Report from VFP in Okinawa

Mostly From: Bruce Gagnon's Blog: Organizing Notes

December 10-16 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015
The Legacy of Empire

Following our meeting with Mayor Ishimine and other Yaomitan village leaders

We began the morning visiting the Shurijio Castle from the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa) that lasted for about 500 years without any wars before the imperial Japanese occupation began which lasted until the end of WW II.  The castle was reduced to dust during the Battle for Okinawa in 1945 when the US invaded and defeated Japan.  The castle was restored in 1992.

One of of every four Okinawans were killed in the 1945 battle between Japan and the US.  Japan used Okinawa as a buffer to stall the US military advance toward Japan.

Our next stop was the very moving Himeyuri Peace Museum that honors 240 mobilized girl students that were crudely trained to work as nurse assistants in the Okinawa Army Hospital in Haebaru.  The facility was a cave connected by tunnels to many other smaller caves.  On March 23, 1945, as soon as the US military started their landing operation on Okinawa the students were sent into battle.

On the night of June 18 the students were thrown out of the caves by the Japanese army into the war front and were soon surrounded by the advancing US military.  More than 100 of the students were killed withing a few days of that order.  The museum was created by those who survived the carnage - one 90-year old woman stood by a replica of the cave 'hospital' and told us of the horrors the young women faced.

We next stopped by the US Marine base at Futenma that is totally surrounded by civilian neighborhoods - former US Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld once called Futenma the worst base on the planet.  Seventeen schools encircle the base that creates endless noise and over the years planes have crashed into the neighborhoods.  The plan is now to close the base and move its operations to Henoko (where we will protest in the early morning).  The US is now building two-runways at Henoko that will jut out into pristine Oura Bay likely killing coral reefs and endangered sea mammals.

We drove along an endless line of US military bases - Camp Foster, Camp Lester and Kadena Air Force Base.  At Kadena we pulled over the side of the road and parked in front of a small auto dealership.  The owner took us up to the second floor of his house so we could see over the barrier wall at the base.  In the background we heard very loud jet engines running and once we climbed the stairs we saw saw about 7-8 planes just across the street.  These planes were submarine tracking planes (chasing Chinese subs) and the home owner told us that fighter jets are also stationed at the base.  He is one of about 22,000 Okinawan citizens who have filed a law suit against the base for noise pollution but nothing has come of the case as of yet.  He said that often in the middle of the night the planes roar over their heads.

Our final stop for the day was to meet the Mayor Ishimine and other officials from Yomitan village that at one time had 70% of their land taken by the US for a series of military bases.  Some of the land has been returned to the village so now the US controls 47% of their land.  They showed us an extensive powerpoint of their efforts to convert the former military lands into health centers, art centers, senior citizens centers and more.  Mayor Ishimine told us:  "No base in nearby Henoko is our first priority.  Eventually we want to erase all bases in Okinawa.  US bases are hindering our economic development.  If the bases were closed we could do even better. The mainstream media on mainland Japan are very cold to us - the media there is under the control of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe government."

Shinzo Abe is the grandson of a former WW II fascist leader in the imperial Japanese war cabinet.  People consider him a fascist.  We were told that the Japanese murder of Okinawans and the use of comfort women (forced rape) by Japan's soldiers has been removed from Japan school textbooks.  Abe recently pushed through the national Diet (Parliament) in Tokyo a 'reinterpretation' of Article 9 (the peaceful principal in the Japanese constitution) that will allow Abe to join US offensive wars around the globe.

The signs are all over Okinawa - it is more than clear that people want US bases out and they want their independence restored.  With each passing day the legacy of the US military empire leaves deep scars in the hearts of the people here and around the world.  Now if only the American people would wake up from their deep sleep and hear the voices from abroad.

Friday December 11
We Won't Give Up the Fight!

We were up early yesterday morning and on the road to Camp Schwab where there was a 6:00 am gate blockage against the early construction work on the proposed Marine airfield twin-runways that will be plunked down in pristine Oura Bay.

Our Veterans For Peace delegation was warmly received by the more than 100 Okinawan citizens who were already gathering in front of the gate when we arrived.  Many of them were elderly and protest leaders had them chanting and singing even before the sun rose.  We were given tiny folding seats in the front row of the festive crowd and we tied our banners to thin plastic poles that held aloft a blue tarp used to protect from the rain and sun.

Just after 7:00 am the Japanese police (from Tokyo and boarding in an expensive ritzy resort nearby) began hauling the gate blockers away one by one.  Our VFP contingent locked arms and spread out flat on the ground.  We were the last to be taken but were carried away just like the rest of the folks.  They stowed us in a make shift holding pen behind a couple police buses and after about 15 minutes let us go once the gate was cleared for the waiting construction vehicles.

