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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Joseph Gerson's Report of a New York Event Against U.S. military Bases on Foreign Lands

On November 8, the Granny Peace Brigade organized a Teach-in dedicated to closing the more than 1000 U.S. foreign military bases/installations worldwide, This was written by one of the speakers Joseph Gerson, author, lecturer and Director of Programs for American Friends Service Committee, to summarize his talk at the Teach-In. Shared by Jun Sasamoto, JALISA (Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association). See here for the Japanese translation. 日本語訳はこちらをどうぞ。


2009.11.9

The Grannies Peace Brigade is a wonderful group of older and deeply committed peace and justice activists. They do a lot of things, from pressing for decent health care for all, to opposing the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and over the past year or so have become active in educating their members and the wider peace community in New York about the impacts of U.S. foreign military bases and resistance to them. Several of their members attended a national conference against military bases that I organized at American University in Washington, D.C. last winter. In yesterday's conference, they brought together about 100 activists.

In addition to myself, the other speakers were Viergina Rodino, who is on the steering Committee of the Asia Pacific Freeze campaign - an effort to win a halt in increases of the military budgets of the participants in the Six Party talks, and Ninotchka Rosca, who has long been a leading figure in Gabriella, the Philippine women's organization that has confronted military violence against and exploitation of women. In terms of my background, I am the Director of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New England, and the editor of a book titled The Sun Never Sets...Confronting the Network of U.S. Foreign Military Bases. I have worked closely with Japanese peace, disarmament, and anti-bases organizations and activists for 25 years and have participated in conferences and had exposure tours in Okinawa on three occasions.

I was the first speaker yesterday, and I began by showing several of the photos from the demonstrations earlier in the day in Okinawa, and I read from the cover note sent to me by Osamu Niikura explaining the goals of the demonstrations and the content of the call.

I explained how, 25 years ago, when I first visited Japan, I was shocked to learn that the U.S. still maintained more than 100 military bases in Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido (this is a figure that continues to shock my compatriots,) and and the centrality of the U.S.-Japan Military Alliance (AMPO) to U.S. hegemony in Asia and the Pacific. I explained that the U.S. bases in Japan, Europe, the Middle East and now Central Asia help to implement an imperial imperative described by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor.) Relying on traditional geopolitical analysis, he has argued that to dominate the world, a power must dominate Eurasia. For the U.S. as an island power in the tradition of Britain, this means maintaining to holds on the Western, Southern and Eastern perimeters of Eurasia. I then stressed the roles of U.S. bases in Okinawa, elsewhere in Japan, Korea and the Philippines in this regard and pointed out that to maintain its bases in Japan, the U.S. had even helped to elevate a Class A war criminal - Kishi - to be Prime Minister, in order to force through the revision and continuation of the alliance in 1960.

I reminded the audience that the U.S. Declaration of Independence - which explained why the colonies were declaring their independence from Britain and going to war against Britain - cited the fact that King George II "kept among us in times of peace....standing armies....which committed [intolerable] abuses and usurpation. I then distributed a resource we have produced called 10 Reasons Why U.S. bases must go. This explains modern day "abuses and usurpation" from crimes and sexual harassment that go unpunished to live fire and night-landing exercises, environmental pollution, undermining national sovereignty, and increasing the likelihood that murderous wars will be gough.

I briefly reviewed the current situation resulting from the election victory of the DPJ, a political alliance which spans a much wider ideological spectrum than even the Democratic Party in the U.S. from socialists to Ozawa and other former LDP members. I explained that the Hatoyama Government has reiterated that AMPO should continue to serve as the foundation for Japanese-U.S. bilateral relations, but that is also seeks to have one foot in Asia with the other in the U.S., as opposed to two feet in the U.S. as has been the case since the U.S. imposed the alliance in 1951. I explained that two focal issues of Japanese-U.S. tensions are whether the Futenma base will be closed with its functions (and more) being moved to Henoko. as per the SACP agreement which the Obama Administration insists upon, or whether Futnema will be closed and the Henoko base not be built, which the DPJ seems to be advocating. I then shocked the audience by explaining that a second major issue has to do with the secret agreement that has allowed the U.S. to bring nuclear weapons into Okinawa and Japan, despite the Three Non- Nuclear Principles.

