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  • Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States by Gavan McCormack and Satoko Oka Norimatsu
  • Steve Rabson (bio)
Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States. By Gavan McCormack and Satoko Oka Norimatsu. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2012. xiii, 297 pages. $29.95, cloth; $28.99, E-book.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary U.S.-Japan relations. It draws on public statements and “confidential” communications by officials of both governments, some available only recently thanks to WikiLeaks. They reveal, in graphic detail and colorful language, the unrelieved condescension of U.S. officials and the shameless subservience of their Japanese counterparts in this decidedly “[un]equal partnership.” The messages include “secret accords” to maintain extraterritorial status for U.S. forces in Japan and to perpetuate the disproportionate U.S. military presence in Okinawa with the option to introduce nuclear weapons even after its reversion to Japanese administration in 1972.

The authors explain how the onerous “Agreement of October 4, 1958” between Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke and U.S. Ambassador Douglas MacArthur II, ceding Japan’s right to try U.S. forces for off-duty offenses, was available in U.S. archives but undisclosed in Japan until 2010 (pp. 56–57 and p. 72, note 17). The “secret” agreements on Okinawa broke the Japanese government’s oft-stated promises that after reversion the prefecture would be nuclear-free (kaku-nuki) with U.S. bases reduced to mainland levels (hondo-nami). The notorious “Agreed Minute,” permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons after reversion, has never been acknowledged by the U.S. government. Wakaizumi Kei, Prime Minister Satō Eisaku’s emissary and interpreter during the 1969 reversion negotiations, later recalled feeling “general misgivings” about “this deception” (quoted on pp. 85–86). [End Page 427] His 1994 book of reminiscences, Tasaku nakarishi o shinzemu to hossu (The best course available), includes the Japanese and English texts of the “Agreed Minute.”1

More recently, Richard Lawless had been Undersecretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs from 2002 to 2007. Attempting to ameliorate outrage in Okinawa after three U.S. servicemen raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1995, the governments in Tokyo and Washington had announced an agreement in 1996 to move the noisy and hazardous Futenma Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) from the middle of Ginowan City to a location in northern Okinawa. Lawless had this to say in 2010 about Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s counterproposal, which he later abandoned, for moving Futenma MCAS out of Okinawa instead of relocating it to the seaside village of Henoko as the U.S. and Japanese governments had planned.

The idea that you could move just Futenma somewhere else and plunk it down, like a poker chip in the middle of Kyushu, is an irrational or half-baked idea. … [T]he Hatoyama government and its political overlords do not have any sense of the magnitude of the issue with which they are playing. In the greater scheme of things [for] the security of Japan, it almost seems we have a group of boys and girls playing with a box of matches as they sit in a room of dynamite.

(p. 121)

In chronicling determined Okinawan opposition to relocation of Futenma MCAS to Henoko, McCormack and Norimatsu describe how protests, skillfully coordinated with the international environmental movement, have continued in the courts, at the ballot box, in the streets, and at the proposed site. To date they have successfully resisted the bullying and devious stratagems of two of the world’s most powerful nations to stymie construction of this base for nearly two decades.

[L]ocal and international opposition made it more difficult to implement the [relocation] plans. It was April 19, 2004, before the [Japanese government] moved to undertake preliminary survey works. When it did so, opponents formed a sit-in human barricade to block passage of dump trucks. … In September the [government] decided to access the site through Camp Schwab, [a Marine base on the Henoko coast], setting out to sea rather than risking further confrontations with the barricade. … The anti-base activists set out in canoes, surrounding the [construction site]. … Prime Minister Koizumi conceded...


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pp. 427-431
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