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Paul Jay talks to historian Peter Kuznick, who says the people of Okinawa want all the military bases moved off the island

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On Monday, February 2, an international coalition of scholars, journalists, and filmmakers sent a letter to President Obama to express their opposition to the U.S. Marine air base at Henoko in Okinawa, Japan. The letter raises concerns about the way that this military base would affect Okinawa residents, public health, quality of life, and the environment. Now joining us is because Peter Kuznick. Peter is a professor of history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University. He coauthored the book Rethinking the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives. He’s also the coauthor, with Oliver Stone, of The Untold History of the United States. Thanks very much for joining us, Peter. PETER KUZNICK, AUTHOR AND HISTORIAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Hi, Paul. Good to be with you. JAY: So if I understand correctly, in 1995, three American soldiers rape a 12-year-old Japanese girl near the base, an American base in Okinawa. It created a storm of protest and a demand from local residents to get the American base out of Okinawa, certainly at least that section of Okinawa. And then they came up with a plan to move it to /həˈnokɪn/ in northern Okinawa. And now there’s a storm of protest about moving it there. So tell us a story. KUZNICK: Well, this is actually one of many American bases that’s in Okinawa. In fact, 74 percent of all the U.S. bases in Japan are located in Okinawa. And Okinawa is six-tenths of 1 percent of the land mass of Japan. So you’ve got more than half of American troops in Japan located in Okinawa, 74 percent of the bases. And this one, however, is Ginowan City, right by Ginowan City, which is very, very densely populated. There have been accidents. There has been crime. There have been sexual crimes. This rape was only the most recent–not the most recent, but most notorious. So the population in Ginowan City and other parts of Okinawa protested about this base. So they cut a deal. The U.S. proposed to move the base from Ginowan City area up to northern Okinawa, the area around a new base called–at Henoko near Nago City. JAY: Peter, before we get into the specifics of that, how many U.S. troops are we talking about in Okinawa? KUZNICK: Were talking about 50,000 U.S. troops in all of Japan, and more and then half of them in Okinawa. JAY: And why is this so important to the U.S. military? Why are these bases so strategic? Why keep them there at all? KUZNICK: Good question, I think. Why keep the American military presence all over the globe the way it is? When I was in Okinawa this August, I met with Al Magleby, the U.S. consul general. I was there with Satoko Oka Norimatsu from Vancouver and Joseph Gerson, a leading U.S. peace activist. And I specifically asked Magleby, why is Okinawa so important? Why do they have to keep the base in Okinawa? And he said it is strategically essential, he said, given its location. It is near Korea, it is near China, it is near the Philippines. So the argument he made is that it was the location that made it essential. Other people have argued against that, even Joseph Nye, who’s one of the real Japan hands in the United States, has said that because of China’s military development and modernization, those bases are actually vulnerable now in Okinawa and that it is no longer strategically essential to keep them there. You have to remember the American troops now occupy–the U.S. bases occupy 20 percent of the land mass of Okinawa. Those people have been riddled with those bases and have been opposing them for environmental reasons, for safety reasons, for pollution reasons, for noise reasons, and many for political reasons. JAY: Well, I add to that what you just said. If it makes the base a target, then it makes the people of Okinawa a target. KUZNICK: Yes. They would be a target, just as they were a target during World War II. You have to remember–and this is very much part of their memory–that 30 percent of the population of Okinawa civilians were killed in the fighting in 1945. And they were in that sense even then a sacrificial lamb for the Japanese government. And the Abe administration is doing the same thing now. JAY: All right. Let’s contextualize this a little more. So, if I understand it correctly, the Japanese federal government is supporting this move to Henoko. They want to get it out of the current place where it is in Okinawa ’cause it’s so populated and the people are fed up with it. So everybody agrees it has to go somewhere. But the people in Henoko don’t want it. So what’s the politics of this? KUZNICK: The politics is the Abe administration is extremely conservative, extremely right-wing, has been very much in support of remilitarizing Japan. They want to do away with Article 9, which is part Japanese postwar Constitution that the U.S. basically imposed, which says that Japan renounces the right of war as a right of a sovereign nation. And Japan renounced having any kind of offensive military forces. This was a tremendously important document that really sets a standard globally, and Abe is committed to repudiating that. Abe has also imposed this secrecy law in Japan. He’s been expanding Japanese military defense spending, increasing Japanese military sales overseas, rewriting Japanese history. The historical revisionism there is outrageous. And on top of that, they want to solidify the base presence in Okinawa. Obama has been complicit in this, which is why we sent the letter to Obama. You might recall that in 2009, the Japan Democratic Party got elected, ending that long span of LDP conservative governments, and Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, the