Hiroshi Taka on Okinawa´s Gubernatorial Election

This article was written by Hiroshi Taka, Representative Director of Japan Council against A and H Bombs (Gensuikyo)

Okinawa Gubernatorial Election (Sept. 30, 2018)

Okinawans Reject Military Bases and War!

At the election for the governor of Okinawa on Sept. 30, TAMAKI Denny, the candidate opposing the construction of a new US Marine base at Henoko, Nago City, won a landslide victory over the pro-base candidate backed by Prime Minister Abe and his government. The final result of the votes was 394,761 for Tamaki and 315,621 for his opponent.

Land Seized by Bayonets and Bulldozers

Okinawa is located at the southern end of Japan’s 47 prefectures, with the total of 22,800,000 sq km in area and 1,450,000 inhabitants. It is the only prefecture where the ground battle was fought during WWII, and every fourth of the islanders was killed in the war.

After the end of the war, Japan was fully occupied by the US forces. The San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect in 1952 and Japan was accorded independence. But Okinawa and the Bonin islands remained under the direct rule of the US forces.

The US bases in Okinawa were built on the land while its residents were detained in camps by the occupation forces. Violence, rapes, murders and all other sorts of crimes by the occupation forces were rampant. At present, the US bases represent 8% of the total land area of Okinawa and 15% of the main island Okinawa, where 90% of the Okinawans live.

Okinawa has since then turned to an attack base of the US Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines in their operations against Indochina and elsewhere in Asia during the “Cold War”, and in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East, as well as the Korean Peninsula. It was also made a nuclear stronghold where the number of nuclear warhead stockpiled in the island reached about 1,300 at its peak in 1967.

In 1972, pressed by the mounting demand of the people, the administrative right of Okinawa was returned to Japan. But the bases stayed, and no land was returned to the Islanders. The Japanese Government not only did not demand the reversion but continued to help the US to use the bases, saying that the presence of the US forces was a part of “deterrence”. It has kept shouldering the huge cost of maintaining the bases, providing protection to the US military on the basis of the Japan-US Security Treaty and the Status of Forces agreement. Under the protection, hideous crimes continued. Prior to the reversion of Okinawa, President Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato concluded a secret agreement to allow the US forces to bring nuclear weapons to Okinawa in any case of emergency.

New Base Plan at Henoko – Another Deception of the Okinawan People

The construction of a new base at Henoko in Nago City, which was the focal point in the election, has its origin in the gang rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US soldiers which happened in the Northern Okinawa on September 4, 1995. At this brutal crime and the privileged protection, the anger of the Okinawan people exploded. Some 85,000 islanders gathered in the protest rally in October that year. The reduction and removal of the bases, drastic review of the Status of Forces Agreement and the protection of human rights developed as common demands of the Islanders. Against the backdrop of this development, the Japanese and US governments could not but make a gesture to remove the Futenma Marine Base out of Ginowan City.

The US agreed to transfer the Marines from the Futenma base, in part to Guam much at Japan’s expenses, but demanded a new base to compensate it. The Japanese Government agreed and proposed to build one in Henoko, Nago-city. Far from the reduction or removal, the planned base would be far bigger, more sophisticated and far more comprehensive than the present base in Futenma.

All Okinawans United – 2014 Gubernatorial Election

In December 2013, an opportunity arose. Under the pressure of the Japanese Government, the then governor Nakaima gave sanction to the landfill of the Oura Bay of Henoko. It was a betrayal against his own promise to the Okinawan people. But by the time, there had already been the broad consensus among the mayors of all municipalities in Okinawa to oppose the deployment of the Marine’s transport aircraft Osprey. Anger against the betrayal of Nakaima at once flared up. In the prefectural capital Naha, the city assembly members of the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) broke away from the party to form a new group “LDP-Shinpukai (fresh air)”. For the imminent gubernatorial election in November 2014, all political parties that stood for the removal of the Futenma Marine Base, opposition to a new base in Henoko and against the deployment of “Osprey”, including “LDP-Shinpukai”, united to support Onaga Takeshi, then mayor of Naha-city. All citizen groups, peace groups, trade unions, and even local business leaders joined it.

At the election, Onaga defeated Nakaima by the margin of 100,000 votes. During the election campaign, the support of Onaga and the cause he represented enjoyed support not only in Okinawa but also from all over Japan and from many prominent persons and peace movement leaders around the world.

Okinawa – Not Deterrence but a “Bridge of Peace between All Countries”

The gubernatorial election on Sept. 30 this year was held due to the death of Governor Onaga from cancer in August. During Onaga’s tenure, the Japanese government began the seawall construction for the landfill of the bay in Henoko. Governor Onaga repealed the sanction; the Abe Government filed lawsuit, and it obtained the court decision that the repeal was invalid.

Okinawans did not give up. Pledging that Okinawa would never allow the building of the new base, Governor Onaga announced that he would now notify the Abe Government that it would withdraw the landfill permission.

With the start of the election campaign. The Abe government did everything to defeat “All Okinawa” candidate Tamaki Denny, in dispatching its Cabinet Secretary and other cabinet members, governing LDP and Komeito leaders and members, and conservative Tokyo Governor to help the pro-base candidate. Yet, the strong will of the Islanders was not broken. Citizens stood in the forefront, and the unity of the parties supporting Tamaki Denny, including ex-LDP Shinpukai, JCP, Social Democrats, Social Mass Party, the Liberal, was firm.

When I brought the messages of international peace movement leaders, including the message from Reiner Broun, the IPB Co-president, Denny, thanks to the global support, said: “I will work like a blunt pencil. You may sometimes feel it slow. But a sharped pencil sometimes gets broken. I will move forward steadily”.

On the day of the election, the strong typhoon was gone by the morning. Overwhelming majority voted for Denny. The 394,761 votes he got were the record high in the history of Okinawa’s gubernatorial election. Encouraging news follows. At both of the two local elections which followed, the mayoral elections of Tomigusuku, the neighboring city of the prefectural capital Naha on Oct. 14, and of Naha itself on Oct.21, the “All Okinawa” candidates won the landslide victory over the pro-base candidates.

The building of a new base, as well as maintaining and reinforcing existing bases, are all forced on the ground of the need for “deterrence”, including “nuclear umbrella”, at the sacrifice of Okinawa. But does the presence of military base, “nuclear umbrella” and constant browbeat really serve alleged purpose of peace or security? The late Onaga gave a clear answer to it. At his speech in November 2014, when I presented the messages of international support to him, he said in his speech that Okinawa, not as a military threat but as a bridge, will serve the purpose of peace connecting Japan and the rest of Asia.

I believe that this is a choice to be made not only by Okinawans but now by the whole of the Japanese people. It is time now when we all must struggle like Okinawans.