Does Okinawa Need Another US Military Base?

Henoko protest, Sept. 2014.

Message to U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Feb. 2015.

Mayor Inamine addresses protestors in Henoko, Feb. 2015.

Our islands and many of our people were incinerated by both U.S. and Japanese military forces during the final land battle of World War II. Since then, we have been subjected to 70 years of military occupation and have now decided through the ballot box to refuse point blank to allow our land to be used to host yet another American military base.

Every village, town, and city in Okinawa is united in opposing the planned construction of a new U.S. military airbase. If the plan goes ahead, the coral reef and sea-grass ecosystems at Oura Bay, Henoko, will be sealed under 740 million cubic feet of landfill to make way for U.S. military runways. This act of environmental vandalism will destroy the habitat of countless endangered species, including one of the world’s most threatened marine mammals, the Okinawan dugong, a species which on paper, though not in reality, is protected by U.S. and Japanese law.

Issues of US Military Bases and Relocation of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to Henoko, Nago City [PDF]

“The World’s Most Dangerous Base”

Baseball practice in the “Clear Zone,” Futenma Dai Ni Elementary School, March 2008.

A cargo aircraft approaches the Futenma runway.

It is now almost 20 years since the horrific gang rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan elementary schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in September 1995. In an attempt to quell the outrage caused by that incident, the American and Japanese governments presented the Henoko plan as a means of lessening the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa by transferring US Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Base, currently located in the center of Ginowan City (pop. 95,000), to the new site.

After flying over the Futenma base in 2003 in an attempt to promote the plan, Donald Rumsfeld was quoted, perhaps apocryphally, as describing it as “the most dangerous base in the world.”

While it is doubtful the former Secretary of Defense in fact uttered these words, such an observation would not have been entirely fanciful, as the base has never complied with legal standards set forth in Japan’s Civil Aeronautics Act, and on an almost daily basis aircraft circle the skies over Ginowan conducting take off and landing practice over schools, hospitals and residential areas.

The base also violates U.S. flight safety standards, which stipulate that “airfield clear zones” be established on either side of a military runway. While the Pentagon has claimed such areas exist around the Futenma base, in reality an elementary school and 3,600 residents live within what under U.S. law would be designated as areas too dangerous for human habitation.

OIU helicopter crash, Aug. 13, 2004.

Burning wreckage, OIU helicopter crash, Aug. 13, 2004.

Window smashed by debris, residential area, Aug. 13, 2004.

Mass protest against Osprey deployment, Sept. 2012.

No Osprey!

Okinawan representatives protest against Osprey deployment, Tokyo, Jan. 2013.

Ratcheting Up Danger and Destruction

As if to prove the point attributed to him, less than a year after Rumsfeld’s visit, a CH-53D heavy lift helicopter crashed into the main administrative building of Okinawa International University, literally a stone’s throw from the base, causing panic and destruction, though mercifully, no loss of life.

In the decade since that crash, the anger and anguish of residents has only increased in proportion to the degree to which the will of the Okinawan people has been trampled upon.

In September 2012, 100,000 residents gathered to protest against the deployment of 12 MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft: as a ratio of the population, the equivalent of 22.8m Americans. Yet less than a month later, the aircraft was forced down our throats. After yet another helicopter crash the following year, the U.S. military instituted a meaningless delay before doubling the size of the Osprey squadron, as though the aircraft’s notorious safety record and the damaging health impacts of low frequency noise pollution on the local population were of no consequence.

The alternative Henoko plan was originally presented as a small-scale “heliport” which would be the solution to the strife of residents living around the Futenma base. Since then, it has transmogrified into a huge base that will include two runways, swallowing Oura Bay under enough concrete to fill more than 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

In 1996, Tokyo and Washington had argued that the facility needed to be built within Okinawa because the marines could not be relocated elsewhere. However, subsequent agreements in 2005 and again in 2012 stipulated that 9,000 marines and a similar number of dependents would relocate to Guam, Hawaii and Australia, making any such argument meaningless.

Concrete blocks being dumped onto the coral reef.

Protestors attempt to disrupt construction work.

Japanese coastguards board protestors’ boats in Henoko.

Protesters sit in at Camp Schwab.

Coastguards apprehend protestors in Henoko.

Coastguards board protestors’ boats.

Okinawa’s Future: Democracy or Military Dictatorship?