Japan Democratic Party, had run–one of his campaign planks was that they were going to remove the bases from Okinawa and stop the relocation to Henoko. And Obama came down on him. Obama smashed him. Obama forced him to rescind that, to capitulate. And that destroyed the JDP government. The government collapsed. Obama is, in many ways, in Japan, like elsewhere, more comfortable dealing with these right-wing governments. And the Abe administration is the perfect foil for U.S. plans there. So the geopolitical and the U.S. political concern there is part of the Asia pivot. You also remember that in November 2011, Hillary Clinton in Foreign Policy magazine wrote an important article titled America’s Pacific Century, in which she says the United States has to balance. We’ve got to pivot toward Asia, move out of the Middle East. Well, that hasn’t happened, the Middle East part of it. But we wanted to rebalance our forces from 50 percent, our fleet, 50 percent Pacific, 50 percent Atlantic, to 60 percent Pacific, 40 percent Atlantic, and we wanted to do what we could to contain China. This was our containment policy toward China. And so this fits into that overall geopolitical strategic context. JAY: Yeah. The underlying assumption is the United States needs to be the dominant military power–well, frankly, everywhere, but specifically in Asia. Now, the big threat here is environmental. But I thought there was an environmental assessment made by the Japanese themselves and accepted by the Japanese government that said there really weren’t environmental threats. KUZNICK: There was a very dubious environmental assessment that took place that the people of Okinawa rejected. However, Governor Nakaima, the previous governor, who was elected on an anti-base platform, betrayed the citizens of Okinawa, and under pressure from the Abe administration caved in and gave the go-ahead to begin the reclamation of /oʊrəˈbeɪ/ and the relocation of the base. There was just an election in Okinawa in which the current governor, Onaga, ran against Nakaima, the former governor, and defeated him handily, overwhelmingly. The people of Okinawa spoke up again. They spoke up in the Nago City elections, where Mayor Inamine got reelected. They spoke up at the prefectural elections. Over and over and over again the people of Okinawa have made very clear that they’re opposed to the base relocation. They want the bases moved off of Okinawa. But the United States, working with the Abe administration, is using this pretext of an environmental impact study, which actually goes against Japanese requirements. It’s a sham study. There’s a case now–. JAY: But didn’t the U.S. Congressional Research office more or less come out and say that it was a sham, that it was created under pressure by the Japanese government? KUZNICK: Yes. The Congressional Research Service did say that in its latest report, and said that the United States was going to be in for some serious problems if the U.S. goes ahead and tries to force its relocation. It is so undemocratic, so unpopular. The people of Okinawa have spoken out against it time after time after time. There’s nothing ambiguous about this. And the people of Japan don’t want it on the mainland either. Nobody wants these American bases. So the government in Tokyo is willing to sacrifice the interests and safety and health of the people of Okinawa, as it has done before, in order to maintain this base. JAY: Now, you’ve written this letter to President Obama with a bunch of scholars and other people. Is there any support for what you’re proposing, which is, I guess, get the base out of Okinawa altogether? Is there any support for this in Congress? KUZNICK: Yes, there actually is support in Congress. Among the people who’ve opposed to the base relocation is John McCain. So we’ve got some bipartisan support in Congress. Progressives are opposed to it, of course. And we have the potential–. JAY: Well, hang on. What’s McCain’s position here? Is he for getting out of Okinawa or just against the move? KUZNICK: I think he’s just against the move. He’s not for getting out of Okinawa. But I’ve got a meeting on Tuesday with officials in the Japanese Embassy, at which I’m going to be presenting tens of thousands of signatures from people in Okinawa who are opposed to the base relocation. Some of us sent a letter back in–initial letter, which 29 people signed, followed up by another letter, which 103 leading scholars signed, followed up by an online petition of thousands of Americans who were opposed to this. So we’ve been mobilizing as much opposition as we can. There’s strong sentiment about this. JAY: Okay, just quickly, what are the dangers facing the people of Henoko if it does move there? KUZNICK: If it does move, first of all, there’s the ospreys, which the people there are very concerned about. Secondly, they’ve got–this is a very pristine environmental area. There is the Dugong who feed there, a highly endangered species of sea mammals there. What they would have to do in order to build the osprey pads is they’d have to actually reclaim the base. They would have to do a massive reclamation project there, turn /ɑːlɚˈbeɪ/ into a–turn it into concrete, basically. There are other pristine environmental factors there. This is a beautiful area, and that is going to be destroyed. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be polluted. There are going to be the U.S. troops there. The people of Okinawa, and especially of Henoko, are just opposed to this on all grounds. JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us, Peter. KUZNICK: Happy to be here, Paul. JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Peter Kuznick is Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington, DC. He and Oliver Stone co-authored The Untold History of the United States.