sabato 13 ottobre 2012


Okinawa and Italy, a common problem

After spending nearly eight months in the wonderful Okinawa, I am not used yet to the massive presence of American soldiers in the archipelago. In my country, Italy, we have a similar situation: over twenty American facilities and bases spread throughout the territory, a uneasy heritage from the Second World War. In the last years the base that more worried Italians is located in Vicenza, Veneto, not far from Venice. A large military community lives at Camp Ederle, a former Italian base given to the U.S. forces. Since few years there’s a project to enlarge the military area to the Dal Molin facility, an extension of the base: as well as in Okinawa, many local people are not happy about that. On the contrary, a minority is favourable to the extension, due to the presumed economical benefit that the local community would earn with a major presence of American soldiers in the area. The local people voted against the enlargement of the base, however the authorities decided to allow the Americans to occupy more space. That provoked waves of anger. Protests started around 2007, and haven’t stopped yet: not only in Vicenza, but all over Italy. The problem of the American bases on the civil land, in effect, is an old story that concerns the whole country. During the recent civil war in Libya, Sigonella’s American base (in Sicily, the ‘Italian Okinawa’, in the Southern part of the country) worried all Italians: missiles were based there, too near to the North-African country in turmoil. And, in the mind of the majority of Italians, is still very clear the horrible memory of the Cermis' accident, when an American military airplane cut a mountain cable, while training. Twenty people were killed, and the pilot responsible for the massacre escaped from the Italian civil justice, being sent back to U.S. A very strong similarity to Okinawa’s  1995 infamous rape case.

The American soldiers, in Italy as well in Japan, try to appear friendly to the local community, in order to continue their presence in the occupied country. As during some multi-national party in Ginowan at the huge U.S. facilities, in Vicenza Camp Ederle opens his gates to Italian civilians during some very special occasion, i.e. Halloween. In that period many local children visit a foreign ‘island’ – culturally, linguistic – in their own territory, and the atmosphere becomes more relaxed for both Americans and Italians. However, as well as in Okinawa, during the rest of the year the two communities live in a very separate way. The cultural contamination (‘exchange’, for some people) is very strong in these areas. Taking a walk through the American Village in Chatan is a strange jump in another world, as well in the Italian surroundings of the American bases. Both in Italy and in Japan some local youngsters are terribly attracted by the American (soldiers’) lifestyle, and inevitably follow a foreign fashion, cuisine, culture. Deeply different from the local one, but that’s what the presence of a foreign military brings, altogether with weapons and uniforms. And in both countries, as in many others where American bases are located, some people say the Americans bring money. Certainly true, but the hard working Japanese people, as well as Italians, for sure are good enough to make a living with their own hands. No dollars are needed in the Shisa’s land, nor in the productive Italian North-East.

During my long stay in Okinawa - three times, living in Naha -, I visited most of the troubled areas where the American bases are giving much headache to the Okinawans. I followed the thorny issue of Yanbaru’s partial deforestation to extend the training area for the U.S. helicopters, with all the problems given to the local community of Takae (see I visited Henoko, where I witnessed the crazy project to destroy one of the more beautiful bays of the major island to give more space to the American base, as well the fierce, long lasting (10 years) opposition of Japanese people camped outside the facility trying to defend the local, precious environment in danger. I was at Ginowan during the massive gathering of the past September to protest against the arrival of the Ospray helipads – almost the only gaijin at the event (see -, and outside the gate of Futenma base, to watch with my eyes the anger of the people for the arrival of the first six noisy, dangerous helicopters (see Travelling throughout the major island of the archipelago, many times I had the feeling that the American soldiers took some of the best beaches of Okinawa, treating the place as a kind of private resort. I was not shocked by the ‘heavy’ atmosphere of Koza – clubs/brothels for U.S. soldiers going around drunk or half drunk, in cheesy outfits and noisy Harley Davidsons – only because years ago I visited much worst places in the Philippines (Angeles City and Olongapo, scary places... see But I was shocked once I got to know that the beach of Kin is forbidden to Japanese people.

I understand the worries of Tokyo’s government about the Senkaku islands and the Chinese arrogance, due in part to the never forgotten killings by the Japanese army on the Chinese and Korean soil during the Second World War.. But it’s hard to understand why Japan should give so much of his territory to the American army. It looks to me that, once more in history, Tokyo doesn’t care about the ‘far’ Okinawa, and maybe Okinawans should consider to go back to the Ryukyu kingdom... On my very personal opinion one base, where to concentrate all the weapons and soldiers necessary to ‘defend’ Japan from eventual aggressions, is more than enough. Even if deeply in my heart I hope that the beautiful Japan one day, hopefully in the near future, will have NO foreign bases at all on his territory. At the moment, however, considering the alliance between Tokyo and Washington, this seem far from the reality. So... why not to make Japanese people vote on what they really want? American bases YES/NO. If the no would win, prime minister Noda-san should ask, sumimasen (or not), the American armed forces to go back to their country. And if the yes would win... the people that voted for a further American presence in Japan should guest, one for family, the U.S. soldiers at their homes, giving them a tasty katsudon for meal and letting the poor Yanbaru forest and Henoko bay in peace. And, last but not least, open Kin’s beach to Japanese people.

Don’t miss the enlightening documentary on the situation of the American bases in Italy (Vicenza) and in Okinawa (Yanbaru). Filmed by the Italian director Thomas Fazi in 2010, it’s called Standing Army
It will open your eyes…

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