The Okinawan peace activists quickly moved down the road a bit to the main base gate and proceeded to sit in the road blocking that one.  Police pushed enough people aside to open one lane so cars could leave the base and again our VFP crew was positioned in the front row so the many American GI's leaving the base could not miss our white faces and VFP attire.  I saw one Marine give us the thumps up as his car left the base.

One 87 year old woman we met at the gate told us her story - she was burned severely by American flamethrowers during the 1945 US invasion of Okinawa.  A US military officer once told her, "Killing is my business."  She had fire in her eyes and is much adored by the protest crowd.

We were next loaded up and driven an hour further north to Takae where even another US base is located.  This one is called the northern drill area for jungle warfare where three kinds of helicopters are being deployed (including the controversial Osprey which has often crashed).  This area is a subtropical forest and mountain area that the military has used since Vietnam for jungle training.  Sixty percent of Okinawa's drinking water comes from this region.  It was only in recent years that the small local village called Higashi (population 150) learned that the US had tested Agent Orange in the surrounding forest during the Vietnam years.  Dow Chemical (which manufactured Agent Orange) drums were uncovered in the area.  The locals tried to get the water tested but US forces interfered with that process.  Fox and turtles in the area have been found with deformities.

We jumped back on our bus and returned to Camp Schwab just in time for what is called "Henoko University" which was a group of about 50 folks again blocking the construction gate.  We were invited to join them and each of us were asked to tell a bit about our time in the military.  I talked about my own conversion from a young militarist to a peace activist largely because of the protests at Travis AFB in California where I was stationed and the impact of those regular vigils on the GI's inside the base.  I suggested that they are touching more hearts than they could ever imagine and that the sparks from their non-violent protests are causing many inside the base gates to open their minds and debate the issues.  So keep protesting!

At 5:00 pm we arrived in Nago City to meet with Mayor Inamine who a few of us from VFP had met in Washington last year when Okinawan leaders traveled to DC to lobby against the Henoko runway project.  Mayor Inamine stood by a huge map of the city on his office wall and pointed out four areas where he is using his powers to block requests for base expansion operations.  He reported that 80% of the people in Okinawa are opposed to US bases and that he and the current Gov. Onaga were elected because of their opposition.  The mayor reported that Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Washington were trying to drown Okinawan citizens demands - it's a classic power struggle which is now before Japan's Supreme Court for resolution.  The question: Can Tokyo overrule local elected officials who are implementing the will of the people?

Mayor Inamine also reported that Japan is paying for the Marine runway that is proposed to be built on top of Oura Bay.  Just like the South Korean government is paying for the Navy base on Jeju Island - the US is now forcing 'host governments' to pay for greater shares of Pentagon military operations in various countries.  This then allows Washington to say that the conflict between local citizens in South Korea or Japan is a 'domestic issue' and that the US really can't get involved.  Total bullshit.

The mayor told us that "We don't want to take the part of victimizers in a war.  During the Vietnam War US bombers took off from here.  It so offended us."  He also stated what we heard from our other meeting with the mayor of Yomitan Village two days ago - "Okinawa does not prosper from US bases.  Less than 5% of our island income comes from bases.  The new runway has a flight path that would go directly over a popular tourist resort that attracts 200,000 people each year.  If the Henoko runway gets built they won't come back anymore."

Already we can see that from top-to-bottom the people of Okinawa are in serious revolt against the US military empire.  It's days are numbered.  Ordinary citizens are blocking base gates - city mayors and the governor of the island are using every legal means at their disposal to block base expansions.  The media on Okinawa is covering the story practically every day on the front page.  The right-wing Abe government in Tokyo is getting hammered in Okinawa.  In Japan citizens are allowed to designate which of the nation's 47 prefectures (states) they want their taxes sent to.  Many people in Japan, in solidarity with Okinawa, are designating their taxes be sent to the struggling people in Okinawa.

It makes our VFP delegation furious to see the abuse the people of Okinawa are daily getting from Tokyo and Washington.  The people keep telling us they will never give up - we heard the same words on Jeju Island.  The folks on Okinawa understand what real war means.  The memory of the 1945 US invasion that killed one out of every four people on Okinawa is seared into their consciousness.  They understand that US bases on their island make them a target once again.

The people here also keep saying that they are tired of war and they realize that they must fight hard to make sure it does not destroy their beautiful island home once again. We keep telling them that they are not alone - we are all in this one together.

