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Organized protests at Kadena and Futenma against U.S. bases

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-24

Anti-military base demonstrators gathered around some of the gates of Kadena Air Base and MCAS Futenma to protest the presence of the United States Military on Okinawa. The five day event started with a symposium, which was held at the Okinawa Convention Center on March 13, continued with various activities throughout the weekend, and ended with a human chain around MCAS Futenma. Organized by the "Base Removal Association", the event hoped on focusing more attention on the removal of all United States Military Bases from Okinawan soil. The organized demonstrations also came at a time when Governor Ota, whose popularity on the island seems to be waning, was busy in Washington D.C. lobbying U.S. politicians over the same issue.

The weekend demonstrations were held in coordination with the anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa from the United States to Japan, which occurred on May 15, 1972. Okinawa had spent over 27 years under United States Military occupation before the reversion, and since has been the host of the largest air base in the Pacific region, along with many other smaller U.S. Military bases.

Chobin Zukeran, who is the Director of the "Base Removal Association", explained that most of his members believe that "the bases are here for the purpose of killing and war." When told that many supporters of the U.S. Military presence felt that the bases were here for protection and to maintain stability in the region, Zukeran reacted by saying, "It's a bigger possibility for us to be attacked by another country with a base here. The percentage of being attacked or having people killed will be lower without any bases." Many of the demonstrators also felt that the bases have made them a target for any country the United States may have a conflict with, feeling that they will be unwillingly pulled into a war that they wish to avoid. "We are demonstrating for the purpose of peace. Real peace means having no military. We want them (United States) to realize this. We don't want them to kill anyone for us," said Zukeran.

Last Wednesday's symposium focused on the negative effects of military bases and the human suffering caused by war. A photograph and poster session was held, showing very gruesome pictures of the death and misery to innocent children and adults, caused by the bombing of Iraq during "Desert Storm". Guest speakers from several foreign countries gave small presentations on the impacts of U.S. bases in their countries. Richard Alvador of Palau, Alejendro Torres of Puerto Rico, and Corazon Fabros of the Philippines were some of the representatives on hand. "The country is much better off without the U.S. bases," said Fabros when referring to the closing of U.S. Military Bases in her native country of the Philippines. "It's clear now after six years. We could see the facility being transformed into a civilian economic zone. We have created about 60,000 jobs in the former area of Subic Naval Base. The citizen's lives are much more peaceful," she further explained.

Many Okinawans also feel that the presence of U.S. Military bases is hindering economic and social growth on the island. Many government officials want the chance to become a Free Trade Zone and further develop other industries, but feel that the Naha Military Port and Kadena Air Base are both major obstacles to any significant development.

Titled "Peace and Ecology", the symposium also tied in environmental problems with the military base issue. "It's our land. The earth is everybody's land. It's not right that we do not know what is going on inside the fences of the bases. We're worried about PCBs and many other hazardous chemicals," said Zukeran. Reports on the proposed Nago "Offshore Heliport" also raised questions about the environmental impacts that project would have.

Despite bad weather on Friday, different groups gathered outside of Kadena's gates for peaceful demonstrations. Outside of Gate 5 about 30 people from the "Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence Organization" huddled underneath a tent, discussing with each other their concerns over the effect the U.S. Military has on Okinawa. A flag signing of statistics and stories of acts of violence against women by the military also took place. "Our goal is to get the bases off the island, and create a society without U.S. Military Bases. We are not against any individuals, but we think the nature of the military is the problem. We also condemn our own rape incidents by local nationals and our legal system, which has weak laws," explained Co-chairman and Naha Assembly-woman Suzuya Takazato. The group feels that the military is one of the prime sources of violence against women. "The military system is a violent system that creates violence, and it sometimes overflows into an individual's personal life, commented Carolyn Francis, who is a missionary here at the United Methodist Christian Center.

The largest turnout of protesters was on Sunday, at MCAS Futenma. Men, women, children, young, and old, all surrounded the fence around the base, and held hands to show their discontent with the U.S. Military presence. The words most commonly echoed throughout the day were those of "We want our children to grow up on Okinawa with peace."

Although U.S. base removal is still priority on Governor Ota's agenda, there are also many Okinawans that are still either in support of the bases, or undecided. Others have also voiced their concerns over certain groups using the base issue simply for future business opportunities, while environmentalists fear that large areas of undeveloped U.S. Military occupied land, once returned, will be destroyed for profit.

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