Keystones and Linchpins: contradictory views on base relocation
Douglas Lummis Political Scientist
Okinawa has been called “the keystone of the Pacific.” A keystone is what keeps an arch from collapsing. In an arch, the left side wants to fall right, and the right side wants to fall left. The keystone transforms these opposing motions from the forces that would destroy the arch into the forces that keep it in place.
The arch to which Okinawa is the keystone is not military but political. Politically, the US maintains its system of bases in Japan by balancing many contradictory social forces. Okinawa is the keystone that transforms these forces from something that could destroy the balance into the very forces that maintain the arch.
Consider the average mainland Japanese citizen: Yamato Taro. He favors the status quo, which means he supports both the Peace Constitution and the Japan-US Security Treaty (AMPO).
How is it possible to maintain such contradictory ideas in the mind of one person?
The answer is, Okinawa. By keeping 75% of those bases on “faraway” Okinawa, Mr. Yamato can both imagine he is a pacifist, and imagine that the US military is here to protect him.
Thus, the thing Mr. Yamato most hates to hear from Okinawa (because it destroys the balance) is that this radically unequal distribution of bases should be rectified, for example by moving the USMC Futenma Air Station not to Henoko, but to the mainland. But he has two answers to this, which used to work.
The first: “No peace-loving person should be satisfied by merely moving bases from one location to another. The Okinawa bases, like all military bases everywhere in the world, should be abolished, not relocated.”
A splendid sentiment. But in this context it means: until peace is established throughout all the world, the bases must stay in Okinawa.
Thus Japan’s pacifist sentiment is transformed into a force holding the arch in place.
The second: “There is no place in the Japanese mainland where a new base can be put.”
Thus the keystone is squeezed even harder from both sides, and the arch remains rigid.
But, as to, “no place”, this is a political, not a geographical fact. It means, wherever you try to put a new base in the mainland, people will protest. In other words, where people object, bases cannot be put. But if that’s true, then Okinawa is absolutely the last place where a new base can be built.
Mr. Yamato objects still: “.Well then, where should the bases go?”
But that’s a problem created by the contradictions in Mr. Yamato’s thinking. Okinawa has no obligation to solve it for him. Perhaps, realizing that will help Mr. Yamato to begin rethinking the whole matter.
When US Secretary of Defense Gates was in Tokyo, he called Henoko the “linchpin” to America’s system of bases. Indeed. So the “keystone” also has a “linchpin?”
Well, the residents of Henoko have long since pulled that linchpin out. It will be interesting to see what happens next.