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Post Date : 15-10-26 13:41
[PDF] World Environment and Island Studies Vol. 5, No. 2
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   WEIS 5-2.pdf (4.4M) [44] DATE : 2016-03-30 13:09:49
[PDF] World Environment and Island Studies Vol. 5, No. 2

Ko Chang Hoon

Donald Kirk 15-10-27 10:50
[R] [D]  
Fear of war on distant horizons fuels protests daily against construction of new bases on two of Northeast Asia’s most strategic islands – the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa and the southern South Korean province of Jeju.
 
Rev. Mun leading prayer outside base under construction on Jeju (Don Kirk photo)
Passions run highest against Japan’s determination to build an air station for U.S. marines at the coastal village of Henoko on Okinawa’s northeast coast. Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga is protesting the base construction before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and promises to revoke approval for the landfill that foes of the base say will ruin coral reefs and destroy the habitats of treasured sea creatures.
The ongoing protest at Henoko parallels protests every day at the village of Gangjeong on the south coast of Jeju where construction of a small South Korean navy base is well past the half way point. The futility of dissent, however, does not deter an elderly Catholic priest, the Rev. Mun Jeong-hyeon, from leading daily masses and meetings outside the main entrance of the base even as trucks lumber in and out carrying building materials.
“Our protest is a failure,” Mun, his white beard flowing down his white cassock, told me in the midst of a mass attended by several dozen villagers. “We cannot stop them.” Still, he insists the protest is making a point – one that will resonate around the island and possibly the country as war clouds gather over the seas around the periphery of China.
 
Donald Kirk, Rev. Mun and law professor Carlton Waterhouse outside Jeju base construction site.
In a time of constant threats by North Korea and rising confrontation in the East China Sea, where Japan holds a small island grouping also claimed by China, fears of a wider war are paramount. For people caught between much larger forces, the worst fear is repetition of the slaughter that has terrorized both Okinawa and Jeju. In the Spring of 1945, upwards of 200,000 soldiers and civilians, more than half from Okinawa, were killed in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War between U.S. and Japanese forces. Three years later on Jeju, beginning on April 3, 1948, and lasting for several years, South Korean police and soldiers in a crackdown on leftist revolt killed about 30,000 people, mostly civilians.
The protest seems considerably stronger on Okinawa than on Jeju, perhaps because most of the 45,000 or so U.S. troops in Japan, mainly air force and marines, are stationed there. Polls have often revealed intense opposition to building the base at Henoko, which actually is intended to replace another base at Futenma, in a densely populated area on the west coast north of the Okinawa capital of Naha.
U.S. and Japanese defense officials insist the base is needed to guarantee security for Japan and the region, and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abehas no notion of backing down. In fact, under Abe’s rightist policies, Japan is showing unmistakable signs of militarization, as seen in passage by the Japanese diet or parliament of legislation legalizing “collective self-defense.” That means Japanese troops can wage war overseas along with U.S. forces despite Article 9 of the post-WWII “peace constitution” declaring “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation” while “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
Article 9 had long since been circumvented by establishment of euphemistically named Self-Defense Forces, with separate army, air and maritime branches, but the latest revision inspired angry protests not only in Okinawa but also in Tokyo and other large Japanese cities. No matter. As the immediate response died down, Japanese officials got on with construction of Henoko, beginning with refusal of Governor Onaga’s bid to revoke the agreement permitting the landfill on which to build the base.
The response in Jeju to building a South Korean naval base has actually been low key. It’s as though people would prefer to forget about it while getting on with Jeju’s primary business, attracting tourists. There’s a certain irony there since most of them are from China, the country other than North Korea about which people are most concerned.
Protest against the naval base, however, feeds on a movement demanding apologies and “reparations” for “4.3,” as the massacre is known from the date on which the slaughter began. A petition is circulating calling for establishment of a “joint South Korea-US Jeju 4.3 incident task force” to bring about “social healing through justice.” The bottom line: “to foster reparative justice in ways that benefit the Jeju people” – in other words, to provide vast sums for bereaved families.
If dispensing reparations seems unlikely, Jeju authorities are not letting people forget what happened.  An elaborate museum “of war, history and peace” takes visitors through the long sequence of killings. The museum stands beside a peace park with tablets listing the names of more than 14,000 of those who died, and a brochure quotes an official record accusing “U.S. military leaders” of having given “direct orders that initiated the early 4.3 events.” The brochure says “Korean and American scholars and a former U.S. army colonel conclude that the U.S. too played an important role in Jeju 4.3 and bears some responsibility for healing past and persisting wounds.”
But who’s listening? Scholars, the brochure goes on, point to U.S. “lack of cooperation in reconciliation efforts.” The fear of a repetition of bloodshed may fuel protests, but the Rev. Mun, outside the gate of the naval base, admits, “We are defeated” in blocking construction. Still, the protests on Jeju and Okinawa serve as as a warning — and reminders of the hell once inflicted on these self-styled “islands of peace.”