We are living in a world on fire. In every region of the world, there is a country facing U.S.-backed war, occupation, military aggression or sanctions.
The Middle East and Africa have been the main focus of this war drive. Afghanistan’s 17 years of war and occupation began in 2001, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 extended to an ongoing war and occupation continuing today. The brutal NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 has left the country which formerly had the highest living standard in Africa in complete chaos. Today Syria is devastated by the U.S. first arming and training mercenaries to wreak havoc in the country, and now U.S. and Israeli airstrikes and military action. Then there is, of course, Palestine, which has been under Zionist Israeli occupation since 1948 with U.S., Canada and EU support.
From the Middle East to Africa, Europe to Asia to Latin America, we are living in a new era of war and occupation. This immense and far-reaching imperialist military machine needs infrastructure to work, which would not be possible without a global network of foreign military bases. According to the U.S. Department of Defense website, the U.S. military operates in more than 160 countries, on all seven continents, with approximately 4,800 defense sites. An estimated 800 to 1000 of these bases are foreign bases, with approximately 450,000 soldiers stationed overseas according to Business Insider. These bases are not only springboards from which to carry out military actions. U.S. foreign military bases are also denying the self-determination of many oppressed nations, whose people have protested against these bases and have often been displaced and threatened by the presence of the U.S. military on their lands. As countries struggle to assert their own independent foreign policies, they face the global bully of the U.S. having the last word and dictating their decisions in favour of U.S. imperialist interests. No wonder the executive military power of all imperialists is the United States, who has elevated itself to an international brutal war machine.
Among 1000 U.S. foreign military bases, in two corners of the world, two examples shine out for their consistent and ongoing resistance to the U.S. military presence in their lands. These are in Okinawa, an island under Japanese rule, and Shannon Airport in Ireland.
Okinawa – The U.S. Overstayed a Welcome They Never Had
In Okinawa, the occupation started in 1945, when it was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. On April 1, 1945, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and more than 180,000 U.S. Army and Marine Corps troops descended on Okinawa. When the battle was over, 110,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives, and it’s estimated between 40,000 and 150,000 Okinawan citizens were also killed – one third of the pre-war population.
Seventy-four years later, the U.S. military still hasn’t left Okinawa. Okinawa remained under U.S. occupation and control after World War II, until 1972! Today there are 50,000 U.S. soldiers in Japan, and Okinawa is burdened with 73.9% percent of the total number of the U.S. bases in Japan. The length and width of Okinawa are inundated with U.S. bases (more than 30!) for their air force, marine corps, army and navy, and even waters designated for military training. Successive U.S. administrations have continued keeping the bases at Okinawa, and it is no different with U.S. President Trump. At their first White House meeting after Trump’s election, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and U.S. President Trump agreed on the need for the “long-term, the sustainable presence of U.S. forces” in Japan.
For the local Okinawan population, first and foremost their self-determination and rights over their lands are violated by the constant, ongoing presence and occupation of the U.S. military. Then there is the effect of the U.S. military on their safety and well-being.
According to a June 2017 Okinawa prefectural government report, since 1972 nearly 6,000 crimes committed by U.S. military personnel and civilian employees have been reported in Okinawa. About 10% of these cases were serious crimes such as murder, robbery or rape. According to 2017 data published by the Japanese Committee for Peace, only 16.9% of breaches of the criminal code committed by American military personnel the previous year were brought to court.
The U.S. government doesn’t spend $100 billion a year operating foreign military bases without reason. As said at the beginning of this article, foreign military bases are part of the current U.S. imperialist war drive. Okinawa is in the South China Sea, a region of vital importance for future U.S. containment of growing military power of China and as well as maneuvering and military aggression against China and Russia. U.S. bases in Okinawa are also part of the U.S. strategy against North Korea, as well as to assert U.S. dominance in the whole Asia Pacific region.
For over 70 years the Okinawan people have opposed and protested the U.S. military presence on their land, with protests, legal challenges, and elected Okinawan officials, especially their governors, exerting the limited powers they have against the U.S. military occupation. The protest movement is alive and well today – on August 11, 2018, over 70,000 protesters rallied, despite pouring rain and an approaching typhoon, in protest to the construction of the new base in Henoko.
On February 24, 2019, a referendum was held in Okinawa Prefecture which asked voters to approve or oppose the landfill work at Henoko for the construction of the new base. Leading up the referendum, in January 2019 Jinshiro Motoyama, a 27-year-old activist, held a five-day hunger strike calling for the participation of all Okinawan municipalities in the referendum. The referendum results were 72% of votes against the construction of the new base.
