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  • Transpacific Colonialism:An Intimate View of Transnational Activism in Okinawa
  • Annmaria Shimabuku (bio)

1. In Place of a Comfort Zone

The problem of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa is the product of mutual colonialism by the United States and Japan.1 Even so, the vast majority of research critical of the Okinawan situation either focuses on one side at the expense of ignoring the other, adjusting its critique according to the specific linguistic audience it addresses, or attempts to transcend the problem through a "universal" approach that appeals to environmentalism, feminism, or pacifism.

As someone equally involved in both the United States and Japan, I have found it difficult to find a comfort zone within one national context, even as each context gestures toward its respective view of the "transnational." This paper is an attempt to provide a critique that addresses both the United States and Japan in a uniform, bilingual, and simultaneous manner. Insofar as nation-states are mutually vested in suppressing their ethnic minorities, this approach enables me to open up a space for the convergence of minority [End Page 131] politics in both the American and the Japanese state contexts. I term the conceptualization that enables this approach "transpacific colonialism."

Below, I articulate transpacific colonialism as it encompasses the Okinawan situation and use kengai isetsu, or the argument that calls for the relocation of the U.S. military bases in Japan from Okinawa to another prefecture in Japan, as the analytic example that exposes its inner workings.2 Using transpacific colonialism as a core, I analyze how it is carried out collaboratively, considering first the Japanese side, and then engaging the American dimension.

2. Transpacific Colonialismin Okinawa

After its defeat in the Pacific War, Japan was stripped of all its colonies except Hokkaidō. Fearing that the Japanese would rise up against prolonged military occupation, United States General Douglas MacArthur suggested on June 27, 1947, that a treaty with Japan "should be accomplished as quickly as possible" (M'Arthur 1947, 1). However, this expedient end to occupation—and potential anti-American agitation—was preconditioned on the continued and concentrated military occupation of Okinawa. Fully cognizant of the controversy that might arise should Japan exchange Okinawa for its sovereignty, MacArthur paved the way for the tradeoff by declaring that there would be "no Japanese opposition to the United States holding Okinawa since the Okinawans are not Japanese" (1947, 1). Even though Emperor Hirohito was reduced to a puppet for the Allied occupation, three months later he managed to send an official on a secret mission to MacArthur's staff to request that the occupation of Okinawa continue for "twenty-five to fifty years" (Gabe 2000, 51). Hence, the price of "peace" in Japan after the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty was paid by exporting the violence of the U.S. military from Japan to Okinawa.

The United States seized Okinawa and converted it into a base island from which it would launch its Cold War on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam. To construct the bases, Okinawans were thrown off their land at gunpoint and left to starve. Since U.S. military personnel enjoyed extraterritorial status in Okinawa, heinous crimes such as murder and rape were [End Page 132] most often left unpunished. For these reasons and more, many Okinawans opposed the bases.

The first strategy to escape U.S. occupation was fukki or "reversion" back to the Japanese state. The hope was that Okinawa would be protected from extraterritoriality under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and the number of bases would be reduced. However, even though reversion was carried out on the platform of hondo nami or "parity with the mainland," the proportion of U.S. military bases in Japan decreased by approximately one-third compared to only a few percent in Okinawa, thus widening the disparity with Japan even more after 1972 (Arasaki 1996, 26-27).

Today, the U.S. military presence in Okinawa Prefecture is authorized by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, ratified in 1951 only hours after the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Even though the Treaty is an agreement between the two states that stipulates the terms of the U.S...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1539-6630
Print ISSN
1532-687x
Pages
pp. 131-158
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-13
Open Access
No
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