Editorial: Okinawans at mass rally protesting base employee incident say no to Marines and bases as their anger has surpassed tipping point

June 20, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

As long as there are bases in Okinawa, incidents perpetrated by the U.S. military and base employees that violate women’s human rights and put their lives in danger will continue to occur.

The anger and sadness of Okinawans can no longer be expressed in words, and has reached a tipping point. It is of great significance that Okinawans have pledged their dignity and honor to the resolution that the withdrawal of the U.S. Marine Corps from Okinawa is essential.

By resolving so, Okinawans have demonstrated their right to self-determination.

The mass rally protesting the rape and murder of a woman by a U.S. base employee opened with Misako Koja singing Warabigami. It is the song of a mother’s overflowing affectionate thoughts for her child.

In the third verse of the song the mother says she wants her child’s flowers to bloom, so she will become a windbreak. (Translator’s note: This verse means that the mother wishes to protect her child and will do anything for her child to live a full life.)

However, the community of Okinawa has not been able to become a windbreak to protect the lives of women. The visage of women wiping away tears stood out as a majority of participants looked downward, lost in the song and singing in doleful voices.

Youth have great capacity to make appeals

While the heat approached 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit, 65,000 hastened to dress themselves in black and show their condolences. Perhaps they were driven by the thought that they cannot sit by and do nothing. Parents who took their young children by the hand and brought their whole family along also stood out in the crowd.

The room was still, and applause for speakers tended to falter. Unlike past mass rallies having to do with bases, the meeting place was full of a sorrowful, remorseful air.

Thinking fervently of the victim and the chagrin of her bereaved family, those gathered kept contained their profound rage and regret at having been unable to save her life.

Furthermore, the rally held mixed feelings of mourning for the great numbers of victims that have inevitably come since the U.S. military base pressures originated from the Battle of Okinawa 71 years ago, and the oath to prevent more people from becoming victims.

The resolution at the mass rally demonstrated Okinawans’ firm conviction to fight against the discriminative imposition of bases in Okinawa, pushing back against the governments of the U.S. and Japan.
A distinguishing feature of this mass rally is that it has emitted a remarkably strong message. That message is that young generations will shoulder the burden of Okinawa’s near future, and will realize a harmonious society where women and children will be able to live with peace of mind.

One of the delegation Ai Tamaki, 21 years old and a senior at Meio University, garbed in a mourning dress, called out Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as citizens living in mainland Japan. In tears, she called them “secondary perpetrators.” She complained that, “Childish proposals like preventing the recurrence of incidents and tightening discipline [among U.S. military members and base employees] carry no meaning.”

Okinawan popular will has come to make apparent its exhaustion of democratic means, unable to defend against the violence of U.S. military personnel, only to be persistently ignored as the Abe administration has finally left as-is the overlarge share of the base burden.

The Abe administration is forcing through construction of a new base at Henoko by exercising the power of the state over local autonomy. As such, Okinawans are making a desperate cry to citizens of mainland Japan who are looking on from the sidelines at Okinawans’ distress as someone else’s business. Participants at the rally were touched by the earnest appeals of speakers such as four university students of SEALDs RYUKYU.

Concordantly with the mass rally in Okinawa, gatherings opened in 69 locations across 41 prefectures on the same day. It can only be hoped that public opinion in support of Okinawa will rise as these ripples spread outward.

Grave requests of the bereaved family

“In order to prevent any more people from becoming victims, if all Okinawans come together as one in demanding the withdrawal of all bases and opposing the construction of a new base in Henoko, I think it is possible.” (These are the words of the father of the woman who died.)

The father of this beloved daughter who was snatched away delivered a message that went beyond the mass rally resolution to not only desire no new bases, but the withdrawal of all bases. I think this desire is charged with all of his sentiments and all his might.

How will the U.S. and Japanese governments that were certainly involved in the incident respond to this heartbroken request of the bereaved family? It is unpardonable that resentment and complaints that flow like blood from the people of the “island of bases” are ignored.

Perfunctory promises like improvement in implementation of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and recurrence prevention are unneeded. Instead of responding with empty words like “we will accept [input from Okinawans] with sincerity” (Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida), Japanese officials should set up a conference on a solution for U.S. Marine withdrawal from Okinawa and revision of the SOFA.

The ruling party LDP and Komeito passed up participation in the rally. Even though the rally was not completely nonpartisan, the importance of the resolution is no different from that of other such resolutions, as many participants were unaffiliated with a political party.

Governor Takeshi Onaga stressed that “we cannot allow Okinawans to be victims,” pledging to “resolutely obstruct the new base in Henoko.” Similarly, Okinawans are shouldering the responsibility of preventing any more people from becoming victims in the near future. They want to deepen their self-awareness and change their conduct.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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