Protests are held every day to peacefully block the gates and prevent construction equipment from entering Camp Schwab at the new Henoko base. Alongside the protests on the streets, protesters also take to the seas. Henoko Blue, a civilian canoe team, conducts daily protests and monitoring excursions in Oura Bay near the new base. A 2016 report in the Washington Post interviewed the protesters and their reasons for protesting. Fumiko Shimabukuro, age 86, recounted, “I come here almost every day unless I’m sick. I’m a survivor of the war, and I experienced all the hardships of war, and I never want to see this island turned into a sea of blood again."
The protest movement in Okinawa is not alone – people from around the world, including from the U.S., have travelled to Okinawa to join the protests. The website http://standwithokinawa.net invites others to join in supporting Okinawans against the bases and provides daily action reports and news.
Shannon: Civilian Airport or Military Airbase?
On another island on the other side of the world, the Irish people are also protesting continuously against the imposition of the U.S. military on their lands.
Ireland, specifically the Shannon Airport, has become a gateway for the U.S. military to disseminate their troops and weapons across the Atlantic Ocean and throughout the world. Despite repeated claims of neutrality by recent Irish Governments, nearly three million U.S. troops and their weapons have passed through Shannon Airport since 2002.
U.S. troop carriers started to appear at Shannon Airport in 2001 at the start of the U.S. war and occupation of Afghanistan, and from 2003 aircraft were landing en route to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Although officially a civilian airport, Shannon Airport has been effectively operating as a U.S. airbase, complete with a U.S. military permanent staff officers assigned to the airport since 2002.
Another use of Shannon Airport by the U.S. is for CIA rendition planes. These planes transfer detainees from one country to another illegally, using means that bypass all judicial and administrative due process. U.S. President Trump said in reference to the notorious Guantanamo prison that, “We're gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up.” Shannon Airport is a pitstop on the way to take U.S. captured detainees to prisons like in Guantanamo, to be tortured and held without trial or due process.
Most of what has been documented about the use of Shannon Airport by the U.S. military is thanks to the monitoring and reporting by Shannonwatch (www.shannonwatch.org), a group of peace and human rights activists against U.S. military use of Shannon Airport. They also organize a monthly peace vigil outside the Shannon Airport.
Protests at Shannon Airport began soon after the U.S. military started landing there. On September 1, 2002, World Peace Day, the first Women’s Peace Camp was held at Shannon Airport. They held a 12 hour vigil and rally to protest that the Irish government refused a national referendum on allowing the U.S. to use Shannon Airport for military purposes. Subsequent polls indicate how a referendum would have ended up. In 2007, a poll commissioned by Peace & Neutrality Alliance (PANA) in Ireland and conducted by Lansdowne Market Research Ltd, found that 58% were opposed and only 19% in favour of the use of Shannon Airport by U.S. troops. A 2013 poll also commissioned by PANA found that over three-quarters of Irish people believed Ireland should have a policy of neutrality, and 8 out of 10 that did not want Ireland to support the military intervention in Syria that was then being considered by the U.S. and UK.
Acts of civil disobedience have also taken place. In September 2002 an activist painted 'No way' on a warplane in the airport. In January 2003 another activist dis-armed a C-40 transport military plane with an axe. After it was repaired, other activists dis-armed it again. In recent years, activists have entered the Shannon Airport runway and been found guilty of having "interfered with the proper use" of Shannon Airport. In July 2014 two Irish legislators crossed a fence and proceeded towards two U.S. military aircraft with the intention of inspecting them, as Irish authorities have refused to do. As a result, they spent a short time imprisoned after they refused to pay fines against them. These are just some cases of resistance against the U.S. military at Shannon Airport.
The U.S. military use of Shannon Airport has gained international attention and helped to raise the issue of NATO and U.S. foreign military bases worldwide. On November 16-18, 2018, the First International Conference against U.S./NATO Military Bases was held in Dublin, Ireland. The conference was attended by close to 300 participants from over thirty-five countries from around the world. The conference culminated in a protest with international attendees at the Shannon Airport.
Both Okinawa and Shannon are striking examples to the world of how to resist U.S. military presence and occupation with consistent action. While these two examples are noteworthy spotlights, many other organizations are protesting NATO and U.S. foreign military bases around the world. As the U.S., and NATO are waging their new era of war and occupation at the expense of oppressed nations, it is of vital importance to bring these organizations together to build a strong and united movement against these foreign military bases. From Okinawa to Shannon, to those 1000 foreign bases around the world, let's bring an end to the U.S. and NATO use of our world as a battleground, and fight against war and for a world of peace!
Follow Janine on Twitter: @janinesolanki
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