Thursday, November 11, 2004

U.S. continues to rape Okinawa under watchful Japanese eyes

My missus and I love to scuba dive in Okinawa. It is without doubt the most popular dive destination in all Japan. Each time I dive there, I am always struck by the clear, crisp visibility. Summer water temperatures are in the low 20s, which is still rather cold for me. More often than not, divers go there for the macro stuff.

Okinawa has had a tragic history. It was the battleground in the Pacific War whereby the death toll amounted to 200,000 Okinawa civilians. Compare this to the military toll of 23,000 Americans and 91,000 Japanese. This loss of civilian lives amounted to more than the losses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. military took it upon itself to seize land as it pleased. Seethed the locals, "The war burned down everything -- human lives and land ownership... When the U.S. military came and said it was going to rent our land, we had no choice but to sign the contract... What we are worried about is our getting back the land without any compensation. We just want due compensation."

At the moment, 75% of all US military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. Seen in another way, more than 20 percent of total land area of Okinawa is occupied by the U.S. military.

Okinawa is currently embroiled with the central Japanese government on the issue of relocating the US bases from Futenma to Henoko.

As reported by Japan Times, “The relocation plan dates back to strong local protests triggered by the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen. In 1996, Tokyo and Washington set up the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, which agreed on the return of 21 percent of the U.S. base properties on Okinawa Island.

The promised return of Futenma, which over the years became encircled by populous areas of Ginowan, came as a surprise. But what initially appeared to be a historic agreement soon brought disappointment when it was realized that seven of the 11 U.S. facilities cited in the SACO accord, including Futenma, would be returned only after replacement facilities were built in the prefecture.”

A survey jointly conducted on 901 Okinawa residents by the Okinawa Times and the Asahi Shimbun in September found that 81 percent of those questioned said they are against the government plan to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko.

Only 10 percent said they support the plan. This is despite the fact that Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in terms of per capita pretax income at 70 percent of the national average. US bases bring in jobs, yet they prefer to have none of it.

As a scuba diver, I am also concerned about the destruction that may result from constructing the new base.

Henoko is home to thriving coral reefs, rare animals and plants, of which the endangered dugong comes to mind. As in Malaysia’s Pulau Tioman where plans are still in midair as to whether to build a yacht marina, the residents of Henoko ask, "Why do they have to fill in this beautiful sea and build an airport?"

Personally, it was nauseating to hear the ear-piercing reverberations of the military jets each time I am in Okinawa.

It is time for the US military to move out.

They have way overstayed their welcome in Okinawa.