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Friday, December 03, 2010

Dialogue with Douglas Lummis on Okinawa Election 沖縄知事選について、ダグラス・ラミスさんとの会話

Here is an exchange of emails between Douglas Lummis and me, as he responded to my previous post - comments on the Okinawa gubernatorial election. I wanted to share Doug's insights with a wider audience, and with his kind permission, I am posting below. (Doug's in green letters, and mine in blue. See Gavan McCormack' comment below too.) See HERE for Part II.

(Some Japanese words that frequently appear in the discussion of Futenma "relocation" problem.

Kennai isetsu, or kennai: literally meaning "moving within a prefecture," and in the context of this issue, it means building another base within Okinawa as replacement of MCAS Futenma.

Kengai isetsu, or kengai: literally meaning "moving outside of prefecture," and in the context of this issue, it means building a new facility in a place other than Okinawa but within Japan, and/or using or upgrading existing facilities within Japan (but not in Okinawa) to transfer the functions of MCAS Futenma.

Kokugai isetsu, or kokugai: moving outside the country. )

In response to Satoko's post-election thoughts,

Dear Satoko,

Thanks for forwarding your piece on the Okinawa gubernatorial election. But I have to say that I think you are missing something very important. Or at the very least, that there are other ways of looking at the result.

I think it’s wrong to say that the Okinawan voters have been deceived. Rather, I think they understood pretty clearly the choice they were making.

The main significance of this election was that neither of the serious candidates supported the DPJ line, i.e. that the US Marine Air Station at Futenma should be moved to Henoko. The only party that supported that idea was the Kofuku Jitsugen To. They spent a huge amount of money on the election, and brought in an army of volunteers from mainland Japan. Their flags and posters and soundtrucks were everywhere. And they got 2% of the vote.

And the voters also didn’t support Iha’s vagaries about Guam. By vagary I mean that he tried to avoid saying directly that he supported moving the base to Guam (saying that he was only revealing that the US had such a plan) while at the same time making clear that he saw this as a solution to the problem, and occasionally forgetting himself and saying that he did support it. Several years ago I heard him give a talk on the Guam option, after which someone asked from the floor, “What about the anti-base movement in Guam?” Iha’s answer was (I quote from memory) “That’s very small, negligible, nothing to worry about.” In the present election, a person in Iha’s camp who had been very active in opposing the Guam option and supporting solidarity with the Guam anti-base movement, was asked how she could campaign for Iha. She answered, “Oh, that’s a lie (uso). He doesn’t really favor it. He’s just saying that to win the election.” Another person working in the Iha camp told me that he thinks the woman was engaging in wishful thinking, to make it possible to work with Iha. That’s how vague it was: even people working in his campaign couldn’t agree on what Iha really meant.

I think the Okinawa voters should be admired for voting against moving the base to an even more powerless colony. A Chamorro woman who came to Okinawa last June said at a rally, “Please understand that Guam is not America. Guam belongs to America.” She pointed out that Guamanians have no vote in U.S. national elections and so can be, and are, politically ignored.

As for Nakaima’s changed position; yes, of course, it would be wrong to trust him; he has to be watched and pressured constantly. But remember the reason he changed was because his advisors (principally Naha Mayor Onaga it seems) told him that you can no longer win an election in Okinawa by saying you support, or will accept, moving the base to Henoko. So both candidates opposed Henoko plan, but they constructed their opposition differently. Iha said, I oppose the base; I as Governor will prevent its construction. Nakaima said (in effect), it doesn’t matter what I think. The people of Okinawa have made it impossible to build the base. It can’t be done. So which is the more democratic?

The other big difference is that Iha said absolutely nothing about the option of moving the base to mainland Japan. There were several reasons for this. One would like to believe that as a pacifist, he could not in good conscience support the base being simply moved to another location, but would rather see it abolished altogether. But if so, he had no business pushing the Guam option. More importantly, he is very much dependent on the mainland anti-war movement for support, and doesn’t want to say anything to anger them. And talking about the mainland option does anger Japanese anti-war people immensely. Secondly, if he had taken that position the Japan Communist Party would not have supported him. As it was, the JCP also sent an army of volunteers from the mainland to work in his campaign. From Iha soundtrucks you could hear voices saying (in mainland accents) things like, “Okinawans! Please get rid of your bases!). This kind of preaching did not, I think, help his cause much.

