This is no longer an opposition movement but a prefecture in resistance, saying “No.”

This is no longer an opposition movement but a prefecture in resistance, saying

Gavan McCormack


September 09, 2012 By Gavan McCormack

Great issues are at stake in the Osprey contest and the 5 August Meeting. After four decades of lying to, discriminating against, and betraying Okinawa, time and again, decade after decade, the governments of Japan and the United States now seem to have provoked it to an intolerable degree. By determining to impose on it something that the people of Okinawa say they will not accept, they substitute authoritarianism for democracy.

At the Ginown City protest meeting in June 2012, Shinjo Yoshitaka, the president of heads of the neighborhood community associations in Ginowan City, spoke of Okinawa’s culture of enduring up to a certain limit, beyond which the endurable becomes unendurable (nijitan nijitan nijiraran). His words distilled Okinawa’s pain. Now is such a point, when either the national government or the people of Okinawa must submit. The odds in favour of the state and against the people are of course huge, but for nearly 20 years the people have held the state at bay, blocking one after another design. This time the stakes are higher than ever and the outcome will have a profound effect on Japanese democracy, the Japan-US relationship, and the world.

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, the relationship between Tokyo (backed by Washington) and Okinawa resembles nothing so much as that between Moscow and Budapest or Warsaw at the height of the Cold War. Okinawan views are as much respected and listened to in Tokyo and Washington today as once Hungarian and Polish sentiments were respected in Moscow.

After decades of struggle, however, on these issues there is no longer an Okinawan “government” and “opposition.” Local government heads and assemblies, social and citizen groups are one, and it is the conservative Governor who suggests that if the Osprey are so safe they could be deployed to Hibiya Park or Shinjuku Gyoen. This is no longer an opposition movement but a prefecture in resistance, saying “No.” Japanese history has no precedent for this.

There is of course much more at stake than the Osprey. The Okinawan movement that says “No” to the Osprey says “No” also to the Futenma substitution project at Nago and “No” to the Osprey Helipad construction project at Takae. It also is deeply sensitive to other signs of intention to militarize the Southwestern islands in general and turn it into a front-line of confrontation with China: to construct a new (Self-Defence Force) base on Yonaguni, to have US and Japanese forces gradually merge and share the existing bases (in the name of “bilateral cooperation”), and to turn Shimojishima airport on Miyako Island and Mageshima in Kagoshima Prefecture into bases.

When the DPJ abandoned one by one its 2009 electoral pledges and began to morph into a clone LDP, mainland Japan sank into a stupor of political disillusion, but Okinawa returned to struggle with renewed energy. The local government elections and the All-Okinawa protest meeting of 2010 were expressions of its determination. Wikileaks and Mitsuyaku helped by shedding further light on the nature of the state and the Ampo system. They showed the lies and deceit on which the system rested, from the initial false promise of a reversion that would be “no nuclear weapons and on a par with the mainland” (kakunuki hondonami) through the years of evasion or manipulation of various laws (especially the environmental law) and the consistent discrimination against Okinawa, to Noda’s false promise of “burden lightening.”

DPJ governments began to show even greater servility to Washington and greater hardness to Okinawa than their LDP predecessors. Prime Minister Noda’s admission that “Once the American government has decided on deployment, there is no point in us going on about whether to do this or do that” was a rare, public admission at the highest level of the humiliating and clientelist (zokkoku) nature of the US-Japan relationship. However, by endorsing the Pentagon plan to deploy the Osprey not only in Okinawa but throughout Japan, they stirred the awakening of an “Okinawan” spirit of resistance on a national scale.

Even some of those most faithful to Washington now call for the deployment to be delayed, not because they believe in the sovereignty of the people but because they are afraid. They fear the Osprey struggle has the potential to grow into a nation-wide, anti-base and anti-Ampo movement, a struggle that might threaten Ampo itself. They now promise to investigate and explain, but ultimately their commitment is to enforce the Washington-Tokyo will. In any case, post 2011, explanations from Tokyo, whether on nuclear matters or on Okinawa matters, have little credibility. It is not for Tokyo to explain more or better but to apologize and to withdraw.

Today’s Okinawa struggle is a root a struggle over how Japan is governed and how it should be governed. In a rapidly changing world in which the US is losing both its economic and its moral authority, how can it be in the national interest for Japan to cling to its client state dependence on the United States and to steadily militarize? The anti-militarist Okinawan struggle constitutes a precious resource, pricking the national conscience and spurring mainland Japan to greater civic courage.

Gavan McCormack is an Australian-born researcher specializing in East Asia who is currently Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University. His main research interest is in “modern Japanese (and East Asian) political, intellectual, and environmental history.” He is also a coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. He was awarded (jointly, on behalf Japan Focus), Inaugural Ryukyu Shimpo Ikemiyagi Shui Prize for promotion of international understanding of Okinawa, September 2008. His recent books include The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence; New York, M.E. Sharpe, Japanese edition from Misuzu Shobo and Client State: Japan in the American Embrace, New York and London, Verso, Japanese edition from Gaifusha.

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