Three Messages from Okinawa 沖縄から三通のメッセージ
Apr. 26, 2014
C. Douglas Lummis
This might be one for the Guiness Book. On April 19, 2014, a ceremony was held at the fishing village of Henoko, in Nago City, Okinawa, marking the tenth anniversary of the continuous sit-in by residents and supporters opposing the construction of a new U.S. Marine Corps Airbase there. Actually it’s seventeen years since the U.S. and Japanese governments announced that the USMC Airbase at Futenma, in crowded Ginowan City, would be closed, or rather packed up and moved to this new base at Henoko, as soon as it is built. Seventeen years and, far from being built, construction has not begun and isn’t likely to in the foreseeable future.
It is not surprising that the people of Nago oppose the plan. What is remarkable is that the people of Ginowan, who stand to benefit by the removal of the base, support the Nago residents in their opposition. In fact, the great majority of all Okinawans oppose the plan. And the more the U.S. and Japanese Governments ignore their opposition, the angrier they get.
In 2010 the conservative Prefectural Governor, who had been supporting the base project with certain conditions, was advised that he could not win reelection unless he changed his position. He chose the slogan “outside the Prefecture” (県外移設) which, in the Okinawan vernacular, means “to mainland Japan”, and won the election. What is interesting about this slogan is that it dares to demand that the mainland Japanese take responsibility for their overwhelming support (81%) for the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, under whose authority the bases are located in Japan (mostly Okinawa). For three years the Governor made a show of resisting the construction, but in December of 2013 he suddenly changed his position, thus putting an end to his career as an influential political figure. Opposition leadership has returned to the grass roots.
The three messages appearing below were written just before U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival in Tokyo for talks with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Two of them are addressed to Obama; the third is not, but probably its authors had his visit in mind. At the Abe-Obama press conference in Tokyo on 24 April, Abe reaffirmed his “strong will” to push through the Henoko construction plan. That is, he reaffirmed his utter lack of understanding of the Okinawa situation. The U.S. and Japanese governments are so accustomed to getting their way in Okinawa that they have been unable to grasp that this time it won’t happen. The Henoko base plan has made no headway for seventeen years, and it is not going to make any headway this year or next. It is remarkable how much power can be generated by a small number of people when they become adamant. Like a famous American author once wrote, it takes a village.
Mr. President: Do not smother democracy in Okinawa!
April 23, 2014
President Obama, we extend a hearty welcome to you. We welcome your visit to Japan and place our highest hopes in the outcome of the meeting between you and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Henoko April 19 Declaration
Today we commemorate 10 years of sit-in to block the drilling survey [of the designated Marine base site at Henoko, Northern Okinawa]. It is now actually 17 years since local residents rose up in protest against the bases, and it is more than 16 years since Nago citizens in a city plebiscite showed their intention by voting “No to any new base.”
We remember as if it were yesterday how on this day 10 years ago local residents, Nago citizens and other Okinawans after an over-night vigil gathered in the pre-dawn darkness and repulsed the trucks and workers that had come to enforce the drilling. Through the fierce, year long marine resistance struggle that began that day and was carried out on the sea-front and on canoes and small boats and on the construction towers erected in the sea, we endured blazing summer heat and biting cold wind and the violence inflicted on us by government-employed workers and we succeeded in having the plan to reclaim the coral reef scrapped. We believe that victory was due not just to local residents and Nago citizens but to the circle of support by people beyond Okinawa and extending world-wide.
Despite this, the two governments, Japan and the United States, remained determined to construct a new Henoko base, come what may. They persuaded the then Nago City mayor and the Okinawan Governor to accept a new “V”-shaped design, and pressed ahead with an illegal environmental impact study and other procedures, even dispatching the Maritime Self-Defense Forces to support the survey. In response, Nago citizens in 2010 gave birth to a new city administration led by Mayor Inamine Susumu and pledged to prevent any base construction on land on sea. That momentum then carried over into the “all-Okinawa” opposition to “any base transfer within the prefecture.” Even Governor Nakaima Hirokazu, who till then had been in favour of conditional acceptance of the base, switched his stance to “move Futenma Base outside Okinawa.” However, at the end of last year , surrendering to threats and financial inducements of the new LDP government under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, one that drips with discrimination against Okinawa, he trampled on the will of the people and licensed the reclamation.
The situation we now face is certainly no less severe, and may indeed be even more severe, than what we faced 10 years ago. In January of this year  we made clear the will of the people by re-electing Inamine Susumu as mayor, by a large margin. Yet just two days after that election, the Abe government, as if to show its contempt, began steps towards base construction, mobilizing all its forces, including [consideration of] a special criminal law and a special measures law and mobilizing police and coastguard, to suppress the resistance of the Okinawan people including Nago citizens.
And yet, despite all the pressures and assaults the two governments have visited upon us over these ten, or rather these 17, years, we have not surrendered. For the sake of our children and grandchildren we have stood firm on an anti-base principle and it is a matter for our pride, and a mark of our solidarity, that we have prevented the driving of even one single construction peg into the beautiful seas that stretch out here before us. We now possess a mayor of steadfast conviction who protects the “safety and security” of citizens and we enjoy the strong support of distinguished figures and intellectuals from around the world. We are building an even stronger movement than before.
We call for the withdrawal of the reclamation license issued by Governor Nakaima, for the abandonment by the governments of Japan and the United States of the plan to construct a new base at Henoko, and for the closure and dismantling of the Futenma base. We declare anew our resolve to pass on to our children and grandchildren these beautiful, bio-diverse seas, home to the dugong.
Participants at the gathering to commemorate the 10 year-long sit-in to oppose the survey drilling [of Oura Bay], (representative: Urashima Etsuko)
Henoko Beach, Nago City, Okinawa,
April 19. 2014. Translated by Gavan McCormack
Letter to Hon. Barack Obama, President of the United States
Dear Mr. President,
We welcome your visit to Japan.
And we wish to take this opportunity to tell you about the U.S. Marine Corps Air Facility at Futenma, in Okinawa. In 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, the people of Futenma, to escape the conflagration, had to leave their beloved village and become refugees. When they returned after the battle was over they found their houses gone and their fields destroyed by bulldozers. The tombs of their ancestors, which stand at the center of the Okinawan faith, were also destroyed. Their home village had become an American airbase.
Even though that was in time of war, the construction of the U.S. military base at Futenma was in violation of international law. And so we believe it is the responsibility and the duty of the American Government to end this continuing illegal situation by immediately returning the village to the people.
And for these reasons, we believe that America does not have the qualification to demand an alternative site for this base.
All the more, as the Okinawan people have never once in their history agreed to accept U.S. military bases on their land.
In the Nago City mayoral election in January this year, the citizens made clear their refusal to accept a new base at Henoko, in that City.
And as both opinion polls and election after election have shown, Okinawans are overwhelmingly opposed to this new base construction.
Dear Mr. President,
We fervently hope that you will carry out your duty and responsibility concerning the above matter, and protect America’s dignity and pride.
The more than 200 participants
And the 52 sponsors
Of the April 22 Nodake Sound Picnic
(Futenma, Ginowan City)
C. Douglas Lummis is a Lecturer at Okinawa International University. He had promised himself to write no more about the Japanese Constitution, but when he read the newest LDP amendment proposal, broke that promise. This essay is abbreviated and somewhat rewritten from the new afterword to his Kenpo wa Seifu ni taisuru Meirei de Aru (Heibonsha) which was reissued this year (original 2006).
Asia-Pacific Journal articles on related themes include: