Empire and Okinawa

By Craig Considine 

Debates about whether the United States can or should be considered an Empire are inevitably ripe with ambiguity for the simple fact that ‘Empire’ itself is a vague term that can be interpreted in a plethora of ways.  Empire can be defined and will be used in this context as ’a major political unit having territory of great extent’ or ’something resembling a political empire’, as defined by Merriam-Webster.
Those Americans who support the idea of American Empire, whether consciously, subliminally or blindly, tend to justify their continued existence on the grounds that they ‘keep the peace’ and only the United States is capable of being a ’global policeman’. 
To some (many, if not most?) non-Americans, the military bases are a sign of the United States’ attempt to rule the world through its military power.  Regardless of how the behavior of United States’ military is interpreted, perceived, or justified, one cannot help but at least think of Empire (as defined above) by looking at a map of the dozens of U.S. military bases around the world.
Japan is one of many cases in the American Empire theory.  For many Japanese and the Okinawans in particular, having a military base that houses 47,000 (!) Marines is an overt affront to Japanese national identity, sovereignty and self-determination, and so is the idea of building even more American military bases.
This is essentially why roughly 90,000 to 100,000 Okinawans from across the island gathered in the town of Yomitan, carrying banners and placards with anti-U.S. military slogans and demanding Hatoyama, Japan’s new Prime Minister, keep his campaign promise and move the Futenma base outside the island. 
The Okinawan rally is symbolic because it suggests many Japanese feel it can never be a self-determined and sovereign nation until the American military bases leave the island.  Perhaps Washington still considers Japan to be its puppet based on the premise that it re-built the entire country (in a way that suited American interests, of course) after dropping two Atomic Bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and so it ithinks it is still entitled to maintaining a physical presence, a military one at that, in Japan.
Foreign Policy in Focus made an insightful point about how ‘the Listener-in-Chief [Obama] has not paid any attention to the democratic wishes of Okinawans, or the rest of Japan for that matter’. FPIF also notes ‘The Obama administration has put enormous pressure on Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to abide by a 2006 agreement that would close the Futenma air base (a good thing) and open a new base in another part of Okinawa (a bad thing). Hatoyama ran on a platform that opposed base relocation within Okinawa’.
To be frank, does Obama even care about promoting democracy around the world?  Or is he more interested in preserving the United States’ military stronghold in Japan?
I am not one to necessarily revere and worship the ‘Founding Fathers’ as many fanatically patriotic Americans do (though I must say, they fascinated me at one of my more naive stages of life).  Nor am I one to really admire Presidents, as most have been criminals in their own right.  In this discussion on American Empire, however, I think a quote from John Quincy Adams is right if we want to elaborate on the hypocrisy of the Okinawan military bases, the dangerous implications of the Empire mindset and different theories of how the United States can behave around the world:
“[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benign’ sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” – John Quincy Adams, US House, 7/4/1821


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