Nakaima took the position known here as kengai isetsu (県外移設) which literally means, move out of the prefecture, but is understood to mean, move to mainland Japan. That he won the election on this slogan marks a sea change in Okinawan opinion. It changes the terms of the debate. What had been a purely anti-war, anti-base discourse is now one in which anti-colonialism and anti-discrimination are also an isue. He said, these bases are not Okinawa’s responsibility, they are Yamato Japan’s responsibility. (He uses the Okinawan expression Yamatuu which expresses a mild level of anger or distain, comparable perhaps to an American Black’s use of the term honky). Until recently it was only a small minority who took this position, and received a lot of abuse for taking it. Nakaima, who owes nothing to the Japanese peace movement or to the JCP, has brought it into mainstream discourse, and won an election on it. Again, you can’t catch the significance of this only within a war-antiwar or left-right framework; you have to see it in a colonial-anticolonial framework. It may be that some people in Tokyo felt relief at Nakaima’s victory, but I think that only means they haven’t grasped the situation. Only 2% of the voters here supported the Tokyo government’s position, this despite all the fuss about fearsome Chinese fishing boats and North Korean artillery. 98% voted against it. And Nakaima, if he keeps his promise (and the pressure on him to do so will be huge) is going to dump the base issue right back onto Tokyo’s lap. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another prime minister knocked out of office by this.

Be Well,



Dear Doug,

I have been thinking about what you wrote.

I wonder if people rejected the Happy party (Kofuku Jitsugen To: see John Feffer's assessment of this party in Foreign Policy in Focus) because of their politics or because they are simply crazy. I saw their disgusting propaganda video. I would not draw too much attention on the Happy by stressing the 98-2 ratio. I would not use it. I supported Iha because of his principle to oppose the Henoko plan. I agree to the idea of taking Nakaima's kengai pledge as hostage and use that to pressure him, but for me using the 98 number would mean to support Nakaima retrospectively, which I can't possibly pretend to do, just because he won more votes than Iha. If you began by supporting Nakaima, fine, and that's what you did maybe, but if not, I think it would be a wrong thing to do. One might say that saying 98% is not a retrospective support for Nakaima, but simply an observation of the result. But I would say no. I would not take advantage of whom I opposed in order to make my point.

Do you support Nakaima because of his kengai choice? But is he sincere about this? As soon as he was elected, Nakaima said, before he only accepted the Henoko plan because Nago City said "yes." Nakaima should have known that Nago's "yes" was a result of dirty dealings behind the series of events in 1997/1998 (Nago's plebscite in which the majority said "no" to the base - mayor Higa's betrayal and resignation - then mayoral election in which pro-base Kishimoto won - gubernatorial election in which Ota was defeated by pro-base Inamine. See my second comment at the end of my election post at this link for details.) Applying that logic, if all the other prefectures say no to kengai, and if there is one vulnerable community somewhere in Okinawa that's made to say "yes" with a similar mechanism that brought Nago to say "yes" before, Nakaima will just jump on the opportunity. He has no principle. I can't even see any sign of his saying kengai from an anticolonial principle. To me, it sounds worlds apart when you say kengai and when he says it.

One thing I haven't been able to figure about Iha is exactly what you said. He said he wasn't endorsing it; he was only revealing the Pentagon documents about it and was holding US and Japanese governments accountable for them. But he changed, especially during the election, he openly started to say Guam. I can guess different scenarios why he chose to do so, but it is meaningless to go into speculation at this point.

One thing I was totally unaware of is JCP's pressure on Iha. Thank you for that information.

What you have been saying and writing has brought awareness about the implication of kengai, and that would be the only thing about Nakaima that I would support, but again, I can't help thinking Nakaima's practical strategy only happened to fit in that anticolonial expectation. I am not saying he doesn't have that value in him; as an Okinawan of course he should.

Thank you Doug,



Dear Satoko,

Thanks for your thoughtful note. I should make clear that, if I had the right to vote in Okinawa, I would have voted for Iha, not at all happily, with deep reservations, but he would have got my vote. This is partly because of Nakaima’s support for the SDF, and partly because I like the people around Iha a lot better. If he had gotten elected, I would have joined those among his supporters who were preparing, were he elected, to lobby him to shut up about Guam. (One reason he was defeated was that there were a lot of people on his team who were less than enthusiastic). I went with my family to his final rally on the Saturday night before the election, and we were among the many hundreds of people he shook hands with there.

But I still think that the big significance of this election is that both of the serious candidates, from their different angles, opposed moving the base to Henoko. Of course you are right that the Happy Party, as you aptly call them, are a pack of crazies, and just about everybody knows that. But you can run that the other way: in this election the only people to support the government position was a pack of crazies. Yes, if the DPJ had fielded a candidate they would have got more than 2%, but they still would have suffered a humiliating loss, which is presumably why they didn’t run anybody. Around the time of the Hatoyama resignation, an opinion poll showed Okinawan support for the Japan-US Security Treaty at 6% (Compared to over 60% in mainland Japan) with support for the DJP just a few points more.

