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US base of shame

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Issue 1706


US base of shame

By Charlie Kimber

LEADERS OF the world’s richest countries-the G8-are gathering for a summit in Okinawa, Japan. The G8 summit has to tackle their failure to deliver the promised debt cancellation to the poorest countries. They have chosen this remote island because it is one of the most inaccessible parts of the globe and judged to be safe from big anti-capitalist protests. Okinawa lies 600 miles south of Japan. It is nearer to Shanghai in China than Tokyo.

But their visit will draw attention to the suffering caused by imperialist intervention. Remarkably, the US governed Okinawa until 1972, having seized it during the Second World War. In April 1945 the US invaded Okinawa towards the end of the war with Japan. US troops slaughtered 147,000 civilians-a third of the island’s population-as well as 70,000 Japanese soldiers.

Civilians hiding in caves were burned out or buried alive by US soldiers. After the war the US army took Okinawa over, governing it as an occupying power. The entire population who survived the war were placed in camps surrounded by barbed wire. The US distributed food rations but, at 1,400 calories per person per day, not enough for proper nutrition. Thousands more people died from starvation and disease. Meanwhile US forces seized land and began building military facilities all over the island. US official film footage shows troops burning and bulldozing villages.

Even after the peace treaty with Japan in 1951 the US stayed. Okinawa became a frontline base for use in the Cold War. It was chosen as one of the first sites outside the US to have nuclear weapons. By 1958 around 800 nuclear missiles and bombs were housed on Okinawa. In 1957 President Eisenhower declared that Okinawa would be governed for the “foreseeable future” by a high commissioner who had to be a US general. The military, determined to retain Okinawa as a base, intervened on several occasions to make sure politicians did not give away the island. These bases were used heavily, especially for B-52 bomber raids, during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The island was also used as a sort of giant brothel for US troops stationed in Asia. In 1972 the US finally handed Okinawa back to Japan, but only with the agreement that it would retain a military presence. Today Okinawa contains three quarters of all US bases in Japan and is home to 28,000 US military personnel. US forces treat the local population as subhuman. In 1959 a US serviceman strangled a 23 year old woman to death. The soldier was sentenced to three years in jail.

A few months later a farmer was shot dead by a US army sergeant. The soldier was acquitted after he testified that he mistook the man for a wild boar. Since 1972 US military personnel have committed 4,700 crimes against islanders. This shameful record has bred deep resentment. In 1995 tens of thousands demonstrated for the removal of the bases after a 12 year old girl was raped by three US marines. One speaker told protesters, “The US forces have taken away our lives and our dignity. We do not want any foreign forces stationed here. We want peace and a chance to build a life for ourselves.”

Okinawans voted ten to one for the US bases to go in a referendum. None of this altered US behaviour. Earlier this month a US marine was arrested for molesting a 14 year old girl. The leaders of the world’s richest countries may avoid the mass demonstrations they faced in Birmingham and Cologne, the venues for recent summits. But, as an Okinawan activist said last week, “we know we are only a small outpost of the world. We are a small voice raised against the great power of the US and the European Union.

“However, we shall make our own stand against the way we have been abused for decades, and in doing that we will join with the hundreds of millions across the world who feel a righteous rage at the inequalities of this system.”

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