This week the Mail On Sunday released a ‘smoking gun’ memo claiming to have the dirt on Tony Blair’s back-room ‘deal in blood’ with then President Bush over support for the Iraq War. The memo was written ahead of Blair’s Crawford summit at Bush’s ranch in Texas in 2002, and although it contains nothing incriminating or anything that Blair had not already said publicly, it has still managed to bring out old jibes that Blair was Bush’s “poodle” and a “cheerleader” for the Iraq War.
Whatever history writes of Blair’s action in Iraq, one thing he cannot be found guilty of is pandering to the US. The memo, for one, only echoes the same sentiments of a July 2002 Cabinet briefing paper on the Crawford summit that said British support would be forthcoming “provided that certain conditions were met”. Second, the iteration that Blair will “stand by you” does not imply he would follow the US line on Iraq. Blair had, in fact, been building the case for regime change in Iraq some two and a half years before 9/11 while George Bush was still an isolationist Governor in Texas.
When Blair gave a speech in Chicago in 1999 welcoming the defeat and overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic after the intervention in Kosovo, he firstly drew attention to an inescapable confrontation with Saddam Hussein and then invited the international community to measure up to its humanitarian responsibilities, even when the UN could not:
Many of our problems have been caused by two dangerous and ruthless men – Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. Both have been prepared to wage vicious campaigns against sections of their own community. As a result of these destructive policies both have brought calamity on their own peoples. Instead of enjoying its oil wealth, Iraq has been reduced to poverty, with political life stultified through fear…
…Non-interference has long been considered an important principle of international order. And it is not one we would want to jettison too readily….But the principle of non-interference must be qualified in important respects. Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as “threats to international peace and security”. When regimes are based on minority rule they lose legitimacy.
As Blair uttered these words, Saddam Hussein was busy building up his legacy of genocide and aggression by flouting UN resolutions, starving the Iraqi people, and prosecuting a racist war of extermination on the Kurds against coalition No-fly Zones.
But while Blair had been signalling the benefits of a world without Saddam Hussein, the realist school of International Relations, so influential in the US State department throughout the 1990s, had been insisting on his survival. The US decision to reinstate Kuwaiti sovereignty after the Gulf War but leave Iraq’s fate to a defeated Saddam Hussein was straight out of the Colin Powell playbook. The Powell Doctrine, as it was otherwise called (backed up by Kissinger) argued only to reduce Hussein’s military threat without weakening him to a point where Iraq became a target for covetous neighbours hostile to the US. The result was, predictably, Iraqi suffering. The Iraq-Shia and Kurdish insurgents that elder Bush had incited to arms against Saddam Hussein, were abandoned to die, and vital supplies of food and medicine promised to the Iraqi people in the UN-established oil-for-food programme, instead found their way into Hussein’s personal collection of golden palaces.
In fact, US policy throughout the 1990s in Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo (before “poodle” Blair had persuaded Clinton to change course on Milosevic) had continued very much under this narrowly-defined conception of national interest. It tended to shy away from its internationalist commitments and avoid ‘idealistic expectations‘ like ‘regime change’ in favour of contained coexistence with supposedly stable dictatorships.
Blair, however, had been arguing in favour of ‘idealistic expectations’ for some time already. His broad and ambitious grand strategy – the ‘Doctrine of International Community’ – had made a virtue of ‘values’ in foreign policy, marking one of the most open defences of humanitarian intervention by a world leader to date:
Now our actions are guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. In the end, values and interests merge. If we can establish and spread the values of liberty, the rule of law, human rights and an open society then that is in our national interests too. The spread of our values makes us safer.
This was the foundation for a “foreign policy with an ethical dimension,” as Blair’s foreign secretary, Robin Cook, had put it. And it could be seen most clearly through the interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone where there was no strategic or commercial interest in sight. In Kosovo, Blair’s campaign for NATO strikes had repelled the ethnic cleansing of Albanians and led to the trial of the most brutal European dictator since WW2. In Sierra Leone, Blair’s hostage rescue mission had defeated Liberia’s invading warlords and boosted flagging UN operations in Freetown.
