17 October 2016
The history of the peace movements in Okinawa is long and diverse. This essay explains some of these characteristics in terms of what we can learn from these movements after the national security bills became law.
First, one of the basic elements of the peace movements in Okinawa is the experience of the battle of Okinawa during World War II that resulted in a vast number of casualties and serious mental and physical suffering. The survivors of this battle have described how war changed and destroyed people, and how the military failedrefused to protect the citizens. For example, the Japanese military, called “friendly forces”, forced people out of their shelters, confiscated food from them, and executed anyone who spoke in the Okinawan language for “spying”, as well as forcing people to commit mass “suicide”. Okinawan people emphasized that the Japanese imperial government used Okinawa as a “suteishi” (a stone strategically abandoned) in order to gain time to prepare for the battle on the mainland and protect the national polity. The creation of a philosophy of a fundamental denial of war and the military was based on this torture that was passed on to Okinawans born after the war.
Second, the peace movements in Okinawa have challenged the military bases and resisted militarization in various ways. The violence and victimization that have resulted from the military system are key issues. As Shun Medoruma, a famous Okinawan novelist, asked “Can we really see this ‘post’ war era as meaning that the war has ended in Okinawa?” (Okinawa sengo zero nen, NHK publishing, 2005) The history of Okinawa “after” the war is a continuation of U.S. military violence and occupation. Okinawa is a land that is closely connected to American wars “after” World War II. Since the return of Okinawa to Japan, the USU.S. military bases in Okinawa have played an important role in the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, the Okinawan people have problematized not only the military violence and victimization but also the social system which forces Okinawa to provide support and join the wars of the U.S. Okinawan people have identified themselves as aggressors and supporters of the U.S. military operations if they accept the presence of the military bases.
Third, non-violence, civil disobedience, and direct action are essential features of the peace movements of Okinawa. For example, the people of Iejima Island protested against land requisition and compiled “Chinjou-kitei” (Petition Rule) in 1954. This rule said, “It is important that we take a position to teach and guide the U.S. soldiers as destroyers because we, farmers and producers, are far superior to them in humanity.” They stated unequivocally that the control of the U.S. military is unjust, and they expressed their sense of justice and reasoning through non-violent direct actions. As a result, the people of Iejima got their landsome of their land back and put the military into a corner (Shoukou Ahagon, 1973, Beigun to noumin, Iwanamishoten). Moreover, sit-in protests and direct actions to stop construction work on a new USU.S. military base in Henoko and new helipads in Takae are continuing. People keep engaging in actions such as standing and sitting down in front of the cars of construction workers and appealing to and communicating with them. As a result, base construction has continually been delayed and stopped. Non-violence does not mean non-resistance but the power to change reality. This power of the people recently shook up the traditional political structure of Okinawa because of conflicts between the conservative and radical parties which resulted in people creating a new political alliance called “All Okinawa”.
Japan post-war has been described as a “pacifist state” but, if this was ever so, it changed with the recent introduction of the national security bills. Still, if we have a full understanding of the “post” war history of Okinawa and the areas exposed to extreme militarization, such as Atsugi, Iwakuni, Sasebo, and Misawa, on the Japanese mainland, we need to reconsider the assumption that Japan has ever been a “pacifist state” during this period. Japan was constructed to connect directly with war through the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces and their dispatch to foreign countries, and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and its reinforcement, while the philosophy of pacifism was shared among Japanese citizens as a whole as is symbolized by their adherence to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. War is not to be regarded as a possible event in the future but as the situation that Japanese society has experienced and is still living now during this so-called “post” war period. Therefore, we can learn again how to strengthen our resistance against war and the military from the philosophy and activism of the peace movements in Okinawa.
Ahagon, Shoukou, 1973, Beigun to noumin, Iwanamishoten.
Arasaki, Moriteru, 2005, Okinawa gendaishi, Iwanamishoten.
Medoruma, Shun, 2005, Okinawa sengo zero-nen, NHK publishing.
Yakabi, Osamu, 2009, Okinawasen, beigun-senryoushi wo manabinaosu, Seorishobou.