Reweaving Humanity in the Fabric of a Militarized Postcolonial Okinawa

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On April 23, 2018, Suzuyo Takazato, the co-chair of Okinawa: Women Act Against Military Violence (OWAAMV), found herself being crushed at the bottom of a pyramid of protesters pushed back by riot police in front of U.S. Marine Base Camp Schwab. Beneath the chaos of falling protesters, Takazato heard her ribs and neck bones cracking one after another, followed by unbearable pain. She was taken to a nearby hospital in an ambulance.

This was the first day of a three-day anniversary, protesting the first landfill pouring to construct the new state-of-art U.S. Marine Air Base at Oura Bay in the Henoko District. Reportedly 500 protesters had formed a ten-row-deep sit-in that day. Takazato was among the many elders persistently leading the sit-in protests for the last two decades. The U.S. and Japanese government designated Camp Schwab as the relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station (MCAS Futenma), which, according to the then-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself, is “the world’s most dangerous base” because it is located next to a populated city. However, since the relocation plan was publicly announced in 2004, local citizens, joined by other allies have continued to protest its relocation to Henoko. They argue that moving one dangerous base to a less populated location does not reduce the burden on Okinawans, nor does it protect Okinawan lives. Whose rights and safety are the Japanese State protecting in the violation of Okinawans rights to self-determination and sovereignty at peaceful protests? The Japanese nation-state sovereignty is predicted on its faithful commitment to completing a modern fortified U.S. military base that symbolizes Japan’s dedication to its endorser of sovereignty.

In many ways, Okinawa represents a geopolitical periphery of the U.S. and Japanese nation-states. As an archipelago state with little sustainable natural resources, Japan has built an alliance with the U.S. at the cost of Okinawa. In 1879, the Empire of Japan militarily overthrew then-self-sustained Ryukyu Kingdom and renamed it Okinawa in tandem with the colonization of another indigenous people of Ainu. Ryukyuan language was banned and assimilation policies were institutionalized. Japan designated Okinawa as the battle ground against the Allied Forces which sacrificed one fourth to one third of Okinawan lives. Furthermore, Emperor Hirohito declared in 1947 that: “The Emperor hope[d] that the United States [would] continue the military occupation of Okinawa and other islands of the Ryukyus. In the Emperor’s opinion, such occupation would benefit the United States and also provide protection for Japan.”