Film Director Oliver Stone urges Okinawans to wage nonviolent struggle

Film Director Oliver Stone urges Okinawans to wage nonviolent struggle

"Okinawa, you have had an effect. You have stopped things from happening in Okinawa. You are a small population, but you get it. Everyone now knows of Okinawa," said film director Oliver Stone on July 19 in Santa Monica, California.


August 4, 2013 Ryota Shimabukuro of Ryukyu Shimpo

In his interview with the Ryukyu Shimpo, referring to the issue of U.S. military bases on Okinawa, film director Oliver Stone suggested that people should raise their voices to change the situation. Looking back on U.S. diplomatic history, he said that there have been some major turning points, such as the end of the Cold War, that lead towards disarmament. Stone said that as a result of people’s ongoing demands to reduce the unreasonable burden of the bases, “Everyone now knows of Okinawa.” He emphasized, “Okinawa, you have had an effect. You have stopped things from happening in Okinawa.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

Governments cover up history

Shimabukuro: You and American University Professor Peter Kuznick created the documentary series “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States” which focuses on the history of U.S. foreign policy including the development of nuclear weapons. What response have you had from people in the United States or abroad?

Oliver Stone: We did far better than we expected. For me, coming from bigger media and films, movies, I was disappointed by the media, the American media’s reaction to the series. I thought that they were dismissive and ignored it. They did not see it as a serious history. It’s hard because we are not known as big historians. I’m a filmmaker. They look at me as a filmmaker and here I am, coming on to history and taking it all on, and changing it, I mean, taking an upside-down view and saying – This is American history, but what you learned in school is all screwed up. And, I switch it like this and say – Think about American history this way! It’s not easy for them to accept. But, let me just say, that when the series came out I have to say, honestly, that Peter was very encouraged by most of the historians. Most of the historians were very positive. We were very lucky to get Showtime, which is premium cable, to do this and we had good results, surprising results. They didn’t advertise much. They did not expect a big market and we got 1.1 million viewers a week, on average. The encouraging thing was that the series started and stayed and went higher at the end, which is very rare, because most television series drop-off. As a result, I was able to get a deal with Warner Brothers, which is a big company, to distribute the film on DVD, the full 12 hours, in October of this year. That’s a big deal.
We got more attention, more serious attention in England, and we did very well in England. We also showed there. So I was encouraged by the more intelligent approach of the English Media, and that includes the more conservative papers like the Telegraph and The Times, and that The Guardian was very good. The book sales in Japan were very good. Premium cable and NHK, smaller stations. It wasn’t the best or the widest show. It was late at night and they cut ten minutes or nine minutes out of each episode, but given the limitations, we did very well in Japan.

Q: How do you see the history of the United States when looking from the standpoint of foreign countries and their histories?

Oliver Stone: Well, everything changes. Once you get into this history . . . You see, the reason I made The History, was because I knew that what I learned in school was not entirely true. That, like with every country, like with Japan, history gets covered up.
So, the atomic bombing of Japan, as with many other stories, in American history becomes a good thing, something that ends the war. And when you investigate it thoroughly, it was an unnecessary bombing, not only strategically, but morally repulsive. It puts my country in a very poor light. This is an issue, which bothers me no end. I was born in 1946. The bomb was always un-discussed. It was the right thing to do. It ended World War II. And, when you understand that the [fear of] Russian invasion of Japan played a significant role, perhaps the determinate role in Japan surrendering, it changes the entire equation, and you begin to look at the Soviet Union-U.S. rivalry, the Cold War, so to speak, as started by the U.S. right then and there in Japan. You see? Which I think is something that we don’t even deal with in this country.
Some revisionist historians at college level do deal with it, but not at high school level. Not at the high school level. So, we have a “national myth.” The U.S. won World War II. The U.S. had to use the atomic bomb to end the war. These are two myths that we try to shatter. That is at the very beginning of the series. This is the kind of problem you have.
This is the kind of problem you have. But, we go all the way through Reagan, Bush, Obama, Eisenhower. We believe that this is what America has become. We have become a super fortress, a global security state, not a national security state but a global security state, with an empire unlike any in history; one that controls the world. Most recently in the asylum seeking of Edward Snowden, you see the United States again, exerting its will on every country in the world, to stop this man and not to let him fly into another country, not to seek asylum.
This is an amazing, amazing act of control. It shows you the control the United States exerts, especially in Europe, which is very . . . Except in South America, which is interesting, because in the old days, when I grew up, South America was under America’s thumb and Europe was independent. Now, unfortunately, Europe is under America’s thumb.

