First Dispatch, 5 December 2015
Friends, you’re a diverse group. Some of you totally “get it”, as I so imperially insist I do. Others of you, for various reasons, aren’t obsessive about “it” as I, or maybe are little aware of what is happening in our name. The reasons for your varying degrees of concern would likely be many, but generally relate to being busy people, engaged with other demands and interests, man y of which might make a far more compelling case for your energies and time by consensus of this entire group. So what is “it”?
“It” is what has driven me to once again embark on a journey half-way around the world to stand with others in objection to the U.S. military empire. “It” is the arrogance of the mindset that spawned the empire that threatens our planet. I fully understand that some of you may be rolling your eyes and concede the legitimacy of your own priorities, but I press on, regardless.
You are a diverse group, but share one thing in common: I think of you all as friends, albeit busy friends, and know that some, maybe many of you will find time to read some of what is to follow.
I am traveling with a delegation of fellow Veterans for Peace–acting on our mission statement which states:
We are dedicated to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war. Our networks are made up of over 120 chapters across the United States and abroad.
We, having dutifully served our nation, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace. To this end we will work, with others
* To increase public awareness of the costs of war
* To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations
* To end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
* To seek justice for veterans and victims of war
* To abolish war as an instrument of national policy.
To achieve these goals, members of Veterans For Peace pledge to use non-violent means and to maintain an organization that is both democratic and open with the understanding that all members are trusted to act in the best interests of the group for the larger purpose of world peace.
We are on Jeju Island, South Korea and will be here ’til December 9th, when we’ll travel on to Okinawa for another week. Our purpose is to stand in solidarity with the people of these places who are protesting the militarization of their beloved lands by the U.S. military.
I intend to send several reports as a means of meeting my responsibility to these people who are being victimized by what I think constitutes an existential threat to us all. By way of “setting the stage” I am beginning with two reports, one from our delegation leader, Bruce Gagnon, whom many of you will know, the second from our photo-journalist Ellen Davidson, both filed at the conclusion of our first day on Jeju.
Thanks for giving this some time. I’m asking a lot I know, but in the spirit of “changing one mind at a time,” perhaps even building a movement; here goes. I will try to be mindful of your time in the reports to follow.
P.S. These are being conveyed via Jean so if you choose to opt out simply let her know. She’ll never tell me.
Second Dispatch, 12 December 2015
Friends,Unbelievably, we’re on our last day here in Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island, Korea. It has been an emotional five days, as we have been given a crash course on the crime being perpetrated on this coastal community. The completion of the base is nearly a fait accompli–the government is projecting that it will be completed in the coming year. Having been here in April of 2013 and remembering the status of the base then has made this visit all the more disturbing–at the same time it has been uplifting.
The protest has been continuing virtually non-stop for over 8 years, testimony to the depth of the passions the base has ignited. During my first visit it was already clear that it would take a miraculous turn of events to stop the project. Then I was impressed by the resolute dedication of the protesters; a conglomeration of Gangjeong villagers at the helm along with other Jeju islanders, mainland Koreans, and international activists. The resolve now goes way beyond “impressive.” One observation is that the leadership, a diverse array of characters, seems to have remained stable. Many of those who played critical roles in 2013 and prior—even going back to 2008–continue to do so. The rank and file come and go, but many, particularly the young, have stayed for years. Others, like a few in our 13-person delegation have returned several times–the most notable being Bruce Gagnon who you might say has been adopted by the village and Ann Wright, the famed peace activist and former U.S. Army colonel and foreign service diplomat who resigned her position in opposition to the Iraq war. Bruce is deserving of the village’s high regard that he is accorded–having visited five times and being, probably, the single person whose work has most brought Gangjeong to the world’s attention.
An ironic twist–Samsung, the primary contractor on the project is attempting impose a hefty fine on the village of Gangjeong in penalty for all the delays caused by the protests.
During our visit we have been honored to have received briefings from some of the prominent leaders who have provided the inspiration behind this enduring resistance:
* Father Mun Jeong Hyeon, the iconic leader of the protest was awarded the 2012 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. The founder of Catholic Priests’ Organization for Justice in opposition to South Korean dictatorships, he conducts the daily mass at the naval base gate and is generally the point person in protest from dawn ’til dusk. He has been a leading voice against the U.S. military presence in Korea for decades. Father Mun contributed his $50,000 Gwangju (cash) Prize to the anti-naval base campaign. He is a strong proponent of reunification between North and South Korea and sees the U.S. as the primary obstacle preventing that dream, embraced by many Koreans, from becoming reality.
