Sunday, January 10, 2010

Imperial sickness

Last week the New York Times published an op-ed about U.S.-Japanese relations. In a patronizing tone, Joseph Nye, an assistant secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, warns that the newly elected Japanese government is upsetting the Pentagon. The election of this Japanese government is, in its own society, as much a break from the past as President Obama's election was here. The Japanese Democratic Party overcame the Liberal Democratic Party's 50-year lock on governing. And the new party won its victory on a promise of "change."

What distresses Nye, and the Pentagon, is that the new prime minister, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, has begun to insist that previously settled agreements about the status of U.S. military forces in Japan, especially the Futenma base on the island of Okinawa, should be revisited. Nye complains that Hatoyama leads a

government that is inexperienced, divided and still in the thrall of campaign promises to move the base off the island or out of Japan completely.

... Sometimes Japanese officials quietly welcome "gaiatsu," or foreign pressure, to help resolve their own bureaucratic deadlocks. But that is not the case here: if the United States undercuts the new Japanese government and creates resentment among the Japanese public, then a victory on Futenma could prove Pyrrhic.

Nye certainly knows more about this than I do. But I can't believe that Japanese readers of these words don't resent Nye's apparent assumption that they are children to be led and manipulated.

This op-ed reminded me of Chalmers Johnson's account of U.S. bases in Okinawa in Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. According to Johnson, Okinawans have good reason to be furious about the U.S. bases that since 1945 have occupied much of their 454 square mile territory, an area about the size of Los Angeles. In 2000 Johnson wrote that the island housed 39 bases occupying 20 percent of agricultural land, as well as adjacent seas and the airspace overhead.

With a population density amounting to 2198 persons per square kilometer, it is one of the most densely populated areas on the world. Neither Japanese nor Okinawan courts or police have any jurisdiction over these American-occupied lands, seas, or air spaces.

This lack of jurisdiction matters. Again, from Blowback,

At about eight pm on September 4, 1995. two American marines and a sailor seized a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl on her way home from shopping, bound and gagged her, drove her in a rented car to a remote location, and raped her. Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp and Seaman Marcus Gill confessed they violently beat her and that Marina Pfc. Kenneth Leder bound her mouth, eyes, hands and legs with duct tape. Described in court by an acquaintance as a "tank, " Gill was six feet tall and weighed 270 pounds. He confessed to raping the girl, while the other two claimed they had merely abducted and beaten her. ...

...A few weeks later, from his headquarters at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Richard C. Macke, remarked to the press, "I think that [the rape] was absolutely stupid. For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl."

And this was just one case among many of abuse of the "native" population by the supposedly friendly occupiers. In a 2003 article available online, Johnson concluded that

the rape of local women by American soldiers has been the dominant metaphor of America's imperial presence.

Blowback is the first volume of Johnson's monumental trilogy on U.S. empire; it was followed by Sorrows of Empire (in which, in passing, Johnson explains how learning about the Okinawa saga put him onto the project) and Nemesis: the Last Days of the American Republic.

As the United States becomes ever more deeply mired in wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and wherever our politicians and generals take us next, Johnson's deeply researched, painful, and wise three volume opus remains completely relevant. He never lets his readers escape awareness that empire abroad encroaches ever more deeply on popular sovereignty at home, new faces in office notwithstanding.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I am sorry to say that I am not surprised at any of this. We Americans have an attitude that dates back to Burdick and Lederer's "The Ugly American" and I'm guessing that it's only gotten worse.

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