At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life on Okinawa

As I said in my last post, I wrote this expository essay on the military and the recent rape that occurred here.  Then I started to feel anxious about posting it.  I have absolutely no clue who reads my blog, though I assume it's just a handful of people whom I know.  When I brought up this issue in a post on my facebook wall, I had linked an article that mentioned the imposed curfew on all military in Japan (though, frankly, I am not certain if this curfew is being strictly followed as two weeks ago on a Friday night around midnight I was in a taxi that was nearly sideswiped by a gaggle of 20-something men in a Y-plate car. For those of you who aren't in Okinawa, a Y-plate is the military license plate on American owned vehicles.)   Under the link I had written a chastising remark in reference to the rape, as the article had included details about what had happened and who had committed the crime.  A misunderstanding occurred and it became apparent to me that you can't discuss this crime without anti-military and pro-military factions at play.   

When linking it to these sentiments, the crime itself becomes (more) noticeable, at least in the public's eye, unlike most rapes which often are never mentioned or are ignored. Yet because of this visibility, the crime itself somehow is superseded by the anti-military sentiment that exists on this island.  (I can't imagine what this could mean to the woman who was the victim of the crime).  This sentiment has increased substantially in the past year due to the waffling of the US government on the agreement made in 1995 to reduce US military presence in Okinawa.  Adding to that is the refusal to close Futenma base and plans to move forward with building another base in Henoko, an environmentally sensitive area with an untouched scenic beach.  And, most recently, the deployment of the Osprey which is considered to be an unstable vehicle and which most Okinawans oppose flying over their schools and homes.  So, it's difficult to write about the crime of rape and say that this crime is what has incensed the Okinawan people to finally break, when really it is but another example of US indecency.  Still, it does remind the Okinawa people about another rape that occurred in 1995 that did provoke riots and was the impetus behind the US government's agreement to reduce troops (which they are now finding ways to back out of). 

It would take two separate essays to detail my ideas on both the crime itself as well as the issue of the US military in Okinawa, while also linking them together in a metaphorical Venn Diagram.  Somewhat luckily, I stumbled across a blog article in the Huffington Post that links rape and the degradation of women to a culture's tendencies towards war.   The author, Soraya Chemaly, also has an article on the facts of rape and a mind boggling list of facts that underscore how rape is actually legitimized in many ways throughout the world's patriarchal societies.   There is so much feminist analysis of rape culture, that I feel I might do it a disservice to go into it in such a short blog post, so instead I wanted to focus more on what the crime means for Americans living on Okinawa.

In living on Okinawa, I often think of the military as this huge entity, a  series of massive compounds filled with a subculture of America that I, being on the outside of this, have very little access to and have a hard time identifying with.  Some of the people within the military probably cannot identify too well with this subculture either, but they have to because its their job.  Many of the people I know who are associated with the US military are decent people.  They're intelligent and relatively interested in the world.  So it becomes very complicated when discussing the issue of the military on Okinawa, as I am often prone to come down on the side of the Okinawan people, rather than on the side of international warfare.

As an American on Okinawa, I am on the outside of this massive thing, and yet because the military represents my culture, I am (as well as any foreign person on this island) immediately affected by the actions of the military and its members.  Granted, I do believe the Okinawan people separate individuals from what they see as the big problem: governments.  Many of them have friends who are in the military.  Still.... the work I do as an English teacher sharing my culture is null and voided when these crimes happen.  It's a depressing thing to think about, but it also makes me feel like the role of the ALT is even more crucial in Okinawa than it is in other places in Japan, because the majority of Americans on this island live behind these fences and only sometimes interact with Okinawan people.  Then again, I'm not so naive as to not understand that my role as an English teacher is also inherently tied up in the proliferation of English throughout the world.  This plays a role in the extinction of the Okinawan language(s), and in turn, Okinawan culture.  It's sad to think about.  Maybe it's because I've come to love this island and its people (even if it has taken a while), but I can't help but try to see things from their perspective.  It's really amazing that they've dealt with subjugation from not only the US government but also the Japanese government, without much tension.  There is so much going on underneath all of this, but race and ethnicity issues as a small indigenous group is a big factor in play.  What the Okinawan people really want is to have a proper say, a real voice, in the decisions made regarding this island.  And how could any American object to that?  Aren't we always embracing freedom over everything else?

What if, someday in the future, the continental USA has foreign troops stationed there?   How would Americans react to that?  What if they had a history of occasionally raping women and children, or being rowdy and drunk in the nightclubs and bars, or of ripping taxi drivers off by refusing to pay?  This doesn't even go into being a host to troops on their way to wars in other countries.  How can we not place ourselves in the Okinawan people's place and not see how they might feel?  Yes, it's a "bleeding heart" perspective, but I think it's the only perspective that gives us humanity.

At this time in Okinawa's history, it would behoove both the US government and the mainland Japanese government to take Okinawan people's complaints seriously.  To continue to force unfair policies on a group of people who increasingly feel disenfranchised and powerless is a dangerous thing. Most people in America aren't even aware of what is happening here, but at least the New York Times has begun to focus on what is happening on this tiny, geo-politically strategic island. 

I know I could do a better job going into detail about the subject of the military's occupation on this island and what the crimes committed against the Okinawan people by Americans mean.  Maybe it's a subject I should focus on more closely.  A blog essay just seems to be a place that cannot even begin to encompass the enormity of this complex topic. 

If you're interested in reading more on this topic, here are a few interesting articles:
History of the bases on Okinawa. 
Trampled Islands - Bases, Violence, and Unheard Voices.  
Shame in Okinawa
The War Legacy That Binds Okinawa and Vietnam

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