January 21, 2016

What Are You Going to Do About U.S. Bases?

The Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins (114 left as of last count in 2009)
used to swim around Jeju Island, South Korea every day, but since the
Navy base construction in Gangjeong village has polluted the water
so badly the dolphins now avoid the area.

My Op-Ed about our recent VFP trip to Jeju Island and Okinawa was printed in the Opinion section of our local newspaper today.  The Times Record editor though decided he didn't want people to read one paragraph (see it below in red) and took it out before publishing the piece in the paper and at their web site.  I forwarded evidence from American University Professor David Vine that the U.S. has 1,000 bases around the world so I was even low-balling the numbers with my figure of 800 bases.  It really burns me up to have those who tout 'freedom of the press' censor words that they feel might 'dishonor our troops' - especially in a piece on the 'Opinion' page that is giving voice to people all over the world who suffer from US bases..  


Imagine building a set of twin military runways out into a pristine bay among the beautiful coral reefs and endangered sea mammals (dugong). Imagine 3.5 million 10-ton dump truck loads of landfill being dumped into the bay to build the runways. Imagine the howls of protests if this was being done here in Maine. 

This story is real, and the plan is to do this on Okinawa at Oura Bay in order to build a new US Marine airfield. Few in America have heard about this calamity, but for more than 450 days people in Okinawa have been protesting by blocking the gates of a US Marine base called Camp Schwab.
In early December I co-led a national Veterans For Peace (VFP) delegation to Jeju Island, South Korea where a new Navy base is being built that will port US warships – including the Aegis destroyers built at BIW.  Twelve members of VFP went on the trip – three of us from Maine.  For the first week we sat with Gangjeong villagers on Jeju Island blocking the construction gate only to be picked up and carried out of the way by police several times each day. 

During the second week of the trip our VFP delegation traveled to Okinawa where the US today has 30 bases. One out of every four Okinawans was killed during the American “liberation” of the island from the Japanese in 1945. We’ve had bases there ever since. At two museums we visited I was astonished to see that since 1953 there have been regular protests against our bases. 

On three occasions we went to the gates of Camp Schwab in order to join the daily human blockades. Most of the people being dragged off by Japanese police for sitting in the road were senior citizens. The women were particularly amazing as they held on to one another and cried aloud demanding that this environmental catastrophe be stopped. 

The VFP delegation met with the mayors of two Okinawan cities that will be directly impacted by the new Marine airfield. One evening we were invited to attend an event inside a huge auditorium that drew 1,300 people. At this convocation Okinawan Governor Takeshi Onaga and other leading politicians spoke out in opposition to the construction of the controversial runway. Gov. Onaga has pulled the airfield construction permit, but the right-wing government in Tokyo, which controls Okinawa, overruled him under the clear direction of US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (she has repeatedly told the Okinawan people to get over it). Gov. Onaga has gone to the Japanese Supreme Court seeking a ruling that respects their local autonomy. In fact, 80% of the people of Okinawa oppose the new Marine airfield.

The Pentagon today has more than 800 military bases scattered around the world. It’s well known that due to the rapes, drinking and violence toward the host people, US troops are not wanted in most of these places.

As the Obama administration ‘pivots’ 60% of US military forces into the Asia-Pacific region in order to ‘control’ China, people in Okinawa and South Korea understand they are key targets if and when a war breaks out between Washington and Beijing. 

Not only is a looming war causing such active resistance today, it is the US’s utter disregard for local sovereignty and democracy that inflames people against Washington. The bases being built on Jeju Island and in Okinawa are environmental nightmares. The people are watching their life source – the ocean where their food and livelihood comes from – being torn apart to satisfy the Pentagon’s demand for ‘one more base.’

When our VFP delegation left both of these islands the people asked us the same questions: What are you going to do when you go home?  When are the American people going to stand up and stop this madness that is killing our environment, our culture, and our peaceful way of life?

On Sunday, February 7 PeaceWorks will host my talk about these trips at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine at 4:00 pm. The public is invited.

       ~ Bruce K. Gagnon lives in Bath and is a member of PeaceWorks and Veterans For Peace  

Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth. - Henry David Thoreau