Third Dispatch, 12 December 2015
I’m well aware that my harping on America’s vast military empire is tiresome, but the trip, what we saw, what we heard, what we experienced makes me mindful of Martin Luther King’s, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The empire is deeply disturbing, not to mention contrary to the interests of anyone outside the military-defense complex or the top 1%–okay, maybe the top 10%–or anyone else who doesn’t care a lot about world peace or the planet itself. Our visits on Jeju Island, Korea and, now, on Okinawa have contextualized the bare-bones bullet points:
- The U.S. has over 800 military bases in foreign lands
- Including more than 400 in the western Pacific
- The rest of the world’s countries have a total of about 30 such bases, including Russia’s (maybe 3–in former Soviet Union countries) and China’s (maybe 1)
- In 2015, our military budget is $601 billion, more than that of the next 7 highest spending countries combined (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).
And, specific to Okinawa:
- The U.S. has 30 bases on Okinawa (of 113 total in Japan)
- These bases occupy nearly 20% of Okinawa’s land
U.S. planners argue all this makes us safer and each year the military budget grows while other needs, like health care, transportation, energy policy, education suffer as resources are diverted to fund our belligerence. Could it possibly be that all this bristling militarism actually makes us less safe? The people of Jeju Island and of Okinawa surely think its a bad idea altogether.
Our visit on Okinawa exceeded expectations in every way. As anticipated, we came away feeling all the more sympathetic to the Okinawans and convinced that our country ought to abandon its imperialistic ways. To take full measure of the burden borne by Okinawa as host of our bases, it is essential that one has some sense of the geography and the history of the island.
Situated in the East China Sea, Okinawa Island is the largest of the Okinawa and Ryukyu archipelago, sitting roughly 400 miles south of mainland Japan. Nearly equidistant from Japan and the Chinese mainland, Okinawa managed to remain free of outright subjugation to either empire for centuries until 1879 when Japan managed to annex the entire archipelago. Its relative remoteness allowed a culture and language to develop distinct from that of the Japanese mainland. These distinctions determined that Okinawa, which became one of Japan’s 47 prefectures (states), would suffer lasting discrimination at the hands of the national government. Okinawans were required to speak Japanese and were punished or shamed for speaking Okinawan in school. Their history was erased from school textbooks and they were required to swear fealty to the Japanese emperor.
The consequences for being Okinawan turned catastrophic during WWII, when the Battle of Okinawa swept the island in the spring and summer of 1945. Japan had determined they would make their stand against Allied forces on Okinawa—to minimize the toll exacted of the Japanese people on the mainland. The ensuing siege, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific theater, was described as a “typhoon of steel.” Okinawans paid a terrible price, caught in the cross-fire of the two adversary armies and in the middle of an aerial and naval bombardment. The southern part of the island was essentially flattened and over 120,000 civilians of a population of 460,000 were killed. Among the victims, according to one report were an estimated 11,483 children under 14 years of age, including more than 5,000 under the age of 5. As the war raged, many Okinawans, their homes destroyed or confiscated, found refuge in caves that dot the southern island. Subsequently, Japanese soldiers fleeing Allied forces, would oust civilians from the underground sanctuaries, often murdering them in cold-blood or, even more tragically, forcing them to commit mass suicides by: 1) convincing them that it would be shameful to be captured but virtuous to die in the name of the emperor, or 2) persuading them to believe that, if captured men and children would be brutally killed and women raped by the Allied soldiers. The Japanese, in many cases, gave these frantic Okinawans weapons with which to kill themselves and their family members, in murderous sprees. The author, Gavan MacCormack (Resistant Islands) reports these forced mass suicides occurred at over thirty known locations, some involving 100s.
With this brief history as a back-drop one can appreciate a deep-seated distaste of war and militarism that persists in Okinawa. The horrific reality of WWII as experienced by the people and an ever-lasting aversion to militarism are arguably connected. Their perception is that Okinawa was, in essence, made a sacrificial stone for the defense of Japan. After the war, in the early ’50’s, the U.S. Civil Administration imposed an order on Okinawa by which it expropriated privately owned lands to enable the construction of military bases. “Bayonets and Bulldozers,” became the term used to describe the forced eviction as Okinawans were removed at bayonet point from their homes which were subsequently bulldozed along with personal possessions. The military bases built in their stead remain today, confirmation of Okinawans’ victimization and are a very real symbol of the virtual colonization of Okinawa by the U.S. and the absence of a truly independent and democratic Japanese government. Resentment persists, perhaps even grows.
Our handlers, Okinawan and American “no base” activists, to include members of the newly chartered Veterans for Peace Ryukyu/Okinawa chapter, kept us busy pre-dawn to post-dusk each day, like stellar trial lawyers building the case against the bases and our continuing militarization of the island by the U.S. Our meetings and experiences have left indelible impressions.
