to its shores. 

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