In both cases Blair had campaigned either alone or with extreme US reluctance. His rhetoric of universal values and humanitarian intervention had passed straight through the US State Department at the time. And it was not until 9/11 that a US President would begin talk as Blair had been for years.
One day into the Corbyn era and the Conservatives had their line of attack. Security, security, security – a single word designed to warn and appeal to the public that Corbyn is a novice leader with a dangerous cause. Priti Patel, Employment Secretary, used the word 11 times in a four minute interview on Corbyn; Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary, 9 times in a single minute, reciting Cameron’s party-line denouncement of Corbyn word-for-word – “the Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.”
A hero of the new populist Left he may be, but on the question of national security, the Tories are right. Corbyn’s self-styled “radically different” international policy is an ill-conceived project to turn the clock back on the West and leave its allies, particularly in the Middle East, at the mercy of everything the Left should stand against. It is a policy of self-destructive ‘pacifism’ – and it is not even “radical.”
You might not expect this from a man who has so often found himself on the right side of history: Corbyn actively resisted Thatcher’s collusion with Apartheid and Pinochet, earning the badge that every aspiring revolutionary child of the 60s hoped for – getting arrested for protesting fascism. He spoke out in support of Salman Rushdie after the fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini; he was the first MP to protest Saddam Hussein’s gas bombardment of Kurds in Halabja; and as recently as this year’s Labour leadership campaign, he visited a Kurdish community centre in solidarity with their struggle for peace and self-determination.
Despite these welcome overtures, Corbyn has time and again abandoned his ‘comrades’ exactly when they needed him most. His opposition to the coalition bombing campaign against IS, for example, is utterly at odds with his supposed support for the Kurds. Together with the Turkmen, Christians and Yizidis of Northern Iraq, the Kurds have said repeatedly that further strikes could save many more – and that areas such as the Kurdish-majority city Kobane would now be in ruins under IS rule were it not for the support of US air-strikes. Yet Corbyn has opposed all Western intervention at every turn.
It is not inconsequential to note, here, that Corbyn was until recently Chair of Stop The War Coalition campaign. Throughout his career, he has voted against 13 critical pieces of anti-terrorism legislation and has blankly opposed every motion in favour of UK military support overseas, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. With this steadfast ‘pacifism,’ Corbyn proposes to implement a foreign policy that “understands our role in causing the conflicts of today” – that is to say, a policy that accepts we have in many ways brought present crises on ourselves. His plans to retire Trident, abandon NATO, renounce militarism, eschew intervention, apologise for the Iraq War and abandon the Kurds, in his own way, very much belong to his narrative of retreat and ‘conciliation’.
It makes total sense, then – at least logically – why Corbyn would refuse to declare war on fascists who have already declared war on him and his allies – he thinks there is actually something justifiable to their cause. His comments during a parliamentary debate on counter-terrorism for British nationals returning from overseas bear a little scrutiny here:
“I have encountered young people who have been attracted to what ISIS is doing..[who] say that what the West did in Iraq and Afghanistan was appalling…We are living with the consequences of the war on terror of 2001, and if we continue to try to create legal obstacles and make value judgments about people without considering the overall policy we are following, we will return to legislation such as this again and again, year after year.”
This view – so popular on the Left nowadays – is utterly facile. It brands the likes of IS as a response to the West’s colonial bluster, saying, in effect, that Islamist video-butcherers and suicide-murderers represent a “resistance” with a liberation ideology.
This view is neatly summarised by Guardian columnist and contributor to Corbyn’s former Stop The War Coalition website, Seamus Milne, who, in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders, wrote – “let Paris be a warning: they are here because we are there.” Indeed, Stop the War Coalition publishes numerous articles of this kind. One of them, argues that Islamist terrorists who want to impose Sharia and kill cartoonists for drawing the exalted prophet of Islam while shouting “allahu Akbar” have nothing, in fact, to do with Islam. Another, claims moral equivalence between those that expressly target civilians – IS and the Charlie Hebdo killers – and the US, whose civilian victims are incidental to its attempt to repel the advance of terror groups.
