In Japan, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sparked outrage this weekend when he announced he has decided to keep an American air base on the island of Okinawa. Before last year’s historic election victory, Hatoyama had vowed to move the base off of Okinawa or even out of Japan. On Sunday, he said he had decided to relocate the base to the north side of the island, as originally agreed upon with the US. Hatoyama’s decision was met with anger on Okinawa, where 90,000 residents rallied last month to oppose the base. A number of activists opposed to US military bases were recently here in New York for the International Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World. Anjali Kamat and I spoke to three activists from Japan, Guam and Hawai’i. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: In Japan, the Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sparked outrage this weekend when he announced he has decided to keep an American air base on the island of Okinawa. Before last year’s historic election victory, Hatoyama had vowed to move the base off of Okinawa or even out of Japan. On Sunday, he said he decided to relocate the base to the north side of the island, as originally agreed upon with the US. The Japanese prime minister’s decision was met with anger on Okinawa, where 90,000 residents rallied last month to oppose the base.
Hatoyama explained his decision by saying, since taking office, he had learned to appreciate the role that the Marines play as a deterrent in the region, that Okinawa was the most strategic location for them. Half the estimated 47,000 US troops in Japan are stationed on the island.
Well, a number of activists opposed to US military bases were recently here in New York for the International Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World. Democracy Now!'s Anjali Kamat and I spoke to three of them. They were from Japan, from Guam and Hawai'i.
Kyle Kajihiro is the program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Hawai’i. He helps to coordinate the DMZ-Hawai’i/Aloha 'Aina network that opposes military expansion in Hawai'i.
Kozue Akibayashi is a professor and activist in Japan and with the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom and the Women’s International Network Against Militarism.
And Melvin Won Pat-Borja is an educator and poet from Guam and part of the "We Are Guahan" network opposed to the military base buildup on Guam.
We began by asking Kyle Kajihiro to explain the broader context of US military bases in East Asia and the Pacific.
KYLE KAJIHIRO: I think it’s important to consider how important the Pacific has been for the expansion of American empire. And Hawai’i was one of the first casualties in 1893, when US troops invaded and occupied the sovereign kingdom of Hawai’i to establish a forward base that enabled the US to defeat Spain in the Spanish-American War and then acquire its colonies, in the Philippines and Guam and also Puerto Rico and Cuba. And that sets up another conflict with Japan during World War II, in which the United States emerges as a global power with nuclear capabilities and acquires new colonies in the Marianas, Marshall Islands and Okinawa. So we see the legacy of that history played out.
And America has always considered the Pacific, similar to Latin America, as its — you know, its own domain, its special domain. They call it the American Lake. And, you know, that’s what we’re struggling against, is that idea that, you know, the US has this dominion and without consideration for the peoples and the human rights of people in that area.
So, right now, we are seeing that the Asia Pacific is even, you know, becoming more important with the rise of China, and the US sees China as its main strategic competitor. And that, I think, is a lot of what’s driving the military realignment in Korea, in Japan, Okinawa and Guam to encircle China and basically neutralize its capabilities.
ANJALI KAMAT: Kozue, can you talk about what happened in Japan last week? There was a major protest, 100,000 people in Okinawa protesting the construction of a new US military base. Explain what’s going on with Japan-US relations and with US military bases in Japan.
KOZUE AKIBAYASHI: Okinawa is a part of Japan. It’s the southernmost part of Japan. It’s a small prefecture, out of forty-seven, where US military — 75 percent of US military facilities, exclusively used by the US military, is located. So there is this high concentration of US military in Okinawa, and that is why we are highlighting the problem in Okinawa.
There has been a proposal of building a new base in Okinawa, a completely new one and state-of-the-art military facility in Okinawa, which was protested by people in the community for ten years, by now. We had this regime change last year, and the new administration promised that there will be no buildup in Okinawa. However, what is going on now is that they are negotiating with the US government and saying that we cannot help building this new one.
So that is when — and this has been disclosed in the past month or so, and that is why the Okinawan people are raging against and they felt the need to express their protest against this newly built — buildup of base in Okinawa. And that is how this 90,000 people gathered at this rally. And the population of Okinawa is 1.3 million. That’s a lot of people who gathered. And there are many people who cannot express their protest or against their — their protest, because the US military has been there for a long time. The military economy is part of their life. It’s very difficult for them to publicly say no. But this 90,000 peoples rally was — showed how strong they felt.
AMY GOODMAN: Why are Japanese in Okinawa so opposed to the base there?
KOZUE AKIBAYASHI: The live very close — in Okinawa, they live very, very close to the military base. It’s not an isolated location. The military base is here, and they have to find places where they could build their houses. It affects in many ways of their lives. Noise pollution is one of them. Environmental pollution is one of them.
AMY GOODMAN: The issue of rape?
KOZUE AKIBAYASHI: Yes, yes. That’s more pervasive, but deep-rooted problem that women and children, girls, face in the vicinity. Not only the close vicinity, but the entire island of Okinawa face danger of sexual violence by US soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: And Melvin, if you can talk about what’s happening on Guam.
MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Well, basically, you know, with this proposed base closure in Okinawa, the remedy to this solution is really seen as transferring the bulk of these soldiers from Okinawa to Guam. And that’s kind of where we come in. You know, there’s been a lot of debate about where these Marines should go. And, you know, the United States’ attitude toward this is that, you know, Guam is their territory. You know, they see Guam as sovereign US soil, and it allows them freedom of action, which is one of the major pieces of — or major factors in why they chose Guam, because it allows them to basically operate without having to deal with a foreign government.
