Trouble in Paradise
So far it’s been a difficult year on the island of Okinawa. Not because of typhoons or the ever-present traffic jams in Naha but because the burden of hosting so many US military bases has raised its ugly head yet again. In March there was the alleged rape of a Japanese tourist by a US sailor. Then last month came news of the alleged rape and murder of a 20 year old local office worker and the arrest of a former US marine employed at one of the military bases. There are continuing protests against the proposed construction of the Henoko base with all the danger and damage to the environment that will inevitably occur if it goes ahead.
And now there is news of the release of internal US Marine Corps documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These documents show that lectures supposed to improve US marines’ understanding of Okinawa instead downplay military crimes and disparage residents. To those living in Okinawa under what amounts to a partial military occupation of the island this should come as no surprise.
Top marks to investigative journalist Jon Mitchell for revealing the content of these lectures and for his sterling work over the past few years in reporting on human rights issues in Okinawa. It took a Welshman living in mainland Japan to do this and for his efforts he was awarded the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan’s Freedom of the Press Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. If only the Japanese would follow suit with some tough investigative reporting of their own but this isn’t likely in the current political climate where the media censor themselves for fear of upsetting the government.
In contrast, the media and specifically the two newspapers in Okinawa are frequently outspoken in reporting and condemning the situation as faced by people here but according to the lectures given to the US marines this is only because we are: “more emotional than logical”. According to these scripts and slides which are shown to marines, the media in mainland Japan “is relatively less biased than the media in Okinawa”.
Newly arrived marines are also told: “You will find that the media and local politics will eagerly report on half-truths and unconfirmed allegations in order to continue to underscore their burden and extract political mileage to further certain agendas, some are widely accepted some are more selfish and some are potentially more destructive but all undermines our presence and the alliance.”
Okinawans are described under the mandatory ‘Okinawa Cultural Awareness Training’ for new arrivals, as having “limited sources of information and do not usually go out of their way to find information”. Oh yes, and: “It pays to complain. Anywhere offense can be taken, it will be used”.
As one who has lived in Okinawa for seven years I now, of course, have “limited sources of information” and am “more emotional than logical” but it seems obvious to me that the US military is not here to protect the people of Okinawa – even if such an aim is possible through the contradictory use of violence. Instead they are here to enforce and expand their own interests around the world as they have always done. They are the ones with the “agenda” and the presence of military bases only makes the island a target. More surprising is that Okinawans who suffered unbelievable hardship and countless thousands of deaths in the Battle of Okinawa are not even more vocal in their protests against an occupation of much of their land which has gone on for over 70 years.
It’s hard to see how the situation can ever be resolved satisfactorily while Okinawa remains part of a Japan whose government continually ignores the wishes of the people and has a colonial attitude towards Okinawa. Many Japanese too prefer to think of Okinawa only as a subtropical paradise holiday destination. On the other hand, until 1989 no-one thought the Berlin Wall would come down so maybe any change is possible. For now Okinawans should be proud of their pacifism and of their much quoted saying “nuchi du takara” (life is the treasure).