Over-reaching considerably in attempts to confront the conscience of the imperial West, advocates of this view make the grave mistake of thinking fascists with brown-skin might just stop being fascists if only we were a little nicer to them.
As Nick Cohen argues in ‘What’s Left,’ this amounts to a surrender of once cherished the values of the Left in favour of a stubborn attachment to multiculturalism and a misguided kindness to anything non/anti-Western – no matter how savage. It gives too much ground, not only to IS, but to powers such as Russia and Iran whose intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts are invariably an affront to all the Left used to defend – emancipated women, scientific inquiry, freedom of speech and separation of religion from the state.
Now the Left appears willing to do anything at all costs to avoid being seen to support the US. They choose to bury their heads in the ground, fooling themselves into thinking they are “anti-war” when they are not at all. They are shadily taking the other side in a conflict where the moral and civilisational stakes are extremely high.
Corbyn’s “radically different” international policy bears all the hallmarks of this long lost Left. From his misdiagnosis of the Islamist threat to his broad retreat from old alliances, Corbyn ultimately condemns those he claims to support.
During the Labour hustings, he easily managed to win applause with loose talk of global justice, oppressed peoples and the Iraq War. But now as leader, he should face the appropriate scrutiny – why does his solidarity with the refugees of wars extend only to those that have made it to Europe? Why is he content to treat these symptoms while denying the root cause of IS? Does he believe IS is a rational actor that we can negotiate peace with? Why would he even tolerate co-existence with such a regime? Why does he flatly deny the need to resist, militarily, fascists who mean to destroy everything he claims to love and wants to defend? And is he sure he still wants to call this a “radical” policy?
These are very important questions for a potential leader of a major world power (yes, that’s right, a world power), and until Corbyn has a convincing argument, the Left should be careful what it wishes for.
An authority figure standing over the pale and lifeless body of a 3 year old Syrian boy face-down and dead on the shores of Europe having fled war in the Middle East – rarely does an image so well encapsulate nearly everything that needs to be said about an issue.
Most arresting of all, however, is perhaps that which is the image does not convey; that Aylan al-Kurdi was just one of 1.2 million children to have fled their embattled homeland in Syria and one of more than 10,000 children to have died while attempting to do so.
That’s 10,000 children in a conflict that the UK has taken little notice of until now and for so long declared it has ‘no appetite’ to join. Meanwhile popular figures like Labour leader front-runner Jeremy Corbyn continue to refuse to confront in any serious way the root cause of young Aylan’s death and the reason why he and thousands others have found themselves in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the first place – ISIS.
The compassion that Turkish photographer, Nilufer Demir, has inspired with her touching tribute to Aylan is laudable. The newspaper editors that chose to publish the image of a dead child on their front covers deserve much credit for harnessing the power of shock to put pressure on the Prime Minister and improve refugee policy.
But did the other 9,999 dead Syrian children pass the UK public by? Why has this compassion come only now the Syrian war has encroached just too close to home in Europe? And is there not something a bit empty and non-committal about sudden expressions of sympathy for victims of an enemy we have for so long refused to fight?
Meanwhile, the editor of the Daily Mail decided to print the photo of Aylan despite just 6 days before publishing the headline ‘migrants: how many more can we take?‘ followed by a warning of the thousands of migrants “flooding” into Europe. The Sun too, with the ineradicable presence of notorious pseudo-columnist Katie Hopkins and her demands for gunships rather than rescue boats to stop the so-called “cockroaches” from crawling over, leads one to suppose the decision by both papers to publish young Aylan in large print on the front page was in no way designed to encourage policymakers to take action to accommodate migrants and was, frankly, little more than a money grab of the most cynical kind.
