Saturday, July 01, 2006

Field Notes from Okinawa

The fire this time
Field Notes: 1 of 3 or 5
Julian Aguon
Marianans Variety
Monday, June 26, 2006

I have just returned from a war zone.

Though Okinawa makes up only 0.6% of all Japanese territory, it is home to 75% of the total US armed forces stationed in Japan. With US military bases occupying 20% of the island, the people of Okinawa are at every side reminded that they are prisoners of a war that has not ended. Despite the hype, the scheduled transfer of 8,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam will not relieve their burden. Instead, it marks only another bump in the road of the US-Japan relationship that has oppressed the people of Okinawa for more than half a century.

Because people in positions of power here favor only the stories told in numbers, let's start with some:

More than 4,790 criminal charges have been brought against US military personnel during the 34 years since Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972. Among these are more than 12 murders, 355 thefts, and 111 rapes (this last number is known to be very conservative). There are more, but for years when Okinawa was under explicit US military occupation, Okinawans did not have any rights to sue or arrest suspects if they were US soldiers. After Okinawa was returned to Japan, Okinawans were subject to the judicial whims of both the US and Japan. Further, as Okinawan civil groups report, Japanese officials do not have the right to investigate within the area of US bases and therefore cannot arrest US soldiers for their crimes if they stay inside the base.

A compilation of documented postwar US military crimes against women in Okinawa, produced by the Okinawa Women Act against Military Violence group, lists in detail acts of US military aggression, violence, rape and gang rape since 1945 against the women of Okinawa. These crimes, in the hundreds, are documented by year, date, description of crime committed, settlement (in any), and the number of information sources to confirm the incident. After raping and/or gang-raping these women, some soldiers (many of them marines), do different things with the bodies of the raped women they eventually murder. Some dump them in the rivers, some burn them alive in their cars. Women lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive these attacks, are haunted by a terror they cannot name.

Yet when women here gather to talk about how the influx of these same soldiers may affect our home, some men had nerve enough to get agitated with their gathering. One man displayed openly where he laid his allegiance - to the marines - whom he felt the women of Guam, in their concern for the wellbeing of our community, were unfairly disrespecting.

This is how the local elite block the truth. They control the conversation, fail to report information so immediately important, and paint - for the general population – local activists as a group of irrational, angry people without a point to make. Our point is this: we are being sung to sleep by politicians too afraid to be political (in the better sense of the word, meaning to act with intention to protect civil society, even and especially when it is difficult). I exclude media here because I have accepted the truth that dominant media in Guam is just a business in the business of making noise, not sense.

What do we really know about these marines? About the whole realignment? Not much. As Okinawan delegations come to Guam on fact-finding missions, what exactly are our leaders doing, besides waiting on a master plan to be handed down by the US defense department? Our senators, many of which openly admitted that their meeting with Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless was empty of any real information, should take their cue from Okinawan statesmen and pay that occupied territory a visit. Go on a fact-finding mission of their own. Find out more about these alleged "family-oriented" marines that are coming.

I hate to think that in our blind welcoming of these marines, we are offering up our women to the privates of these privates. The list of their crimes against women is too long already. Let's not add ours to theirs.

Julian Aguon is an author and resident of Tamuning

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