BY RUTH CHENEY
BERKELEY, California - More than 200 people attended a meeting here February 5 for the Okinawa Women's America Peace Caravan, a delegation from the parent organization in Naha City, Okinawa, known as Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence. The women participating in the caravan are all activists in the movement that recently emerged and has mobilized tens of thousands of Okinawans and Japanese working people to demand the removal of U.S. bases from Okinawa.
The delegation includes teachers, radio broadcasters, hospital workers, and local elected officials. Their visit to the United States was scheduled for February 3-17. It began in the San Francisco Bay Area and included a tour of the U.S. Naval Air Station at Alameda, a large base targeted for shutdown and now being "cleaned up" by the U.S. government for civilian use. In addition to protesting the frequent occurrences of rape and other violations of human rights by the U.S. military, the caravan is publicizing the environmental destruction caused by military bases on the island of Okinawa.
The caravan was also set to visit Washington, D.C., where the women planned to meet with Hillary Clinton, lobby Congress, and hold a press conference. They also planned meetings in New York City and Honolulu.
Several of the women speaking at the Berkeley meeting said the massive protests that occurred last October, in the wake of the kidnapping and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. soldiers in September, would not have taken place if the 12- year-old girl hadn't insisted on stepping forward to protest her rape, unlike many other victims who have chosen to remain silent and anonymous. "That is what's pushing us out," said Takazato Suzuyo, a Naha City assemblywoman. Speaking in English she said, "Fifty years is enough," adding that if she and the others who have come forward to protest the massive U.S. military presence in Okinawa had done so earlier, then this latest rape might never have happened.
The U.S. military occupied Okinawa and directly administered it from 1945 until 1972, when it was returned to Japanese administration.
Takazato and the other women in the caravan are in the U.S. to publicize five demands. The first is that an investigation be made of "all past crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in Okinawa, especially those crimes that constitute human rights violations against women and girls."
The problem is not all U.S. military personnel, Takazato said, "but many start raping as soon as they arrive." She said that the three U.S. soldiers at their trial insisted they were good men, loving fathers and fine husbands, and she believes that is true. But Okinawans have seen the "wild training" these soldiers receive. "They are trained to always be ready to attack and are encouraged to victimize people," she said. "The training dehumanizes them so they no longer view women and children as human beings, but only as objects." She cited Ron Kovics' book, Born on the Fourth of July, with its excellent descriptions of the violent training young men receive in the U.S. military machine. She added that everyone should know the "U.S. military forces in Okinawa are very definitely not protecting people."
The caravan's brochure explains that "crimes of sexual violence must be seen not merely as crimes committed by individual soldiers, but as crimes produced by the military system." A major aspect of this is that these crimes are both ignored and covered up by the U.S. military.
The second demand is for a "concrete plan for the reduction and ultimate removal of all U.S. military personnel from Okinawa." Takazato said she didn't "know where the bases should be moved because I do not want any other people to be similarly violated as we have been. Maybe they could just disappear into space or something."
Takazato also spoke heatedly about the environmental violations of the U.S. military. In her town, Naha, it is widely believed that the U.S. bunkers there hold nuclear weapons and mustard gas. In response, the residents keep goats and rabbits much like U.S. miners kept canaries. "The U.S. is supposed to tell the Japanese government if they bring in nuclear weapons, but the Japanese government never asks. It's a gentlemen's agreement so we can't trust it," she said.
The U.S. military presence especially affects Okinawan children with extreme levels of jet plane noise, helicopter crashes in school yards located next to bases, daily target practice with live ammunition just a chain-link fence away from people's homes, discrimination against bi-racial children, and the presence of mustard gas.
Because the U.S. military now leases fully 20 percent of Okinawa's land, the removal of the bases would mean the return of lands to both private individuals as well as city governments, the government of Okinawa, and the government of Japan. The governor has already put together a master plan for all of Okinawa and each town is now developing their own plans.
But caravan members said the Japanese government has so far done nothing to respond to the demands that the U.S. bases be removed. The women noted that while Okinawa composes only .6 percent of the total land area of Japan, 75 percent of all U.S. military personnel and equipment are located there.
Even though an official body has been set up by Tokyo to consider changes in the treaty that governs the conditions the U.S. military operates under, Miyagi Toshiko, another Caravan activist, said she believes this is just a sham and that the Japanese government will continue to disregard the needs of Okinawans.
The other three demands are for U.S. military personnel to receive "sensitizing" training if they are to be stationed abroad; that the governments of Japan and the U.S. ensure that their existing treaties conform to the Platform for Action that came out of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women that took place in Beijing last year; and that experts on "women's human rights and destruction of the environment be dispatched to Okinawa to investigate and evaluate the actual situation existing today."
After the meeting, video tapes were shown of the October demonstration in Okinawa of 85,000 and of farmers demonstrating for the return of their land.
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