“The little Syrian boy was well clothed and well fed. He died because his parents were greedy for the good life in Europe” said a UKIP candidate in sparkling form. No comment needed – I loathe to go for the easy targets.
Russell Brand is an idiot. I’ve taken the time to go through his arguments:
1) I have no idea why he equates terrorism to pricking someone with a pin and it’s frivolous as far as I’m concerned, but from what I gather, he’s trying to say ‘terrorism is ok in asymmetric warfare’ – i.e terrorism is a weapon of the weak; acceptable in the face of superior resources and weaponry.
It’s a slippery slope. I’m not convinced that killing innocent bystanders indiscriminately and intentionally is ever justifiable, but if it is, then you better at least have ‘supreme emergency’ on your side, or first have tried non-violent resistance, mass demonstrations, unconventional warfare and so on. Hamas has not done any such things.
Besides, Hamas cannot scapegoat a lack of resources for its terrorist activities. It chose, for example, to destroy much of its own trading stock, such as the 3,000 fruit and flower producing greenhouses it inherited when Israel withdrew its occupation. Up until 2011, it was in receipt of long-range missiles and $15 million a month from its powerful ally Iran, as well as millions from Turkey and Qatar. It chose not to invest this capital in schools, trade, infrastructure, or even bomb-shelters (except for the elites), instead preferring to build an extensive network of tunnels and thousands upon thousands of missiles, which it aims at densely populated areas in Israel, including hospitals and schools, rarely causing any damage or killing any of the civilians it intends to (mainly because of Israel’s Iron Dome).
2) He says ‘there is no objective terrorism. There’s just different perspectives of violence.’ This is post-modern nonsense. This is why he feels it’s OK to call Hannity a terrorist. For Russell, Hannity is a terrorist because according to his muddled definition of the term – ‘using intimidation to reach your goals’ is terrorism. Well, not any definition I’ve ever heard. A university’s use of deadlines to make students submit course work could qualify as such… Hannity is an idiot and a bully, but he’s no terrorist. And Russell is being frivolous in the extreme to label him as such.
3) He says ‘nobody should be using violence, the people who are using the most, and most effective violence are surely committing the greater crime.’ To Russell, then, all victors are criminals. Because the Allies were more effective in their violence than the Axis in WW2, they were the greater criminals. This is warped logic.
After returning from a trip around Europe a few years ago, an embarrassed Japanese friend told me about how on two separate occasions she had ‘lost’ her euros. A lady asked for “small change” at a Barcelona bus stop before swiping the lot, and then in Rome, tricksters posing as station attendants (apparently confident enough to not even bother with the uniforms) successfully took advantage of her gullibility. When the story had finished, along with her grumbling, she confessed that she had suffered from something I had not heard before – “heiwaboke”.
In English, “heiwaboke” may be translated as “peace at any price” or, at its most derogatory, “peace idiot”. It is a by-product of the post-war project to build a new Japan as a nation of peace, centred around Article 9, or the “peace clause”, of the Japanese constitution. The new Japan, throughout the course of this project, has become a place so accustomed to low crime and so benign that even the tourist streets are free from crooked schemes. Some of its people, therefore, see only a world that is peaceful and safe and have no imagination at all for war or confrontation.
As nice as this might seem, it suffers from some dangerous illusions. The most common mistake of the good-hearted, wrote novelist Lionel Shriver, is to assume everyone else is just like you. With its misapplication of trust, “heiwaboke”, assumes the best in everyone, fails to see the threats and tyrannies that do in fact exist, and lacks the necessary vigilance to reliably defend one’s self and others against them.
Though my friend found this out for herself, successive Japanese governments – with their foreign policy – have hardly managed to unmoor themselves from the shores of Japan, anchored as they have been by the constitutional relic known as Article 9.
When, for example, Japanese troops were finally deployed overseas in Iraq (after some severe legal wrangling), they were subject to such strict rules of engagement that, in the words Temple University’s Jeff Kingston, they were “more of a burden on the coalition than a welcome contribution, pinning down [coalition] troops for guard duty when they were desperately needed elsewhere”.