Focusing in on Okinawa, I explained the concentration of U.S. bases and troops there, including most of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan. While showing a slide that illustrates the strategy roles that U.S. bases in Okinawa play, I told a story from 1996, after I had traveled to Okinawa to present Governor Ota with hundreds of signatures on a statement of remorse and apology for the 1995 rape of the school girl and other U.S. crimes in Okinawa. After traveling to Okinawa, I had an interview at the Japanese Defense Administration (before it became a ministry) with the man who was the principle author of Japan's Defense White Paper. At the end of the interview, he asked me what I had learned in Okinawa, and I told him. As his secretary was leading me out of the JDA, she told me "I understand the strategic importance of Okinawa, but if I lived in Okinawa with my daughter, I would be very afraid." I added that I think this reflects an underlying sense of shame that many in the Japanese elite have for what they have allowed to happen to the people of Okinawa.

I then provided a summary history of Okinawa, explaining that it has long been colonized and oppressed. I explained that it used to be an independent kingdom that paid tribute to China, and has many Melanesian and Chinese influences, as well as Japanese. I explained the role that Okinawa played as a window for Japan to the wider world during the 200 year period of Japanese isolation, and how after U.S. gunboats "opened" Japan in the 1860s, that role for Okinawa was obviated, and in 1879 Japan simply conquered and colonized Okinawa, outlawing the Okinawan language, forcing Okinawans to take Japanese names, and integrating Okinawa into Japan, much as the U.S. has done with Puerto Rico. I explained that there were issues involving racial discrimination between main islands Japanese and Okinawans, and how Okinawa was used to buy time for the Emperor System at the cost of 1/4 of its population in 1944 and 45. I explained that after placing the Okinawan people in concentration camps, the U.S. seized the former Japanese military bases - and something more - to build U.S. bases there, how Washington and Tokyo conspired to ease the burden of U.S. forces on Japan's main islands by continuing the formal military occupation of Okinawa in 1952, while ending it on the main islands, and how Okinawan hopes were shattered following reversion in 1972, when the bases remained.

Returning to the slide showing the strategic functions of U.S. bases in Okinawa, I explained that during the Cold War they were used to contain the Soviet Union and China, to serve as jumping off points for U.S. military wars and interventions in Korea, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and how they continue to serve those functions in the post-Cold War era, including the war in Central Asia. I explained that the bases also serve U.S. nuclear war fighting plans, as training grounds for U.S. troops, to limit Japan's remilitarizaiton (even as it encourages it in many ways) and for what is euphemistically called "Rest and Recreation."

I then showed a power point presentation that was given to me by Tero Onishi of the Nago Peace Committee, which illustrated many of the points I made and focused on the impacts of and resistance to the construction of the Nago base.

I don't have such careful notes from Vierinia rodino's and Ninotchka Rosa's talks. Virgina focused on the Asia Pacific Freeze and the importance of finally negotiating a peace treaty to end the Korean war, and Ninotchka presented a moving PowerPoint that focused on the institutionalization of prostitution and other sexual violence by U.S. troops committed against women. Among the points that she made was her anger that the Japanese and Korean governments permit such violence against Filipina women to take place in their countries.

We had an extended question and answer period that touched many points: including the Obama Administration's ambitions for the U.S.-Japan alliance, the dangers of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, etc.

We urged conference participants to write to the White House urging President Obama to accept the demand that Futnema be closed and Nago not be built, and that this be done in the context of removing all U.S. troops and bases from Okinawa and Japan.

I apologize for going on so long and hope that you find this helpful.

With all best wishes,

Joseph Gerson

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