After two decades of resisting the Henoko plan, and what in any genuine democracy would be regarded as decisive elections held in 2014, the people of Okinawa made their views clear to Washington and Tokyo. In January, Mayor Susumu Inamine, a forthright opponent of the Henoko plan, won re-election by a wide margin in Nago. In the gubernatorial race in November, Okinawans overwhelmingly elected former Naha City Mayor and base opponent Takeshi Onaga over incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima, who had succumbed to pressure from the Tokyo government to accept the project.

The election amounted to an Okinawa-wide referendum over the Henoko-Futenma issue, in which even the long-suffering residents of Ginowan voted in largest numbers for Onaga.

Finally, in December, all four Okinawan constituencies elected anti-base construction candidates to the Lower House of the Japanese Diet, while various polls show that between 65-80% of Okinawans are opposed to any new base.

Despite these election results, the Government of Japan continues to steamroll the relocation project over the will of the Okinawan people. Engineers started drilling surveys on the sea floor off Henoko in the summer of 2014. In response, citizens opposed to the reclamation began sit-ins in front of the gate of the adjoining military base at Camp Schwab and launched protest activities at sea.

Nevertheless, in spite of this overwhelming opposition, the Abe administration insists it can go ahead with the full-scale destruction of Oura Bay it plans for this summer.

Abe’s Washington Trip: Ignoring Truth for Power?

Henoko residents pray for their ancestral spirits to protect their heritage.

The 24 Ospreys currently operating in the midst of Ginowan City.

On April 29, Prime Minister Abe, in an address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, is expected to tell President Obama and the American people that base construction in Okinawa is going according to plan, and even that the project will strengthen U.S. Japanese bilateral relations.

Pragmatists as well as idealists within the U.S. administration would do well to question this version of events. Some 60 years ago, during another period of unrest in Okinawa known as the Island Wide Struggle, U.S. troops forcibly removed Okinawans from their land using bulldozers and bayonets. At the time, senior U.S. diplomats warned of Okinawa becoming ungovernable, and the most heavy-handed tactics of the period were abandoned in favor of negotiation.

Attempting to impose a new base on Okinawa by force, which appears to be the only option currently being considered by U.S. and Japanese officials, threatens to repeat the mistakes of that period, at the same time undermining Washington and Tokyo’s credibility as agents of democracy, freedom and human rights.

What You Can Do

With this in mind, we urge all those who have any involvement whatsoever in implementing this project to urge wiser counsel and do everything in their power to ensure that it is abandoned for the common good of all involved.

We also urge readers to take action by e-mailing members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees asking them to respect the will of the Okinawan people, live up to their own environmental responsibilities, and to act in their country’s best interests, as well as its proudest traditions.

e-mail members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees now!

Send a Message to the Armed Services Committees: Save Henoko Bay and Support Democracy in Okinawa.
(feel free to edit)

Senator/Representative + name

I oppose the ongoing destruction of Okinawa’s environment to create a new military base in Henoko, and believe you should too.

The base is against American interests and founding principles, as it is being constructed in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Okinawan people.

Building it will also create a man made disaster over Henoko’s pristine coral reef and its unique wildlife, which will be sealed under three-quarters of a billion cubic feet of concrete.

The democratic solution to Okinawa’s base problem is to close the Marine Corps base at Futenma and permanently remove it from the island.

Doing anything less will only inflame anti-base sentiment in Okinawa, and lead to further bitterness and unrest.

Therefore, please commit yourself to reflect the will of the Okinawan people in the National Defense Authorization Act and help stop the construction of this destructive base.

Thank you

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Message from Inamine Susumu, Mayor of Nago city, Okinawa

Help us save our land and sea: join us in preventing the U.S. military construction and protect our precious environmental heritage.

As the Mayor of Nago City, I am implacably opposed to this plan. This is because it will seal our beautiful coastal waters under concrete and sacrifice our pristine waters and biodiverse wildlife to military priorities the people of Okinawa have repeatedly voted against and unequivocally reject.

I will never give up my unflagging and indomitable determination. From the bottom of my heart, I ask you, the people of the United States. Please, listen to sincere voices of the people of Okinawa and support us to stop the reclamation and reinforcement project to build the new U.S. military base in Henoko.

■Contact Us
「The Okinawa Opinion Ad Campaign Group」

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