Q: About 200,000 people lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. U.S. military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa after the war. You are visiting Okinawa for the first time. What impression do you have of Okinawa?

Oliver Stone: It is clear to me now, that the United States has truly a unilateral relationship with Okinawa. The United States is more interested in keeping Okinawa probably that even the Japanese bases. It fits right into the U.S. global strategy of controlling all sea-lanes, controlling China, the “pivot to China.”
I don’t really think the United States cares about that Okinawa belongs to Japan or not, and that’s another issue, but I really think the United States only cares about its relationship with Okinawa, because they wanted to use it like Guam. They want to use it like Pearl Harbor. And, Japan doesn’t care either. I don’t think Japan cares about Okinawa. Okinawa cares about Okinawa. I mean, Japan would say – Okay, you want to? all the bases on Okinawa? Fine!
Most Americans still see Okinawa simply as a battlefield in World War II, where the United States people lost a lot of soldiers and the Japanese were fanatical in resisting, but that it was a glorious battle, and we won. I don’t think that they even know that there is a difference between the Okinawan people and the Japanese people, and they certainly do not know that Okinawa was an independent kingdom before, it was 1879, and that Japan occupied them. Okinawa is truly, I guess you would call it a Polynesian Island. I don’t know what you would call it, but it certainly exists in the same realm as Guam or the Philippines or Hawaii, all of which have been treated pretty badly by the United States and by the Japanese.
So, I’m going to Jeju Island also, in my trip. So it’s ironic, because I hadn’t planned it that way, but Jeju was added at the last second, and it’s similar to Okinawa, because it’s an island and they are being threatened by a huge development, this naval base being built, supposedly by the South Koreans, but really being done for the use of the United States on Jeju. They’re going to destroy the coral reef. They are going to use the biggest, deepest naval carriers in the fleet. The George Washington would be able to sail into Jeju, which means the end of the coral reef there, in that part of the island.

The relationship between Okinawa and U.S. – a double standard

Q: The United States advocates freedom, equality, and democracy based on the spirit of the Constitution and founding principles, but people in Okinawa live in a contradictory world.
Oliver Stone: It’s definitely a double standard and part of the reason that we made The Untold History was to point out some of these contradictions. It’s very hard for me to accept that the American people just go along with this, because they’re comfortable, because the empire justifies itself. They don’t think about the costs to them, of this empire, that we pay these taxes. In fact, on Okinawa the situation is that the United States has a “sweetheart deal” because they get Japan to pay most of the money for Okinawan maintenance, which is interesting. We have the best deal of all in Okinawa. Japan pays most of these costs. On top of that, our Status of Forces Agreement allows us to maintain independence inside Okinawa. We have no responsibility beyond the judgment of our own military courts. That was the reason why we had to pull out of Iraq, according to many people, was because Iraq would not recognize the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. And, the United States is terrified of being judged by an international tribunal, and I think it shows you that we are basically scared of being judge wrongly, and scared of our own actions.

Q: You referred to the arms race of the Cold War era in Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States. How do you see China’s rising presence? Some people use this as an excuse to maintain the U.S. bases in Okinawa.

Oliver Stone: China certainly has a right to flex its muscles, but you know, unfortunately if you try to keep China down and say – You can’t flex your muscles . . . we’re going to have problems. I think you have to let a baby giant… you have to let it grow. China will have its own set of problems, but I don’t see China as the enemy. I see China as very smart, but I do think that they have some inherent problems. They’re not exactly a democracy. They have party-control issues. But, we have to get along. The world needs to be multi-polar. The United States cannot be the dominant power any longer.
This is a big issue, because, if you are number-one you don’t want to give up the position. That’s the mentality of capitalism. You’re number-one. See, no one in the United States ever asked – Why do we have to be in this race for arms all over the world? And, with the Soviet Union collapsing in 1991, that was a key moment to ask that question, but the United States never even thought about it and pursued its policy of hegemony all over the world and maintained this pace of military spending, as well as expanding the bases.

