Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blogging Through Blowback, Chapter 2 - Okinawa: Asia's Last Colony

After finishing the second chapter of Chalmers Johnson’s now-classic, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, a few observations come to mind. The subject of the chapter was our presence in Asia, generally Japan, and specifically Okinawa. As I read this, I kept recalling how many advocates for Empire like to spout off the mantra that we are only in these countries because they have asked us to be there, and we selflessly oblige. We are “needed”, they say, and Empire and global hegemony is an expression of American charity.

Of course, it’s pure fantasy. But I digress.

Some thoughts? Well, first, I wonder what most Americans would think if there was a foriegn military presence on our soil, occupying vast tracts of the most highly desired real estate, with our local economies being altered to suit the demands of these foreigners in rather seedy ways, while crime rates around these bases skyrocket and little ability to seek adequate justice.

This is what many people on the island of Okinawa probably feel about the U.S.

I recently had a discussion with a co-worker of mine who is ardently pro-Empire. He likes to use the “we are invited” slogan in a lot of his arguments. So I asked him what he might think if the rather large air force base that is just down the street from his house was an installation belonging to a foreign military power. I asked him what he might think if his town had a vibrant and thriving red-light district where his own daughter went to work, while most of the rest of the town was full of bars. And what if his town experienced a lot of violent crime, much due to those foreigners, and his ability to seek justice and restitution from the authorities was stifled because of the particular political arrangements. Would that make him mad?

Yet, this is exactly what goes on in Okinawa. Even aside from widely publicized cases, such as the rape of a young girl by American servicemen a few years back, crime statistics show that sexual assaults are more than double than the rate measured in other places where military personnel are stationed. Add this to a cultural taboo for women to not talk about these types of things, and the real rate is probably much higher. American personnel who commit violent or property crimes are protected from prosecution by local authorities because of treaty agreements. The result is that locals who experience injustice at the hands of American military are often left in the lurch.

The bottom line is, our presence in Okinawa is not very well regarded by a sizeable portion of that populace.

But the real question raised by this chapter: what the hell is our purpose there anyway? While one can debate whether we were needed there at one time (which you won’t find me asserting), what is clear is that our presence there has little justification today. Most of the excuses for our presence there were phrased in Cold War terms, which are now embarrassingly outdated. The geo-political world has changed, but we have not, and its amazing to me that we still waste our tax dollars on such things. Whatever you may think of the need to have been there in the past, surely we can agree Japan does not represent a critical interest today.

We should get out.

Read Blogging Through Blowback, Chapter 1

Read Blogging Through Blowback, Chapter 3 - Stealth Imperialism

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