This dispatch, though largely an unavoidable quid pro quo for the US-Japan Security Alliance, was a response to criticism Japan received in the Gulf War of 1990-01 when it failed to join the 30-nation strong military coalition against Saddam Hussein (resorting instead to “checkbook diplomacy”). Now, thanks to legislation (PKO), the SDF can take part in peacekeeping operations, but they must stay clear of any combat operations, meaning Japan can only tag-on to other countries when humanitarian crises arise, as they inevitably do.
The Article 9 castration of Japan reads as follows – “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”, going on to say, “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”. Of this, even a mild interpretation would seem to limit Japan’s right to self-defence, but given the realities of the region Japan has found itself in, now with a rapidly militarising China and a cadaverous nuclear-armed North Korea, Japanese courts have been compelled to interpret the “peace clause” to allow for defensive military forces only.
A 2012 government survey found that 82.3 per cent of the population supported this, wishing security policy to continue as it is now, with both the US army and the SDF protecting Japan cooperatively. Yet, 60 per cent in a Mainichi poll this May opposed changing Article 9, proving that most are content for the government to exploit the loophole. Support for Article 9, therefore, is not so much based on a high-minded pledge to the spirit of the pacifist constitution, rather it is based on the notion that it is better to entertain a lie than to risk a fight.
Some fear, for example, that revising it and making the Self-Defence Force into the National Defence Force, will mean nationalist gasbags like Osaka Mayor, Toru Hashimoto, will return Japan to a war-waging nation, provoking Chinese and Korean relations beyond repair.
But this is misguided. Nationalists like Hashimoto will pipe up whatever the weather, and his trash talk does not mean one should assume that if Japan revises Article 9 and obtains only the same sovereign rights enjoyed by every other country in the world, that it will inevitably transform into an imperialist monster once again. Arguments of this kind show only an attachment to the illusions and insularity of “heiwaboke”, and a popular misconception that only those of the Right can have any confidence in the new Japan.
“Heiwaboke” needs to be dispelled. Japan’s involvement in global and regional security should not be curtailed forever because it was once, in a bygone era, a colonial power. And nor should subservience to American strategic interests be codified into the constitution of any independent nation. To think otherwise, is to do a disservice to the independent, secular, representative democracy Japan has become since the constitution was drafted.
Keeping a cool head next to a cantankerous nuclear-armed dictator
WHEN NBA GIANT Dennis Rodman met the budding dictator Kim Jong-un to watch a jolly game of b-ball over tea and coke, it looked for all the world like a fat piece of satire, like something from Kim Jong-un’s hilarious twitter impersonator – KimJongNumberUn (a must see). Rodman was actually there with the intrepid filmmakers at Vice Media filming a documentary (premiers April 5 on HBO) and ended up calling the 29-year-old basketball-adoring despot of North Korea ‘a great leader‘, ‘a really awesome guy‘ and ‘a friend for life‘. This was just after the guy had launched a nuclear weapons test, just before he had promised an “all out war“, and came in spite his family’s long-standing policy of national enslavement and starvation. But as long as he likes basketball, hey Rodman?
Since the visit (though probably not because of it!), North Korea has stepped up its confrontation with the US with some of the most incendiary language ever to come from the totalitarian state. Most recently, it has cut its last remaining link with South Korea and supposedly put its troops and missiles into “combat posture”. It has also declared its absolute right “to carry out preemptive nuclear strikes” (my italics) against its enemies, which include South Korea and Japan, warning “it would be a fatal mistake for Japan if it thinks it will be safe when a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, adding that as “a stronghold of the aggressors…Japan will never be of an exception”.
