One of last week’s more important news stories involved a mayoral election in the city of Nago, Okinawa. Nago is a small coastal city (population 60,000), known by many tourists for its beautiful beaches.
As some of you might remember, back in 2006, the Bush administration reached a deal with the Japanese government to move a US air base from Ginowan City in northeastern Okinawa to Nago. Though initially resistant to the move, Nago’s then-mayor, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, finally came around, having no doubt been pressured by the national government, which had always acquiesced to American demands.
But last August, Japanese voters elected a new government, one which had campaigned on the promise to move the air base out of Okinawa altogether. And then last week, Nago voters elected Susumu Inamine as their mayor, a man who adamantly opposes relocating the base to his city.
The presence of American troops has never played well in Japan, especially in Okinawa, where locals have had a long history of being victimized by GIs. The most well-known example of this occurred in 1995 when three American soldiers assaulted and gang-raped a twelve-year-old Japanese girl.
“Other incidents of bodily harm, intimidation and death continue in Okinawa on an almost daily basis,” Chalmers Johnson writes, “including hit-and-run collisions between American troops and Okinawans on foot or on auto bikes, robberies and assaults, bar brawls and drunken and disorderly conduct.”
To make matters worse, these wrongdoers often walk away with complete impunity. The military has an abysmal record prosecuting soldiers involved in such incidents, and a supplement to the 1953 American-Japanese Status of Forces Agreement severely restricts Japan’s jurisdiction in these matters. Johnson notes, “The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.”
Following last week's election, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said that the people of Nago had clearly spoken, and he insisted that his government now had no choice but to reconsider the 2006 accord. “The country will start from scratch on this issue and take responsibility to reach a conclusion by the end of May.”
Empires, of course, don’t like being told what to do, and the US has maintained there’s nothing to reconsider. Spokesmen from both the Pentagon and State Department have made it clear that the US has no intention of renegotiating a deal. And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has “reiterated his stance on the Futenma base issue, saying the current plan is the only one that can be achieved and it should be implemented as soon as possible under the current agreement.”
So much for those American ideals of democracy and self-determination. When the Empire wants to station its troops in someone else’s country, then that’s exactly what it’s going to do. Never mind the sentiments of the people actually living there.
But Hatoyama, undoubtedly realizing the political fallout that could result from succumbing to the Americans, has so far continued standing strong. Having been an American my entire life, I’ve learned not to put much hope in politicians. But, who knows, maybe this one will be different.