Everyone now knows of Okinawa

Q: There have been moves by which the people seek change, which were reflected in election results and government’s policy, both in Japan and in the United States. However, the leaders cannot keep their promises. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama failed to achieve his pledge to move Futenma Air Station outside of Okinawa.

Oliver Stone: This is where I think mass movements played a huge role. I mean, people matter. Mass movements give leaders backbone to fight. Certainly, Franklin Roosevelt felt the population was behind him and that was why he was able to legislate very authoritatively, to tell the bankers that they can should give up. It takes guts, because the banks run the world. He did it. Henry Wallace. John Kennedy. John Kennedy was always aware of political opinion. He was very much a politician, but he felt like he knew he was going to win the 1964 election. He knew it. He felt it. He felt like – I can do many of these things I want to do in 1964. I may not be popular, but I can do that after I get re-elected. He was the best chance we had after World War II, to really change things, and he was killed before the election, and I think that’s part of the reason he was killed. Obama I think is very much the same case. I think Obama, again, was a candidate for great change and hope and somewhere, as we showed in Chapter 10 of our documentary, somewhere along the line he lost his way. By the time he became the president, after he had been elected, Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, computer companies were financing him instead of the people. His deals with Wall Street were somehow in place, very little reform. On the War on Terror – nothing. Minor, softer language, better management than Bush, but essentially transparency was not brought to government and no responsibility was brought to the eavesdropping and Snowden affair, et cetera. On the contrary, Obama has been harder on whistleblowers, harder on people who were trying to expose war crimes. So, this is where mass movements are important. Obama knows in his gut, that the people, some people on the left and right have had enough. I think to some degree that moderates his behavior.
But, there is no question that mass pressure is important. During the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon wanted to bomb of the North even more. He wanted to bomb Cambodia. He bombed enormously, but I think the protests, to some degree, curbed his appetite, and to some degree made the peace agreement possible in 1973. But Nixon was an extreme example of a leader who just did not pay attention to people.
That’s very hard. Ronald Reagan paid more attention, because he was a war candidate. He wanted to really destroy the “Evil Empire,” but the protests, the nuclear protests in 1983 in New York and all around the country against what people felt was the coming of a new war, had a lot to do with Reagan starting to change. He softened. When Gorbachev came along, which was lucky for him, Reagan found himself in a completely opposite position of becoming a peacemaker. So the protests, the Nuclear Freeze Movement of 1983 did pay off.
And Occupy, to some degree, expressed our disgust with bankers. We mustn’t let up. We hope our series will be one of these things that will educate people. Who knows? The children, the young people who are seeing our TV series, maybe one of them is going to see it and be moved, or more than one, and maybe one of those people is going to be a Martin Luther King or a Robert Kennedy or a Jack Kennedy, and maybe it will make a difference. Education is the only way. Consciousness is the only way to defeat this darkness of imperial power and domination. Okinawans keep marching. In Jeju, every day the Koreans…. This is a very tough government in Jeju, probably tougher than the Japanese Government. There are very tough. The arrest people and they beat them with sticks and put them in jail. These people have been protesting on Jeju Island for six years. Now, the naval base is still being dealt. You know, I’m going there and other people go. I mean, you hope with a little bit of water that suddenly the dam cracks, yeah? A little bit of water…. Okinawa, you guys have had an effect. You have stopped things from happening in Okinawa. You are a small population, but you get it. You are heard. Everyone now knows of Okinawa. Be very clear about what you mean, saying – We don’t really want to be part of Japan and certainly not part of the United States. Be very clear that – We are islanders! We are not part of Japan! Be very clear in that message.
It would be great if you had a good leader, somebody like a Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, who could clarify very clearly for the American people and the European people what it is that upsets you. I believe in the Gandhi and Martin Luther King principle of satyagraha, nonviolence. That’s not to say “passive.” Believe me, when you’re going out there and you link arms and you get arrested and beaten, it’s not passive. It’s very much active, active resistance, but nonviolent.

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