Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I'm reading this book - Blowback, by Chalmers Johnson, a UCSD professor (although I never had him).  Prophetically written just prior to 9/11, its title refers to CIA terminology for the unintended consequences of secret American foreign policy actions. Interestingly for me personally, a large portion of the book talks about Okinawan and the continued American military presence on this island. I'm not sure if I've expressed it in previous posts, but Okinawans are not Japanese. Their history includes Chinese colonization, then Japanese, then American, (it actually became part of America from '45-'72), then America "gave" it back to Japan.  That's fairly recent. That's Watergate recent. 

Without going into Dr. Johnson's entire thesis, I found as I was reading that his account of Okinawa and their feelings towards the US Military to be a little.... extreme.  He details a deep seated resentment by the Okinawans (and many mainland Japanese) at our foreign policy and it's implications for their country. He warns that the results of this resentment have been, time and time again, a blowback, or some form of terrorist attack on American interests. (like I said, pretty prophetic that it was written just prior to 9/11.)  Still, his inclusion of Okinawans in the book seemed so extreme to me.  The Okinawans are lovely people.  Sure, I can't converse that well with them, but they always greet me with a smile when I run into them on the street.  I haven't noticed any outright hostility.  Sure, there are some restaurants that shoe us out, pointing to signs that say "no Americans."  And some of the places we do like to go definitely give us the cold shoulder and bad tables. There are the hand-painted wooden signs in our neighborhood that say "No more Sunabe Airbase." And obviously when the alleged attack of the young girl by the Marine happened several months ago, the island was pretty hostile to Military.

All in all, I think it's really easy for the military to live in a bubble as to how our hosts really feel about us. After all, it is the Japanese government, not the Okinawans that have acquiesced to our residual bases here. The word on the street is that Japan relies on us for safety in the treacherous Asian continent, what with Kim Jon Il, et al. Although,  Johnson really refutes that theory as a cover for our own interests.

Yesterday, I was driving home from the gym, and as I crossed out of the Kadena gate, I noticed large film crews filming cars as we exited the base, and a good sized mob of protesters, all Okinawan/Japanese.  The signs were in Kanji, and I could not read them. I presume that they were not protesting Johnny's Used Cars, which is located across the street from Kadena AFB, but rather the base itself.  No info on the news about this protest (the only English TV we get is AFN, provided by the military, and not likely to cover a protest to our base). Japanese TV may have had a story, but I really can't understand Japanese enough to get much from it.

What is my point?  I'm not quite sure. Much of the point of Blowback was that it was the result of SECRET foreign policy actions taken by our government (in our name). Like our role in the coup of Mossadegh in Iran.  Like arming the Taliban in the 80's.  The secret part is key.  But it does not have to be a deliberate secret. An ignorant population has the same effect as a secretive government. I did not even know that we had military bases in Japan until my husband's job dragged me into the middle of it, nor did pretty much anyone I know.  There are thousands and thousands of Americans on this island. An island the size of Los Angeles... U.S. bases take up one fifth of it.  So maybe it's not that US foreign policy is secret - the information is out there for those who search.  But these protests are not on the news.  As an American citizen and a military wife, I am interested in knowing why my neighbors are upset. And yet, I can't seem to find out the details of this protest directed at one of our bases. But I think I can make a guess.

Just trying to make sense of it all.


leighbert said...

We get e-mails on base to warn about protests - most are announced in advance.

This one was focused on the downed cessna, and the town by Nago that lost power for a few hours since the plane took out a power line on the way down. I'm sure it's more fodder for deeper issues, but that is what was sent out on base prior to.

Sumeba Miyako said...


thanks for the info. I had heard about the cessna crash, and really didn't make the connection. You're right, they're probably deeper issues involved...considering, who would protest an accidental plane crash?

Anyway, thanks for chiming in!

Sumeba Miyako said...

LAUREN you nerd, I didn't know that was you.

George W said...

Chalmers Johnson occasionally appears on TV political talk shows. I don't know his leanings, but I suspect right.

Josh said...

What I read about the protest was that it wasn't about the crash itself but the handling. Criticism is that the Okinawan police were not allowed to do their normal investigation/analysis before things were cleaned up & moved to a base by the military, which reminds them of the handling of aircraft that crashing into Ryukyu University in Ginowan land several years back & caused some consternation (to put it mildly). Also, some of the crop owners whose agriculture was damaged &/or destroyed want some compensation for the damages (which seems reasonable to me, at face value, assuming they aren't asking for more than the value of what they lost).

Sumeba Miyako said...


seem to be reasonable complaints to me!

thanks for your insight.