The Legacy of Empire
|Following our meeting with Mayor Ishimine and other Yaomitan village leaders|
We began the morning visiting the Shurijio Castle from the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa) that lasted for about 500 years without any wars before the imperial Japanese occupation began which lasted until the end of WW II. The castle was reduced to dust during the Battle for Okinawa in 1945 when the US invaded and defeated Japan. The castle was restored in 1992.
One of of every four Okinawans were killed in the 1945 battle between Japan and the US. Japan used Okinawa as a buffer to stall the US military advance toward Japan.
Our next stop was the very moving Himeyuri Peace Museum that honors 240 mobilized girl students that were crudely trained to work as nurse assistants in the Okinawa Army Hospital in Haebaru. The facility was a cave connected by tunnels to many other smaller caves. On March 23, 1945, as soon as the US military started their landing operation on Okinawa the students were sent into battle.
On the night of June 18 the students were thrown out of the caves by the Japanese army into the war front and were soon surrounded by the advancing US military. More than 100 of the students were killed withing a few days of that order. The museum was created by those who survived the carnage - one 90-year old woman stood by a replica of the cave 'hospital' and told us of the horrors the young women faced.
We next stopped by the US Marine base at Futenma that is totally surrounded by civilian neighborhoods - former US Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld once called Futenma the worst base on the planet. Seventeen schools encircle the base that creates endless noise and over the years planes have crashed into the neighborhoods. The plan is now to close the base and move its operations to Henoko (where we will protest in the early morning). The US is now building two-runways at Henoko that will jut out into pristine Oura Bay likely killing coral reefs and endangered sea mammals.
We drove along an endless line of US military bases - Camp Foster, Camp Lester and Kadena Air Force Base. At Kadena we pulled over the side of the road and parked in front of a small auto dealership. The owner took us up to the second floor of his house so we could see over the barrier wall at the base. In the background we heard very loud jet engines running and once we climbed the stairs we saw saw about 7-8 planes just across the street. These planes were submarine tracking planes (chasing Chinese subs) and the home owner told us that fighter jets are also stationed at the base. He is one of about 22,000 Okinawan citizens who have filed a law suit against the base for noise pollution but nothing has come of the case as of yet. He said that often in the middle of the night the planes roar over their heads.
Our final stop for the day was to meet the Mayor Ishimine and other officials from Yomitan village that at one time had 70% of their land taken by the US for a series of military bases. Some of the land has been returned to the village so now the US controls 47% of their land. They showed us an extensive powerpoint of their efforts to convert the former military lands into health centers, art centers, senior citizens centers and more. Mayor Ishimine told us: "No base in nearby Henoko is our first priority. Eventually we want to erase all bases in Okinawa. US bases are hindering our economic development. If the bases were closed we could do even better. The mainstream media on mainland Japan are very cold to us - the media there is under the control of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe government."
Shinzo Abe is the grandson of a former WW II fascist leader in the imperial Japanese war cabinet. People consider him a fascist. We were told that the Japanese murder of Okinawans and the use of comfort women (forced rape) by Japan's soldiers has been removed from Japan school textbooks. Abe recently pushed through the national Diet (Parliament) in Tokyo a 'reinterpretation' of Article 9 (the peaceful principal in the Japanese constitution) that will allow Abe to join US offensive wars around the globe.
The signs are all over Okinawa - it is more than clear that people want US bases out and they want their independence restored. With each passing day the legacy of the US military empire leaves deep scars in the hearts of the people here and around the world. Now if only the American people would wake up from their deep sleep and hear the voices from abroad.