And so, they plan to move 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, plus their 9,000 dependents. They also include an Army ballistic missile defense system, which will bring an additional 600 Army soldiers. And they plan to dredge a — they plan to dredge 71 acres of coral reef in Apra Harbor in order to make room for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. They also have plans to acquire 2,200 additional acres of land, and they already own about a third of the island. And keep in mind, Guam is only about thirty-one miles long and seven miles wide in the narrowest point. Our population is a little bit over 170,000 people. And the military predicts that, at the peak year of the buildup, we will expect a population boom of about additional 80,000 people.
AMY GOODMAN: So a 50 percent increase almost.
MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Basically.
ANJALI KAMAT: Melvin, talk about what it was like to grow up in the shadow of these US military bases in Guam. What is everyday life like? How does it impact you?
MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Well, you know, the interesting thing about the base presence in Guam is that, you know, we are a United States unincorporated territory. And so, you know, we are US citizens, and I think that’s one of the major — it’s seen as one of the major differences between Guam and Okinawa. But the reality is that, you know, we essentially are second-class citizens. As a, you know, unincorporated US territory, you know, we don’t have representation in the Senate. We have a non-voting representative in Congress. We don’t vote for president. But we still fall under all US federal laws and regulations.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever concerned that they were going to move Guantánamo to Guam?
MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: I mean, you know, it’s definite — really, when it comes to Guam and, you know, military strategy, you really don’t know what’s going happen. And there’s no — we really have no control over what happens. You know, in the military’s plan, in their DEIS, their Draft Environmental Impact Statement, they basically said that, you know, other alternatives for the base relocation from Okinawa included the Philippines, Korea and Hawai’i. And all three of those places said no. But nowhere in the document does it say that we ever had the opportunity to say no. And that’s kind of — you know, that’s pretty much the climate in Guam, is that, you know, we just — we basically are forced to accept whatever it is that the United States federal government and the military decides to do.
AMY GOODMAN: How did the United States come to incorporate Guam as a territory of the United States?
MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Guam was purchased by the United States from Spain through the Treaty of Paris. So Guam actually was technically owned by the United States before World War II. Now, during World War II, we were — when the Americans got word that Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that they were invading, you know, they basically left. They abandoned Guam, and we were occupied then by Japan for two years. And then the United States came back to reclaim Guam, and they basically carpet-bombed the entire island.
And more people — you know, a lot of people kind of look at the personal struggle, you know, in Guam during the Japanese occupation, you know, where we were victimized and killed brutally. You know, a lot of —- even my family, my grandfather’s brother was executed for smuggling food into prison to feed their families who were starving. They made him dig his own grave and killed him. And so -—
AMY GOODMAN: This was World War II?
MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Right, and this is during the Japanese occupation. And so, you know, a lot of folks look at this occupation as a very — it’s a very sensitive issue. And so, in a lot of ways, you know, the Americans were seen as the liberators. But what a lot of people don’t know is that more people died in the reclaiming of Guam than in the entire two-year occupation of Guam by the Japanese. And so, you know, we have this kind of a dual identity, this sense of, you know, being an indigenous person from Guam, being an indigenous Chamorro, and having loyalty to the United States, you know? And that generation is still alive and well, you know, and there’s still a lot of folks who really feel loyal to the United States.
You know, but in a lot of ways, we don’t have the same rights as other Americans. And that’s something that’s really important in the discussion between Guam and Okinawa. You know, a lot of folks kind of see Guam as being America. You know, when they look at the bases in Okinawa, they think, you know, this is an American problem, and these bases should be sent back to America. And so, they look then at Guam and Hawai’i as being America. And so, you know, this is the alternative. But, you know, a lot of folks don’t realize what our political status is and the struggles that we face within the political system. And so, you know, this is not just a simple thing of saying, "OK, this is America. Let’s moves them there. You know, the people of Guam want them." You know, the reality is that there is a lot of resistance to this buildup, and it is going to impact us in so many different ways — socially, culturally, environmentally, financially. And, you know, it’s not just a simple transfer.
ANJALI KAMAT: And Kyle Kajihiro, I want to bring you back into the discussion. Talk about how this political realignment works in Hawai’i? What does it look like from there? And also, talk about the environmental impact of these bases.
KYLE KAJIHIRO: Right. Well, since September 11, we’ve had the largest military expansion since World War II. The military seized about 25,000 acres of land in order to station their Stryker brigade in Hawai’i. And these troops are being trained to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq. So we have, you know, this dual role in Hawai’i of being a victim of the American empire and also an accomplice in the building of that empire. And so, we’re addressing both problems.
The environmental impacts of the military are enormous in Hawai’i. We have — we would argue that the military is the largest polluter, with over 828 contamination sites identified. In Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa, which is the original name of Pearl Harbor, once the food basket for Oahu, with thirty-six fish ponds, is now a toxic Superfund site. More than 750 contamination sites. And we can’t eat from this life-giving treasure that’s there. And so, these are some of the manifestations that are not apparent on the surface. And even economically, with the economic influx that comes in, of course, certain people get paid, but others pay the price. And it’s usually the Native peoples who lose land, who are forced out of their housing, because of the rising cost of living. And we have a growing homeless population on the beaches, mostly Native Hawaiians living in tents. Meanwhile, thousands of acres of military land are just across the street.
AMY GOODMAN: Kyle Kajihiro is the program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Hawai’i. Kozue Akibayashi is a professor and activist in Japan. She’s with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. And Melvin Won Pat-Borja is an educator and poet from Guam. He’s part of the We Are Guahan network opposed to the military base buildup in Guam.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the entire conversation with the three anti-militarization activists.