Action Alert - Appeal for Solidarity with Okinawan Anti-Bases Movement - Takae
July 23, 2016 Joseph Gerson / American Friends Service Committee
There is deep concern about potential consequences of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's election victory, including the abandonment of Japan's pacifist constitution, encouragement for the US' first-strike nuclear war-fighting doctrine, and support for the US move to build yet another military base in Okinawa -- a so-called helipad to serve as bases for Osprey warplanes -- that would devastate the rare, near-pristine mangrove forests in Takae.
ACTION ALERT: Appeal for Solidarity with Takae Residents and the Okinawan Anti-Bases Movement Joseph Gerson / American Friends Service Committee
(July 22, 2016) -- Many of us here in US are rightfully focused on pushing back against the racism and dangerous madness that has been pouring over us this election season and summer.
For those of us watching developments in Japan, there is deep concern about potential consequences of Abe's election victory in Japan -- possible revision or replacement of Japan's constitution, not to mention Abe weighing in to oppose the possibility of the US moving away from its first-strike nuclear war-fighting doctrine.
Another manifestation of racism (as well as imperialism and an assault on the environment) in the status quo is the US move to build yet another military base in Okinawa: a so-called helipad to serve as bases for Osprey warplanes in the near-pristine mangrove forest in Takae.
I received the following appeal from a long-time peace activist in Japan urging that we contact the White House to urge them to halt the base construction.
More detailed information about the base construction and opposition follows below Yonezawa-san's message.
(May 25, 2013) -- This is a file video of a V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor Aircraft Crashing just after Takeoff during the testing.
Dear Dr. Gerson,
Today I am writing to you to ask you for helping us. As you have already know about the result of Recent election, two thirds of elected members is those who would agree the revision of our peace Constitution although in Okinawa and Fukushima , peace loving candidates have won.
In Okinawa, Abe administration has begun to forcibly construct Heli-pads despite residents there strongly oppose. No media reports about it except communist party's newspaper Akahata.
Please read the attached file and appeal President Obama to withdraw the MV22 from Takae. Thank you for your help always.
Sincerely yours, Yonezawa Kiyoe
(May 17, 2015) -- The Osprey was in testing for years and
during that testing, there were crashes that killed 30 people.
(July 24, 2012) -- Encompassing 64,000 acres of mountainous land in northern Okinawa, Yanbaru rainforest is home to 4,000 species of wildlife, including many endangered species. Yanbaru provides Okinawa with the majority of its drinking water. Because of its biodiversity and natural significance, specialists are campaigning for Yanbaru to be recognized as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.
Yanbaru has also in a battle for survival since 1957, when the US military seized much of it to create a "jungle training ground" to prepare troops for warfare in Southeast Asia. During the Vietnam War, the US used Yanbaru to test Agent Orange and as a site for war games.
More recently, the US has been using it for helicopter flight practice for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2007, residents of Takae village in Yanbaru have been protesting the forced destruction of some of the best-preserved part of the forest to make way for V-22 Osprey aircraft testing/training heliports.
Jon Mitchell wrote about the residents' struggle in an article posted at Foreign Policy in Focus in 2010:
Postcard from . . . Takae
(October 5, 2010) -- The residents of Takae, a small village in the hills of northern Okinawa, are no strangers to the American military. Since 1957, they've been living next to the world's largest jungle warfare training center -- and many of them are old enough to remember the days when the US Marine Corps hired locals to dress up as Vietcong for its war games.
The 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa was supposed to reduce the US presence in the area. Convened to quell public fury over the rape of a 12-year old girl, it pledged to return large swathes of military land to Okinawan residents -- including over half of the jungle training center.
As the months passed, however, the promise failed to materialize. Even when a Marine helicopter crashed near Takae's elementary school in 1999, the daily bombing runs and roof-high helicopter sorties continued unabated.
Then, in 2006, the US military made an announcement. Before returning the territory, it first wanted to build six new helipads on the land it was retaining on the outskirts of the village. The residents repeatedly lodged complaints with the prefectural and national governments, but they were ignored.
In 2007, construction crews from the Okinawa Defense Bureau arrived to start laying the foundations for the 250-foot helipads. Takae's villagers were waiting for them.
They linked arms to block the gates to the worksite, they surrounded the trucks and appealed to the builders to stop their work. When they refused to listen, the protesters sat in the way of their heavy machinery. But the crews continued to unload bags of cement over their heads. Only when the police arrived did construction stop out of concern for public safety.