One of Japan’s crimes, apparently, is that it ratified UN sanctions on North Korea in response to its weapons testing. According to North Korea it is actually these sanctions that are the “act of war” (and not the weapons testing that brought them about), which if true, would bring North Korea into conflict with its old pal and patron, China (who have, for once, taken a tougher stance against North Korea by leading the sanctions). Falling out of favour with China, who have kept North Korea on life-support for so long, is, needless to say, ill-advised, but precisely the sort of diplomacy one would expect from an upstart with a point to prove. Young Kim Jong-un has instead proved little other than that he likes to play both the eccentric and the madman on different days, and that he has few, if any, other political tools at his disposal.
Of course, experience tells us that he is probably not being serious when he promises to wage “all-out war” on countries that are economically developed, militarily advanced and armed with a far superior nuclear deterrent (South Korea and Japan have nuclear deterrents by proxy). Up until now, he and his family have, for the most part, seemed far too attached to the opulent lifestyle to go ahead and martyr themselves in complete regime suicide. Their numerous threats down the years have principally been used for political leverage (food aid in exchange for occasional compliance with UN resolutions, for example), which tends to suggest that the further he pushes this high-stakes game of brinkmanship, the more desperate he is getting.
His threats have, therefore, not been treated quite with the same degree of alarm as they might. When he visited artillery units on the west coast to remind the soldiers there to “throw all enemies into a burning cauldron”, Seoul’s Defence Ministry insisted it was all part of elaborate mind games to try to “pressure South Korea and the US into changing their North Korea policies”.
Rather than be discouraged by the threat of large-scale nuclear annihilation, the US has instead coordinated efforts with South Korea and Japan to ramp up the pressure on Pyongyang. Japan has blacklisted North Korean trade banks – a counter-measure, which is, along with the sanctions, necessarily punitive but gravely unsatisfactory for the already emaciated population of North Korea – 3 inches shorter than their South Korean brothers and sisters on account of malnourishment and still living in relative darkness (see this satellite image).
Other countermeasures, however, such as those by one third of local governments in Japan to withdraw funding to Korean schools in Japan have shown not alarm, but a muddled panic (Kanagawa cited the nuclear test as their main motivation for withdrawal). Rather than punishing Korean children who live in Japan and speak Japanese for the crimes of their illegitimate leader at “home”, the Japanese government should, as Gerald Curtis said in a talk at Meiji University in February, be leading by example as a “model of democratic development”.
The Japanese know themselves what it means, after all, to feel expendable and disposable – not only have their fellow citizens been abducted and their skies scorched with the clouds of sporadic North Korean missiles, but they have long had to deal with North Korea’s expressed intent of wiping them out. Keeping a cool head in this environment means not turning to panic, but upholding cherished principles as much as possible, subverting tyranny with humour, and making sure to ready a coordinated international relief effort for the collapse of a rancid regime.
OKINAWA is boiling up again. The last two months have seen two 23-year-old sailors allegedly rape an Okinawan girl, and a US airman break into an apartment and assault an Okinawan boy. It has been reported that since 1972, 5,700 crimes have been committed by US personnel in Okinawa, which suggests some grave failings of law and order for the US Marines of Okinawa.
It must be said that between January 2009 and November 2010, 7,508 Japanese were arrested in Okinawa (compared to 117 criminal cases involving US nationals in the same period). One would of course not expect faultless grace from the locals either, and it would be overwrought to denigrate all Marines on account of a foolhardy minority. But incidences of violent crime from Americans, even when they’re only allegations, evoke a much more visceral response from the locals because of the symbolism involved. If ever a rape or an assault could engender more disgust than would otherwise be expected, it’s when the perpetrator is deemed an unwelcome occupier. Considering that for generations the Okinawan people have had to live in the shadows of a giant US military presence as part of a deal that was made without them, one can start to see legitimate reasons for strife there. Today US military bases cover almost 20 per cent of Okinawa, which makes up 75 per cent of all US military facilities in Japan. The barbed wire fences and the noisy depredation of Okinawa’s tropic environment are a constant reminder to the people of their subaltern status as a dumping ground for geopolitical baggage.
