Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Miyume Tanji, "Community, Resistance and sustainability in an Okinawan village: Yomitan," Japan Focus, March 2, 2009.

Yomitan village and the sea


The presence of some 737 US military outposts around the world imposes great strains, and there is always the possibility of rejection by the inhabitants of adjacent communities. Chalmers Johnson, author of the acclaimed trilogy on US imperial expansion and its costs, highlights the tensions between overseas US bases and the countries where they are deployed, most prominently Okinawa.[1] Nearly one-fifth of the land surface of Okinawa’s small, crowded main island is devoted to 38 bases and facilities for the US military (almost 75% of the US forces stationed in Japan). Johnson depicts Okinawa as a hotspot among other US military outposts, where anti-American opposition might undermine the US alliance network in the Asia-Pacific. He draws particular attention to the US forces’ exemption from the local criminal justice system, as well as from responsibility to overcome the environmental contamination of local sites caused by US military usage.[2]

Politicians and media commentators often talk of friction between overseas US forces and locals in terms of crimes, accidents, noise and other hazards associated with US military deployment. Yet occasional crimes, risks and hazards barely scratch the surface. From the perspective of local populations living cheek by jowl with the bases, social, economic and cultural well-being is constantly insecure and subject to the priorities of the US military. One key question constantly arises concerning the legitimacy of the bases: Do US military bases protect and advance the well-being of the local populations or undermine it? If the latter is the case, what can local people do about it?

  The concept of community is explained in terms of five defining elements by Ife and Tesoriero: a scale of population small enough to know each other and manage autonomous social structures; a sense of belonging and identity; holistic interactions among villagers in the realm of personal development beyond functional ties (gemeinschaft rather than gesellschaft); members’ active engagement in the community; and existence of a unique local-specific culture that members create, as opposed to consumption of globalised, mass culture.[3]

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