On Iha and Guam, either he supported the option, which is I think a shameful position, or he didn’t but said he did in order to win the election, which is also not so admirable. In either case, I think Guam for him was a ploy to allow him to talk about getting rid of the Futenma base without either dealing in unpersuasive abstractions (the base should be banished from the world) or offending Japan (kengai isetsu). If he had won the election I think he would have had to stop talking about it, because the question of where the US should locate its bases outside Japanese territory is outside the Okinawa Governor’s, and the Japanese Government’s, jurisdiction. In the event, the ploy did not win him the election. And with his defeat, I suspect the Guam option will fade from public discourse here.

On Nakaima, again, it’s not a question of liking or trusting him. You are right to point out that he has on his record support for the phoney “consent” that was bulldozed out of the city of Nago. (But remember Iha has on his record now virtual support for a similar process in Guam). But in this election, the great thing is that Nakaima read the situation correctly: you can’t win an election here by saying you will accept a base at Henoko. Depending on how you look at it, you could say he is just an opportunist, or you could say it is a victory for democracy. You could say he is deceiving the voters, or you could say that the voters have forced him to change his position. The important thing not to sit back and see which of these turns out to be true, but to make sure that the latter proves true. That is, by no means to relax and leave it up to him, but to watch him like a hawk, and to jack up the pressure. At the same time I am increasingly getting the impression that he may be serious in his nationalism, and in his anger (in some situations, anger is the healthy response) toward Japan. There’s no necessary contradiction between being a conservative and being a nationalist. The old curmudgeon is saying some pretty tough and interesting things these days. With regard to the unequal distribution of the bases, he is able to use the word “discrimination”, a word that doesn’t seem to be included in Iha’s vocabulary. I am wondering whether it may sometimes happen that a politician takes a position opportunistically, and after repeating it over and over on many occasions, comes to discover that he believes it.

Be Well,


Please see the next post for the rest of the conversation. Link HERE.

C. Douglas Lummis, a former US Marine stationed on Okinawa, is the author of Radical Democracy and other books in Japanese and English. A Japan Focus associate, he formerly taught at Tsuda College. See this LINK for a list of Doug's articles on Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.


  1. Gavan McCormack6:20 am

    I agree with you and not with Doug, in the sense that I cannot see the outcome as an expression of anti-colonial solidarity with Guam. I cannot evaluate what a factor that may have been but I doubt it was substantial.

    And the rejection of the happies candidate just meant that people rejected the happies, not that they (the 98%) thereby rejected Henoko.

    I also cannot agree that Iha secretly favoured Futenma relocation to Guam but deceived the electorate by not making his position explicit, or that he did not mention possible relocation to mainland because his mainland backers (and the JCP) would not accept it. It is not for an Okinawan leader to say more than what Iha said: no new base in Okinawa. The problem beyond that is for the GoJ (and US). I think it as perfectly appropriate for him to point to the contradiction between the GoJ assumption that Okinawa is to remain the mainstay of US forces in East Asia, and the repeated evidence of Pentagon planning to draw back to Guam.

    On Nakaima, although I deeply distrust him, Doug does have a point. He is (probably) an unprincipled politician, but he is a politician, not an ideologue. Good politicians negotiate competing interests. We should not project our notions of virtue onto them. He saw the way the wind was blowing and shifted his position 180 degrees for the sake of getting a second term. If at some point in the future he sensed the public mood softening on Henoko, he would likely shift position again. But if it holds, he might also hold. In any case, Nakaima's "Move Futenma somewhere outside Okinawa" (kengai isetsu) does *not* equate to "Move Futenma to mainland Japan" (hondo isetsu).
    There is also a tactical point: that Okinawan colleagues/comrades seem to have decided the need now is to "go with" Nakaima, ie., to put maximum pressure on him to support his approaches to Tokyo and to ensure he does not backpeddle. To attack his legitimacy at this point would be
    a mistake, however slippery he may be. Precisely because he is a
    politician without principle, he may be the best bet Okinawans have.

    On the JCP, it is hard from this distance to know what role they played,but it very likely did not help Iha's cause and might have been a negative factor; they are to be trusted as little as Komeito.

    As for Kan, he slides rapidly into political oblivion even without
    confronting the Okinawan issue at all. Will he still be PM by mid December?

  2. Thank you for directing me to this illuminating exchange, Satoko.

    In my current stage of slow development, I'm trying to go for effect/consequences without stopping at alienation caused by putative motivation. I'm struck by something Takenaka Chihiro, political scientist specializing in India observed: that Indians are very good at "tsukaikonashi" of their politicians; Japanese, hardly. It seems like a useful orientation, and it'd be good to think concretely of the different ways of putting it into action. I'm hoping Governor Nakaima will be subject to some good "tsukaikonashi" by Okinawans.

    With all due reservation regarding strategies, style of execution, etc. I must take exception to Gavan's equating JCP with Komeito. It seems uncharacteristically knee-jerk.