Photos by Ellen Davidson

Saturday, December 12, 2015
Stop the Insane U.S. Plan for an Airfield on Oura Bay!

We went back to US Marine base Camp Schwap yesterday to discover local activists trying to block a military convoy coming out of the base.  When I saw the scene my mind immediately flashed back to 1985 when I was at a conference in Mutlangen, Germany and participated in a similar action.

I was in Mutlangen to protest the presence of US Army Pershing II intermediate-range nuclear missiles that Ronald Reagan had deployed there in October of 1983 aimed at the former Soviet Union.  The Pershing was built in Orlando, Florida where I was living at the time.  I was organizing protests outside of the Martin Marietta (now called Lockheed Martin) plant.  My youngest sister was inside soldering the circuit boards for the nuclear missile.  I was invited to represent our local peace movement at the Mutlangen conference that was calling for the Pershing to be removed from their small town.

We were inside the conference hall that day in 1985 when we got a call saying that the US Army base, placed right inside the center of Mutlangen, had opened their gates and were moving huge trucks (similar to the one pictured above) loaded with the nuclear-tipped Pershing missile.  We ran outside and got in front of the trucks and soon enough the police came to drag us out of the way.  So memory and instinct sent me right out into the street yesterday in front of Camp Schwab to try to slow the war machine down again - even if just for a moment.  I made eye contact with the two GI's in the front seat of the truck - I wanted them to see my sweatshirt that reads Veterans For Peace.  They saw me quite clearly.

We next went to a local fishing port on Oura Bay and climbed aboard two boats that took us out into the bay for a water protest alongside about 10 peace kayaks that were bumping up against the floating barriers erected by the military.  More than a dozen Japanese military units in inflatable boats were buzzing around us and when we tried to use the sound system on board our two boats to speak they attempted to drown our voices out with their own sound systems.  This back-and-forth went on for about an hour.


In the distance I could see massive dredging barges at the ready to begin tearing up the ocean floor in preparation for the construction of the twin runways that would be literally built on top of the pristine ocean.  It is more than insane to imagine that this crystal clear water could have hundreds, maybe thousands, of tons of landfill dumped into the sea to place these landing strips out over what now is coral reefs and feeding grounds for the endangered Dugong sea mammal.  [One Okinawan activist has informed us that the correct numbers are 21 million cubic meters of soil, equivalent to 3.5 million 10-ton dump truck loads will be dumped into the bay.] The proposed runway area, that has been marked off with these big floating orange barriers, is enormous and the whole idea is beyond human comprehension. (We were told the cost for each round orange plastic piece was $300.)

Americans often ask about people from other nations: "Why do they hate us so much?"  The people of Okinawa are asking these questions:  "Why do the Americans make us suffer so much?  Why do they destroy our environment?  Why do they take our lands?  Why do they ignore our pleas for peace and justice?  Why do they refuse to close their bases when we demand that they do so?"

The words from Washington about protecting 'freedom and democracy' in Okinawa ring hollow.  There are about 50,000 US troops stationed on the Pentagon's military colony of Okinawa. I've heard several Okinawan activists use the term 'mafia' to describe their militarized government in Tokyo.  That same term could easily be used to describe our 'government' in the US - Washington is run by a corporate criminal syndicate out to make profit from endless war on behalf of resource extraction corporations.

The only way we can ever beat these corporate warmongers and be free people again is if we create a global movement of resistance to these death dealing cats who now run the majority of governments around the world.  We must join hands planet-wide and keep saying no to the devastation that the war machine brings to our beloved Mother Earth. In my mind there could be nothing more important that we could do with our lives.

That means we must stand in solidarity with our friends around the world who are demanding that US bases in their country be closed.  It also means that we must stand in resistance at bases and military production facilities in the US and call for an end to America's dangerous addiction to war and violence.

Photos by Ellen Davidson and Asai Hiroki

Sunday, December 13, 2015
More from Camp Schwab

Video from Okinawan TV
....we are heading back to Camp Schwab early Monday morning for another round.....

Monday, December 14, 2015
Camp Schwab


Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Will You Help Challenge the Cancerous U.S. War Machine?

Sitting in front of the Camp Schwab construction gate before dawn

We moved out into the street to block construction trucks heading for the gate

This woman's face tells the whole story - click on the photo for a better view

Eriko, one of the organzers of our Okinawa schedule, tries to protect Iraq war veteran Will Griffin from the police

Back in front of the construction gate they passed the mic around.  I told the story about the No MUOS campaign in Sicily where people are resisting a new US space technology communications base making the point that people all over the world are resisting US military operations

A wonderful moment when former Marine Ken Mayers (who was stationed at this base in the 1960's) received a protest jacket from a woman who worked inside the base at the very same time.  She quit her job when a US officer told her "My business is killing people".  She comes to the base gates to sit-in every day.