Since that day, over 10,000 locals, mainland Japanese, and foreign nationals have participated in a non-stop sit-in outside the planned helipad sites.
So far, they've managed to thwart any further construction attempts. At small marquee tents, the villagers greet visitors with cups of tea and talk them through their campaign, highlighting their message with hand-written leaflets and water-stained maps.
"We're just ordinary people wanting to lead ordinary lives," explains Takae resident, Isa Ikuko. In a quiet voice almost drowned out by the click and whir of late summer insects, she talks of the area's 180 species of endangered wildlife and her pride in its broccoli-shaped trees, the nearby rivers that supply the island with most of its drinking water, and the recent disclosure that the US military tested Agent Orange here in the 1960s.
"But what particularly scares me is the Marine Corps plan to bring in the Ospreys," says Isa, holding up a US military image of the accident-prone aircraft flying over a river suspiciously similar to one near the village.
Equally frightening are the recent tactics deployed by the Tokyo government. In November 2008, it filed an injunction against 15 of the protesters, accusing them of obstructing traffic in the area.
Hoping that the three-hour road trips to the capital's courthouse would wear down the villagers' resolve, it also included an 8-year old child on the roster of defendants to intimidate other potential participants.
The ploy backfired and the ensuing public outcry forced prosecutors to drop 13 of the cases. Two still remain, though, and with the next hearing scheduled for later in the year, a dangerous precedent is at stake.
If the government wins, it will open the door for suits against similar protests -- including in nearby Henoko bay where for the past six-and-a-half years, sit-in protesters have successfully prevented construction of an on-sea air base.
As long as the cases meander through the courts, the Okinawa Defense Bureau crews stay away from Takae. But with verdicts due soon, Isa and her fellow protesters are steeling themselves for the showdown sure to come to this little-known corner of northern Okinawa.
(Jon Mitchell writes regularly for The Japan Times on Okinawan social issues. He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, as well as Counterpunch and JapanFocus. His writings can be found at jonmitchellinjapan.com)
John Feffer followed up in the following article published on The Huffington Post: Okinawans Continue to Resist in Takae
(February 25, 2011) -- Some animals should be endangered. Consider the V-22 Osprey. The tilt-rotor aircraft, which takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane, costs more than a $100 million apiece, killed 30 personnel in crashes during its development stage, and survived four attempts by none other than Dick Cheney to deep-six the program.
Although it is no longer as crash-prone as it once was, the Osprey's performance in Iraq was still sub-par and it remains a woefully expensive creature. Although canceling the program would save the US government $10-12 billion over the next decade, the Osprey somehow avoided the budget axe in the latest round of cuts on Capitol Hill.
It's bad enough that US taxpayers have to continue to support the care and feeding of this particular Osprey. Worse, we're inflicting the bird on others.
In a small village in the Yanbaru Forest in northern Okinawa, the residents of Takae have been fighting non-stop to prevent the construction of six helipads designed specifically for the V-22. The protests have been going on since the day in 2007 when Japanese construction crews tried to prepare the site for the helipads.
"Since that day, over 10,000 locals, mainland Japanese, and foreign nationals have participated in a non-stop sit-in outside the planned helipad sites," writes Jon Mitchell at Foreign Policy In Focus.
"So far, they've managed to thwart any further construction attempts. At small marquee tents, the villagers greet visitors with cups of tea and talk them through their campaign, highlighting their message with hand-written leaflets and water-stained maps."
It's all part of the plan that would shut down the aging Futenma air base in Okinawa, relocate some of the Marines to Guam, and build a new facility elsewhere in Okinawa. The overwhelming majority of Okinawans oppose this plan. They want to shut down Futenma, and they don't want any new US military bases.
But the Japanese government has essentially knuckled under to US pressure to move forward with the agreement. Building these helipads in a subtropical forest, with a wide range of unusual wildlife, is all part of the deal.
The recently re-elected Okinawan governor Hirokazu Nakaima opposes the relocation plan. And, according to Pacific Daily News, "Nakaima may actually have the authority to disrupt the plan because of his authority under the Japan Public Water Reclamation Act, which gives the Okinawa governor final authority over reclaimed land." Washington has said that it won't move forward on the deal without local support.
The Osprey is a budget-busting beast. The Okinawans don't want it. Both Tokyo and Washington are desperate to trim spending.
The V-22 is one animal well worth driving toward extinction.
(John Feffer is the Director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the Editor of LobeLog.)