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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Futenma Issue As Seen from Okinawan Perspective by Yoshio Shimoji 「沖縄から見た普天間問題」琉球大学名誉教授 下地良男

Thank you Shimoji-san for allowing me to post your compelling, powerful, and persuasive article. The four beautiful photos are those of "Henoko's pristine coastal waters" by the author.

Futenma issue as seen from Okinawan perspective

Yoshio Shimoji

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the revised Japan-U.S. Mutual Security Treaty. The original treaty was signed on September 9, 1951, the next day the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed. Its provision stipulated that Japan must guarantee the U.S. the same stable use of military bases as ever before. Without recognizing it, Japan could never win its independence as it did. This stipulation was invariably carried over to the revised treaty of 1960 (Article 6) and with it the U.S. has been assured of continued military presence in Japan, predominating its sea, land and air space to this day.

Japan's independence was also achieved at the cost of Okinawa, which was kept under U.S. military occupation until the reversion of its administrative rights to Japan in 1972. But even after the reversion the U. S. bases in Okinawa remained safe and intact. Today, the negative side of the Japan-U.S Mutual Security Treaty appears most conspicuously in Okinawa, where 75 percent of the U.S. bases and facilities in Japan are concentrated. Although those bases and facilities (totaling 85 in number; 3,086ha in area)are formally offered to the U.S. Forces under the Security Treaty, they are in essence spoils the U.S. Forces won by war.

From Okinawa's perspective, Japan's independence appears only an illusion. Japan is still a semi-independent nation unable to say anything right and reasonable to Uncle Sam; hence, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's wish list in his inaugural speech showcasing, among others, that Japan must be an equal partner to the U.S.

The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently a hot foreign affairs issue straining the Japan-U.S relationship over its relocation, is located in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. Houses cluster around the fences close together, even built as closely as the approach lights on both sides of the runway. This absurd situation has something to do with the city's post-war history.

While the battle was still going on in the south, the invading U.S. Army encroached upon large swaths of land in the central section of the island, where villages, farmland, school yards and cemeteries existed cheek by jowl. The people who surrendered themselves or survived the battle were herded into concentration camps in the north. (Such land seizure was not limited
to central Okinawa; in fact, it was a universal phenomena all over the island at the time.)

When they were allowed to return home a few years after the war ended, people from central Okinawa found their hometowns and villages turned into vast military bases. Reluctantly, they began to live alongside barbed-wire fences, some earning a meager livelihood by working for the bases. This is how Ginowan City that now surrounds the Futenma Air Station came into being.

In response to Ginowan residents' strong demand for its closure because of various hazards it poses, in 1996, Japan and the U.S. struck a deal to close down the base and return the land when a suitable relocation site was found somewhere on the island.

Apparently, from the very beginning, the U.S. side had the Henoko district in mind for a relocation site. The Pentagon had a blue print already designed in the 1960's in which Futenma would be relocated to reclaimed land in Henoko's coastal waters and thereby functionally integrated with Camp Hansen, Camp Schwab and central and northern training areas.

However, this plan was botched because the U.S. Congress didn't pass the bill for necessary appropriations with skyrocketing Vietnam War expenditures under their nose. The situation is totally different today. If everything goes well as Washington (the Pentagon) schemes, Tokyo will shoulder all the expenses for land reclamation and the construction of runways and other facilities complete with high-end equipment.

The Futenma issue started to reduce burdens on Okinawa, but the burdens remain as much if Futenma's function and facility are moved from one place to another within Okinawa. Moving the base around in Okinawa or, more broadly, in Japan will clearly signal that Tokyo has consented to a  permanent U.S. military presence in Japan. This must be prevented by all means. I think the essential matter regarding the Futenma issue lies here. Washington keeps saying Henoko is the best choice for Futenma's relocation site if Japan wants the U.S. military's deterrence capability to be maintained. There's always a possibility for contingencies to occur in this Pacific region, for example, in the Korean Peninsula or the Taiwan Straits, they say.

The Marines' presence works as essential deterrence. In order to counter contingencies effectively, a helicopter squadron must be deployed within a 20-minute distance from the bases where ground forces stand by. This is the reason why Futenma's facility must be relocated to Henoko, which is adjacent to Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen where the Marines' ground troops are stationed. There's absolutely no alternative to this, says Washington.

Note that this is an argument based on tactical rather than strategic reasoning.

According to this explanation, a helicopter squadron must pick up ground troops in twenty minutes and transport them to the frontline in a short span of time (in one hour, maybe?). But can one realistically imagine such a situation in and around Okinawa Island? Do the Marines think a ground battle similar to the World War II Battle of Okinawa will be replicated in the southern section of the island? Is Okinawa still a war zone in their thinking?

Suppose war occurred in the Korean Peninsula and the Marines from Okinawa successfully landed there IN ONE HOUR. Still, can the Marines numbering in 17,000 squarely fight North Korea's 1.2 million standing army? The same thing can be said about the Taiwan Straits.

Or can they function as a bulwark against potential missile attacks, say, by North Korea, China or Russia?

A local newspaper reports that Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab are both empty shells these days because their occupants are deployed to Iraq and now to Afghanistan to fight against insurgents there.

Obviously, the Marines are stationed in Okinawa not to defend Japan as ballyhooed but simply to hone their skills in assault and invasion. It's a cozy and easy place for them unlike any other place in the world except perhaps the U.S. mainland. Tokyo willingly or unwillingly shoulders a prodigious sum of money Washington asks for in the name of “host nation support,” which I would rather characterize as turf dues exacted by an organized crime syndicate that tells area residents it is protecting them from rival gangs.

That the Marines are based in Okinawa not to defend Japan but mainly U.S. interests is a generally accepted consensus as the following quotation from the global security org. verifies:

“The (3rd Battalion, 6th Marines) Regiment continues to support the defense of the Nation by maintaining forces in readiness in support of contingency operations and unit deployments to the Mediterranean, Pacific rim and around the globe.” (italics mine)

When Marine contingents were compelled to move out of Gifu and Yamanashi Prefectures in mainland Japan in the face of mounting anti-U.S. base demonstrations and moved to Okinawa in the 1950's, a number of Pentagon strategists cast doubt about the wisdom of such a measure.

The major part of the U.S. Forces in Okinawa during the occupation period that ended with the reversion was the U.S. Army. Apparently, the Army knew the limited value of their staying in Okinawa and so they withdrew from the island entirely, leaving only some few hundred troops behind. The Marines grabbed this chance to expand their role and function, taking over everything from the leaving Army.

All this means that the U.S. Marines are stationed here only for their own sake. They aren't deterrents against any outside “threats” at all as they boast.

The Futenma Air Station must therefore be closed down and the land returned to its legitimate owners unconditionally and in no time. The U.S. has no God-given right to demand a quid pro quo in exchange for its return. Military training can be conducted on the vastness of the U.S.'s own soil with impunity and to their satisfaction.

Yoshio Shimoji
Born in Miyako Island, Okinawa, in 1937. Graduated from the University of the Ryukyus in 1960. Earned an M.S. in Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. in 1963. Taught English and English Linguistics at the University of the Ryukyus from 1966 through 2003. Retired from the above university in 2003 with the title of Professor
Emeritus.

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