In the background I am being dragged away by the police

The woman holding the sign later told us her story.  She is the mother of three children and said that coming to block the gates was not easy for her but she felt she had to do it to protect the environment on behalf of the future generations.

We went to the gates of Camp Schwab US Marine base where twin-runways are planned to be built out on top of pristine Oura Bay.  These photos above are from our second visit where we again helped block the gates and street in front of the base.  They are not in proper sequence of action - first we sat in front of the construction gate and then moved out into the middle of the street and then back in front of the gate again.  But you'll get some idea of the action and the deep emotion that was there on that day.

I'll post more about our last couple of days events in Okinawa as more photos become available.  Leave it to say that our delegation was dog tired by the time we wrapped things up last night.  We were putting in close to 17 hour days - off at 5:30 am and to bed around 11:00 pm or later on most nights.  Then we also had to find time to answer emails and write blog posts.

It is more than tragic what the US is doing to the people and environment around the world with its more than 800 bases.  Everywhere you turn local people are standing against these bases.  Okinawa is one of the more obscene examples of US military colonization of a people and their land.  The spirit of the Okinawan people is simply amazing considering that they have been in active resistance to US military occupation since 1953.  Imagine that.... I was deeply moved when we visited two different museums and saw the photos of active protests against US bases during these past 62 years.

Back in the US its hard to get 'activists' to come to a protest once every few weeks.  Most Americans have never had to face this kind of adversity to their democracy nor their lands with the exception being the first Americans - the indigenous people.  Native Americans understand what military occupation feels like but the rest of us literally have no clue until we travel to Jeju Island, Okinawa, Sicily, Guantanamo, Guam or other places where the Pentagon had grabbed land for its program of 'Full Spectrum Dominance'.

Our final program last night in Naha City before about 300 people ended with questions from the audience.  They asked us:  What are you going to do when you get home to spread word about Okinawa?  How can you help us?

That question will largely be answered by our peers in the US who must be challenged to do more in solidarity with the struggling people around the world that are occupied and suppressed by the Pentagon war machine.  Will you be willing to stand up in the USA against this military machine that is the largest contributor to global warming?  Will you help us resist the military bases and military production sites in our own country?  Will you help us put pressure on an admittedly duplicitous Congress that continues to steal taxpayer dollars from social programs to fund this cancerous endless war machine?  These are the challenges that we face when we get  back home......

Photos by Ellen Davidson

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Good Media Coverage in Okinawa

Coverage of our Veterans for Peace (VFP) delegation trip to Okinawa was in the two most popular newspapers virtually every day while we were here.  Yesterday they carried two stories - one about a great meeting we had with students at Okinawa International University and the other reporting on the tour concluding event in the evening that drew about 300 folks.

We heard that some conservative politician in Tokyo had made the statement recently that their right-wing government (which the US loves) needs to shut these two papers down!  Obviously their strong support for the anti-base movement on Okinawa is too much for Tokyo (and Washington) to stomach.

Imagine how things would be different for us all around the world if our media was not under the control of corporate interests?  When the public has access to clear and truthful information they are better able to make informed decisions that help move politics along in a positive direction.

Noam Chomsky often says: "How can you expect the American people to react to an issue when they don't know anything about it?"  In the US our media is pathetic - the news is squeezed out and we are handed trivia and entertainment thus the people get dumbed down and politically neutralized.

The Okinawan people are fortunate at this time to have some media that is doing what TV, radio and newspapers should do..... give the people the truth and let them decide.  That is the only way a real democracy can function.  Without an informed citizenry democracy is just a facade - an illusion like Disney World.

I was talking yesterday morning with VFP delegation co-organizers Tarak Kauff and Ellen Davidson before they flew back to the US.  Tarak remarked that he felt VFP had really had an impact in Okinawa and I think he was right about that.  One key reason for that impact was the coverage that the delegation's solidarity visit got from the local media.

There is a group of right-wingers in Okinawa called the Osprey Fan Club that sometimes shows up at anti-base events to protest in favor of the US military occupation.  The other night when a group of us jumped into a cab, to get to the tour finale event, the cab driver took us to the wrong address and by the time we finally got to the right place people were getting nervous that something had happened to us.  When I got up to speak I told the story about the taxi driver dropping us off in another part of the city and said that we wondered if the cabby might have been a member of the Osprey Fan Club and had repeatedly seen photos of us in the newspapers with our bright gold sweatshirts on.  The gag got a good laugh from the audience.

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