- Subaltern Knowledge and Transnational American Studies:Postwar Japan and Okinawa under US Rule
Okinawa’s current local protest against the construction of a new US military base in Henoko, a small fishing community in the northern part of Okinawa Island, is an integral part of Okinawa’s long history of resistance against Japanese imperialism, which goes back to 1609, when Japan colonized the Ryukyu Kingdom. The kingdom was eventually abolished and renamed Okinawa in the 1870s as one of Japan’s forty-seven prefectures. Japan’s rule continued until the US military took over during World War II. The new ruler, the United States, territorialized Okinawa and controlled it for twenty-seven years: from 1945 under a US military government, followed in 1950 by a civil government called USCAR, the US Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands.1 In 1972 Japan regained administrative authority and once again annexed Okinawa. [End Page 443] The US military, however, continues to station forces on the island even after the reannexation. The whole decision-making process in which Henoko was designated to replace the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station epitomizes Okinawa’s colonial past as well as its contemporary confrontation with the bilateral authorities of Japan and the United States. The 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) final report promised to return the land used for Futenma to the municipal community; however, Futenma remains in active use. Worse yet, its function was reinforced by the deployment of Ospreys, military aircraft infamous for frequent accidents. The lives of Okinawan people, particularly of the local residents of Futenma and its neighboring communities, thus continue to be threatened nearly twenty years after the SACO agreement.2 The outcry of protest by local Okinawans remains disregarded by the colonial powers of Japan and the United States, which persistently repeat their justification that they find no alternative to a new base in Henoko.
Okinawa’s colonial experience in its tripartite relationship with the United States and Japan forms situated knowledge; furthermore, it is synonymous with what Walter D. Mignolo terms “subaltern knowledge,” as Okinawa has been deprived of the political control that would have empowered it to speak for itself, in other words, to write its own history.3 Making lived experience the base of people’s situated knowledge, subaltern knowledge brings the voices and presence of marginalized subjects into being. For local Okinawans, questioning what America is has been part of the process of Okinawa’s search for self-identity, particularly in its colonial encounters with America and Americanness. Thus American studies emerged as part of Okinawa’s process of generating subaltern knowledge, whereby the United States is redefined by the colonized, and the US-centered intellectual configuration of American studies has to be reshaped.
Americanists in Japan are one of the multidisciplinary audiences who began to pay attention to Okinawa’s unique position as a subject of postcolonial studies because without a doubt, no other region in Japan has gone through more intense cross-cultural and political contact with the United States than Okinawa has. In Japan more scholars are speaking and writing about the US presence in post-World War II Okinawa and Okinawa’s role in Japan–US relations, finding more historical facts in archival research in an attempt to achieve multiple goals, from delineating a more explicit portrait of the United States to finding the lives of local people projected...