Recently declassified US documents have revealed that the US once wanted to turn the whole of the Okinawan island into one giant military base. The documents were written after the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 – a battle that cost Okinawa roughly one-third of its pre-war population and reduced its towns and farmlands to a slush of blood and debris. The Allied conquest of Okinawa at the time, was designed to provide a launch pad for a subsequent invasion on the Japanese mainland – a plan that was eventually aborted and replaced instead with the dropping of the atomic bombs only a few weeks after the Battle of Okinawa had ended.
The Americans have patrolled the island ever since that time. On September 8, 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and brought the Allied Occupation to an end everywhere in Japan except for Okinawa. In Okinawa this day is known as the “Day of Shame” – the day that Japan abandoned Okinawa. US control of Okinawa lasted for another 20 years after this, until its eventual reversion to Japan in 1972. But the post-war negotiations did much to lay the groundwork for an unequal relationship between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. Pulitzer Prize-winner and historian John W. Dower has argued that the San Francisco deal in this form had long been in the pipeline, writing that “both the Japanese government and the Imperial Household were willing from an early date to trade away true sovereignty for Okinawa in exchange for an early end to the Occupation in the rest of Japan”.
At this time, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) General Douglas MacArthur was trying to justify US control over Okinawa by declaring that “Okinawans are not Japanese”. Prior to its annexation by Japan in 1879, Okinawa was indeed the centre of the ancient and independent Ryukyu Kingdom with its own rich cultural heritage. One of the most symbolic links to this history was the age-old Shuri Castle, which the Japanese appropriated for use as command headquarters in the Battle of Okinawa and which the US pummeled with shells to its eventual destruction. As Michael Molasky points out in his brilliant book The US Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory, the desecration of this cultural Okinawan treasure “vividly encapsulates Okinawa’s sense of being trapped by two outside forces”.
But if MacArthur is right that Okinawans are not Japanese, wouldn’t it rather suggest that they be excused from Japan’s war responsibilities, rather than being dumped with the most burdensome of them? The Okinawans should either be acknowledged as a separate people and apologized to for being annexed and involved in imperialist wars, or, they should be embraced as fellow Japanese equals and treated as such. It certainly doesn’t follow that the island should be turned into one giant US military camp as was initially planned, and which was partially realised.
Instead the Okinawans have not been given even a token consideration in the allocation of bases and the subsequent bulldozing of their island. For the US-Japan Alliance the bases there are conveniently tucked away from the collective consciousness of the Japanese mainland majority, thereby relegating most opposition to the Alliance to the fringes. The bases are also strategically convenient for the Alliance due to their location nearer to US ally Taiwan and other disputed territories in the region (notably the Senkaku Islands). Perhaps MacArthur had these factors in mind when declaring that the Okinawans are not Japanese. Of course one may only speculate as to the reasons why Okinawa was traded away in the San Francisco talks and militarized, but the fact remains that the Okinawans have been mere bystanders throughout it all, reduced to a disposable instrument of geopolitics.
The Okinawans are still struggling for their land 40 years after reversion. Nowadays, with the highest unemployment rate, the lowest salaries, and the fewest students finishing high school anywhere in the country, Okinawans would seem to have less and less to feel optimistic about. But after a breakthrough deal was made this year to relocate 9,000 Marines to bases either in Guam or Hawaii, there might well be long and overdue cause for celebration. The deal is a testament to the tenacity of the pro-Okinawan lobbyists who have tried for so long to rebalance unequal relations between Okinawa and Tokyo as well as the unequal US-Japan Alliance. The remaining 10,000 Marines on the island will still have to address their criminal tendencies of course, and questions remain over the relocation of the Futenma base – a base that former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, while flying overhead in 2003 called “the world’s most dangerous base” on account of the its proximity to the densely populated Ginowan city. But in the process of trying to resolve these issues, the Okinawans will surely be wary of the 40 years since reversion that it has taken for them to secure a political victory and finally get recognition for the sacrifices they have made.