Media Mix, Sept. 3, 2017

Kamejiro Senaga

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the rest of Japan’s reluctance to “accept” any of the U.S. military bases on Okinawa. As suggested by the media coverage of this issue, the protest movement against the Okinawan bases is seen as being fomented by a minority of rabble rousers, and people who support the bases and right wing activists in general tend to believe the protests are orchestrated by leftists from the “mainland,” meaning that Okinawans themselves are mostly OK with having American soldiers and aircraft there. However, in terms of Okinawans who vote, the overwhelming evidence points to resistance to the bases, as almost every person elected to office on the archipelago in recent years has also been against base expansion. And, basically, this is what the matter comes down to: Do the people of Okinawa have the right to self-determination? According to America’s “values,” they should, but the U.S. avoids the question by relying wholly on the Japanese government, which not only pays for the bases, including the salaries of the many Japanese civilians who work on or for the bases, but acts in the U.S. interest by dictating to the prefecture what it must put up with. The government can get away with flouting the rights of Okinawans by claiming national security, which gains the support of the rest of Japan. All Okinawans want is for the rest of Japan to take on more of the burden, but, as pointed out in the column, the rest of Japan isn’t willing to do that, because they don’t want to live next to bases either.

This situation is vividly illustrated in Tadahiko Sako’s documentary, which explains in plain, undeniable terms how Okinawa, the only part of the main Japanese islands to experience ground combat in World War II, came to bear the brunt of the American resentment for the war. Though the rest of the archipelago was returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1952, Okinawa remained under U.S. control until 1972, and during that time the Okinawan people had limited rights. Kamejiro Senaga, the subject of the documentary, tried to use democratic means to gain rights for his fellow Okinawans, and the Americans eventually arrested him on trumped-up charges and put him in jail after he was elected mayor of Naha. The attitude of the Americans, which is plain in some of the old footage shown in the film, was that the Japanese, as represented by Okinawa, lost the war and so were required to put up with whatever the Americans wanted to do, including taking their land for their own uses and criminalizing strikes and political assemblies. An American diplomat, now retired and living in Philadelphia, who was a witness to the Okinawan occupation, was interviewed by Sako for the film, and he admitted openly that even at the time he thought the treatment of Okinawans by the U.S. military was “shabby” and betrayed the democratic values that America was supposed to be advancing throughout the world. To put it even more plainly, the attitude was discriminatory, even racist, and conveyed to the rest of Japan, which has subsequently looked down on Okinawa as being somehow backward and separate from hondo, or what Okinawans derisively call “Yamato.” Sako made the movie so that Japanese would know about Senaga, who is a hero on Okinawa, but it seems Yamato doesn’t think much of the people who live there, and that’s really the root of the problem.

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