December 10-17, 2015:
Himeyuri Peace Museum
On our first morning we visited the Himeyuri Peace Museum outside of Naha. Here we met one of the very few survivors of the 222 girls, who, as high school students in the spring of 1945 had been pressed into service as nurses by the Japanese army. 123 of the girls and 15 of their 18 teachers would not survive the nearly 3-month long Battle of Okinawa. Those who survived endured a Dante’s inferno-like experience. Forced into service in the dank, fetid caves that served as infirmary and last way-station for grievously wounded Japanese soldiers these young “nurses” with barely rudimentary training, few supplies, little water and less food endured the unimaginable. Words from one of the survivors offers a hint of their nightmare:
“Every square yard of floor space was packed with grievously wounded soldiers. The only air came from the caves’ narrow mouths; it penetrated no more than a few yards. Sour smells of mildew and wet earth were joined by a stench……. from combat-broken bodies. Inexplicably heavy amputated limbs had to be carried outside to holes or bomb craters.”
By June 18th just 20 students had died. On that date they were released as conditions were beyond intolerable in the caves and Japanese organized resistance had ceased. During the following five days 100 girls were killed, caught in the continuing cross-fire.
Today, one of the few remaining survivors who tells her story at the museum says her, “distrust remains, largely because of the continued U.S. military presence in Okinawa—-. They say they are here to protect Okinawa, to protect Japan. But we should instead be working together to create a world in which they aren’t needed.”
Futenma Marine Air Station
Later on our first day we begin to get a sense of just how omnipresent the U.S. military is on Okinawa. Enroute north from Himeyuri we pass Naha Port-U.S. Forces Japan facility (139 acres), then Camp Kinzer–Marine Corps logistics base (810 acres), before getting our first glimpse at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station (10.5 sq.mi). It’s difficult not to see it as an occupation. All anti-base activists know Futenma as the poster-worthy standard-bearer of the cause—no bases on foreign lands!! Like all U.S. bases here, Futenma represents the spoils of war. Survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, made refugees, were interned in concentration camps following the war. When released they found the nascent Futenma air strip where they had once lived and tended farms. Fenced out, they camped along the barbed wire perimeter, settling what has become Ginowan, now a densely populated city of nearly 100,000. Today there are 16 schools, several hospitals, city offices, and Okinawa International University in the immediate area. Three thousand people live in what should be a clear zone around the base. While I hesitate to cite Donald Rumsfeld as a credible source for any information, he did famously pronounce the base to be the “most dangerous airport in the world.” Since 1996, the U.S. and Japan have been in agreement that Futenma must go. The catch is the U.S. requires a replacement facility. From early on, an area 30 miles north of Futenma, abutting sprawling Camp Schwab Marine Corps base (8.5 sq.mi.), Cape Henoko within Nago City, has been targeted, and generally conceded to be the only option by the U.S. and the Japanese national government. Trouble is, the site, and for that matter any alternative on Okinawa, is hugely unpopular with the Okinawan people. We would soon be getting to know Henoko and environs intimately and have ample opportunity to gauge Okinawa sentiment ourselves as well as the opportunity to stand in solidarity–our purpose. For now, from the top of a nearby tower we could begin to take measure of Futenma’s presence in the midst of Ginowan City.
Kadena Air Base
Continuing north after leaving Ginowan City we pass Camp Foster Marine Corps (2.3 sq. mi.) before approaching the sprawl of Kadena Air Base (nearly 8 square miles) not to be confused with Kadena Ammunition Storage Area ( 9.5 sq. mi.). We stop there to visit residents of a neighboring apartment building, sited across a busy highway from the run-up ramp on the air base on which sit a half dozen P2V Neptunes and P3V Orions, anti-submarine aircraft, all running their engines up. The point is well-made. We can hardly have a conversation, the din is deafening though the aircraft are several hundred yards away. Though the residents have long petitioned local politicians and the U.S. Air Force their complaints seem to have fallen on deaf ears–small wonder. Noise pollution associated with flight operations is the default state of existence for many Okinawans and here, often their ambient background 24 hours/day. These Okinawans offered passionate testimony to the incidence of what they believe to be related health issues in their neighborhood and to their sadly and profoundly diminished quality of life issues.
We’re headed on to Camp Schwab and Henoko.
Apologies for my verbosity. Jean has warned me that I will lose any audience I may yet have. Still, I’m burdened with the responsibility to make the ripples and will finish making my case in a final dispatch. I’ll be back, elaborating on a few of the many other highlights that argue for an examination of the consequences of our militarism.