Protest Camps Against American Military Bases in Japan and Italy

By Ann Wright

The presence of the US military, 63 years after World War II, is a huge source of anger for the citizens of Japan, Korea, Germany and Italy. On the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the US military uses an artillery firing range known as Yausubetsu. The range is small in comparison to ranges in the United States and Germany - only 30 kilometers by 10 kilometers - but the source of irritation to Japanese farmers whose land was taken for the range and for those who live near the range is large. The peaceful rolling hills and valleys of the area are the home of the dairy industry of Hokkaido. The Japanese have used a cartoon of an angry dairy cow with boxing gloves as their symbol of protest of the US military's use of the range.

Bild: Vicenza

The Japanese government pressured farmers in the area to sell their land when the artillery range was established in 1962. All but three families eventually sold out. Mr. Kawase refused to sell or move, and instead has built three structures that are used by activists year round to protest Japanese and American use of Yausubetsu for artillery practice. Mr. Kawase, a very spry 82 years old, build a huge Quonset hut on his property where 100 activists can sleep on mats, make posters and banners and listen to speakers. In the kitchen of the building, activists cook huge meals from plants and vegetables of the Hokkaido countryside and serve fresh milk and cheeses from angry local dairy herd owners.

On the roof of the building, for military aircraft flying over and those on the land to see, Mr. Kawase has painted in huge Japanese script the text of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan:

"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of forces as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."

That is a big statement, both morally and physically. Mr. Kawase painstakingly painted every character on the roof himself.

The majority of Japanese citizens approve the spirit of Article 9, but some believe that Japan should commit Self-Defense Forces to international collective defense efforts, such as the authorization by the UN Security Council for an international military operation to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in marking the 60th anniversary of the Japanese Constitution, called for a review of the document to allow Japan to take on a larger role in global security, appealing to the Japanese people to consider this as a means to revive national pride.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is under siege by the Bush administration, which wants Japan to provide more military support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the "war on terror." In torpedoing Article 9, the Japanese government kowtowed to the force of the Bush administration and sent a refueling ship to the Indian Ocean to provide fuel to US warships, and more recently has flown military transport aircraft into Iraq. Those actions have outraged millions of Japanese who do not want their country to become involved in the wars of other nations.

Japanese courts have become involved as Japanese citizens brought legal actions against their government for "infringing on their right to live peacefully." The latest lawsuit was brought by 1,100 Japanese citizens who argued that a continuing airlift mission of the Air Self-Defense Force to Baghdad was unconstitutional. The Nagoya High Court ruled on April 17, 2008, that the mission partially violated Article 9 of the Constitution, but it allowed continuation of the mission.

The people of Kushiro, Hokkaido, remember well the militarization of their country during World War II. Eighty-two-year-old Shingichi Miyake, now head of the Kushiro Peace Association, recounted the role his eastern city of Kushiro played during that period. The aircraft carrier with the airplanes that bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, left Japan from the harbor of Kushiro. Kushiro also was the anchor port for the "One Thousand Mile War," a brutal campaign from 1942-43 over control from Attu to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. Kushiro, the largest city in the chain of islands stretching from northern Japan into the American Aleutian islands, was protected from invasion from the United States by hundreds of patrol or "picket" boats.

Ironically, despite the legacy of militarization of the island of Hokkaido and the city of Kushiro over 60 years ago, wetlands around the city of Kushiro are home to Japanese cranes, the symbol of peace for Japan and for the world. The cranes represent the spirit of Article 9, a denunciation by the Japanese people of war, and a desire to live in peace.

The citizens of Hokkaido join citizens from other parts of the world who are protesting the continuing presence and expansion of the US military. The citizens of Vicenza, Italy, for two years have protested the expansion of the US Army base into the only remaining green area in the city. Protest central in Vicenza is a tent erected at the end of the abandoned airfield which will become the expanded home of the US Army. As in Hokkaido, citizens of Vicenza use the tent as a visible symbol of protest and objection to continued US military presence 60 years after World War II.

The US military argues that "forward deployed bases" are critical for projection of US power, a warning to others that the US can be on their doorstep in minutes or hours. We, as citizens of the United States, must decide if it is the military we wanted projected, or whether it is in the best interest of our national security that some aspects of our country be "projected."

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserves colonel with 29 years of military service. She also was a US diplomat who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. She resigned from the US diplomatic corps in March 2003 in opposition to the Bush administration's decision to invade and occupy Iraq. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience," profiles of government insiders who have spoken and acted on their concerns of their governments' policies.