Editorial：It’s Also Time for “Change” for the Bases in Okinawa. We Urge You...
Editorial：It’s Also Time for “Change” for the Bases in Okinawa. We Urge You to Take a Decisive Step Worthy of the Peace Prize
Welcome to Japan, President Barack Obama. We would like to extend our warmest welcome to you on your first visit to Japan as President of the United States. Although this time you will not be able to come to Okinawa and gain first-hand experience of the island, where most of the U.S. Forces’ facilities in Japan are located,
We would still like to take this opportunity to send you a message, conveying urgent demands people of Okinawa.
Three quarters of US forces in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, which amounts to a mere 0.6% of the total national land mass. This means that local development is restricted by the secession of a substantial portion of land to military bases. Not to mention the problem of noise pollution caused by military planes and training, and the most pressing problem of the recurrence of tragic accidents and atrocious crimes involving U.S. service personnel.
Infringement of Human Rights
The harrowing incident in the Fall of 1995 brought to prominence the issue of Futenma Air Base. A girl who was on her way home from shopping in a residential area was abducted and gang-raped by three US servicemen. Rage swept through the island, and a mass rally was held to demand a reduction of the U.S. military presence.
At the rally, a student declared, “We do not want to go on living in fear of US soldiers, accidents, and the risks posed by the military. Give us back our peaceful island without any military presence.”
In summer 2004, however, a huge Marine Corps helicopter crashed into a university campus in an urban area and exploded.
This week, the local police searched the house of an army soldier on suspicion of causing a hit-and-run accident in which a local man was killed.
These are just some of the cases that result from the presence of bases in Okinawa. Even if we restrict the cases to crimes, about 5,500 incidents have occurred since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan, and of those 550 cases are heinous crimes.
We hear that you have consistently opposed the war in Iraq. We also hear that you place great emphasis on the protection of human rights and the environment. What do you think about the current situation in Okinawa―as in a war zone, here too a people’s rights are infringed upon, livelihoods threatened, and nature destroyed? In the United States, last week, there was a random shooting atrocity by an army psychologist. Please also think about the situation of Okinawa as if it were happening somewhere inside your country.
To avoid any misunderstanding, we would like to make it clear that Okinawa does not hate America. In our peace memorial park, we have a monument called “the cornerstone of peace,” which commemorates the names of all those who died in the Battle of Okinawa, including American soldiers. By making our demands, we only wish that there can be no more victims on the island.
Your speech in Prague this past spring was very impressive. You mentioned the moral responsibility of the country which had used atomic weapons in the past, and called for the creation of “a world without nuclear weapons.” However, you also said, “Although this goal will not be reached quickly, we have to insist, ‘Yes, we can!’”
The determination expressed in your speech struck the right chord with us, as members of the only country against which atomic weapons have been used. Our hopes rose further when you subsequently declared the goal of halving America’s nuclear arsenal from its 2001 level by 2012.
It is said that the Nobel Prize Committee held your initiatives and approach towards nuclear disarmament in high regard when deciding to award you the Peace Prize. If you are truly committed to your own principle and stance, please take heed also of the plight of the Okinawans, who have long lived in anguish under the “nuclear umbrella.”
As for the current plan to relocate the Futenma Air Base to Nago, we regard it as simply tranfering the problem to another part of Okinawa. A recent opinion poll also suggests that a large majority of Okinawans want the airfield to move outside Okinawa, or even outside Japan.
Passing the Risks
In accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination last year, you stated, “Change happens because American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.” You came to power promising a change from Bush administration, and with regard to the ; Futenma issue need not feel bound by the agreement made by the previous government.
If we recall, the question of “total return” of the Futenma Air Base was somehow changed to “relocation within the prefecture” during the negotiation process. It has been 20 years since the end of the Cold War. We should re-examine whether Okinawa really needs to host enormous U.S. military bases. A thorough inquiry into this question should be carried out through political leadership.
In Okinawa, we have a saying, “Nuchidu Takara” (“life is precious”). This is a lesson we learned after going through tremendous sacrifice.
If you genuinely believe that the future is made by deeds and not by words, please show your strong leadership and change Okinawa dramatically from an island of tragedy to an island of peace. Here in Okinawa, we sincerely hope that you will take such a decisive step, worthy of honor recently bestowed upon you by the awarding of the Peace Prize.