Pasted below is a speech I gave last year at a Okinawan Independence Symposium held in Ishigaki, which is an island in the southern portion of the Ryukyus. I have been attending conferences in Okinawa for several years now and have been working closely with the growing independence movement there. It has been a good political and scholarly activity for me. Although conceptually I know that there are still tens of millions of people around the world that live in colonial or near-colonial situations who are seeking independence, in Guam most people live completely oblivious to that fact. In Guam, we’ve come to accept that notion that History ended with the rise of the United States at the end of the Cold War, and so there is nothing really left to change about the world, especially not if it has to do with the United States. For most on Guam, Okinawa is just a part of Japan or just a site of US military bases. It is important to challenge both of those assumptions, because they can help us in Guam see ourselves and the world around us very differently.
On the Idea of Independence
By Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Assistant Professor, University of Guam
Co-Chair, Independence for Guam Task Force
I have been coming to Okinawa for five years now and spoken at events like this many times. I have talked about the shared histories of our islands. We both have histories of mistreatment. Our language and culture attacked. Our island destroyed in war. Our lands taken and fences put up, runways built over fields for farming. Waters cut off to fisherman and used for war games. We are also united today as being places that remain colonized by others.
We are both places that could become islands of peace, but because of US and Japanese policies our lands have become islands of war, weapons used to threaten and attack the enemies of the United States and Japan.
This is something that does not sit well with the Okinawan people. They have long protested this burden of US military bases. The Governor of Okinawa recently cancelled a construction permit for the base relocation to Henoko. The Japanese government will no doubt sue him to force him to proceed with the base expansion. This begs the question of how much is enough?
How many opinion polls must be taken showing that the Okinawan people are vehemently against the bases, before the Japanese government responds? How many thousands must sit, stand and swim in protest before the Japanese government takes the Okinawan people and their desires seriously? How many hundreds of thousands must shout and raise their fists to the sky before the Japanese and American governments stop taking advantage of the Okinawan people?
Your Governor recently traveled to the United Nations to discuss about human rights violations that have occurred and are occurring in Okinawa. These are violations that cannot be solved with more money, more pachinko parlors and more lies. Decolonization may be the only answer. Seeking another status other than this one where your islands are sacrificed day and night for the US-Japanese security alliance.
If the Okinawan people do not like the way the United States and Japan have transformed their island into a weapon of war and have protested loudly for decades, it may be time to seek independence. To seek the right to truly determine what happens in your air, your land and your waters.
The previous century was a time of national independence movements. From every corner of the globe former colonies fought for or negotiated for their political future. The United Nations played an important role in guiding this process as we went from a world where the majority of the people lived under colonial rule, to today where there are more than 200 countries in the world.
But even though it is the normal course for colonies to seek decolonization and to regain their sovereignty, for those of us live in colonies we can find ourselves filled with fear at the idea of being on our own. The idea of independence can be terrifying because we may have myths about what being politically independent would mean. When we discuss it, it is easy to become mired in these sometimes unrealistic fears and not even touch upon the new possibilities and freedoms independence might create.
Independence does not mean you have to do everything on your own. It does not mean you cannot accept help from others. It does not mean you must grow all your own food. It does not mean that things you have learned from you cultures or countries have to be given up. It does not mean you travel into the past. It does not mean that China or North Korea will invade you the next day.
It is important that we do not give in to these fearful ideas but approach the idea of independence in a calm and normal way. It is not something to be afraid of as being crazy or reckless, it is the way that more than 200 countries today exist. If we can discuss independence in a calm way, many may realize that they are not truly against it, but only feel that they are supposed to be against it. There are positives and negatives to becoming an independent country, but when people forcefully resist it, they do so often times because they do not understand the issue. They are just reacting because imagining an independent Okinawa requires them to question the very lives they are used to, and it might terrify them to think about how things could be different and should be different.
When someone first hears about independence for Okinawa, the reaction can be to narrow your thinking, to only understand the concept in a very limited and isolated way. It is no wonder that people sometimes react negatively, as they see independence as breaking away from the world, cutting yourself off from it and leaving behind everyone else. From this perspective there doesn’t seem to be much hope if one becomes independent.
If we look at the world today, we see independent countries working together, helping each other, trading with each other, learning from each other. Independence doesn’t mean throwing away the world, but joining it as a partner with other nations. Independence can be difficult but it is nothing scary or terrible. Some small countries struggle, but others are very prosperous. Two of the richest countries in the world are close to Okinawa in size and population. Independence makes it possible for you to utilize your resources in a way that will hopefully benefit the majority of your people. This is something that Okinawa is deprived of at present because of its importance to Japan and the US for their security interests.
When we look at world history, there seems to be natural evolution in the past century from colony to sovereignty. What makes it different for places like Guam and Okinawa? Why is it that they have been deprived of the chance to become independence and to determine their destinies? It is because of our military value to our colonizers, it is not because we are not meant to be or could not become independent.
Every colony has to contend with an idea that they are inadequate and inferior. A discourse is planted in the colonies that creates feelings of dependency and a fear of becoming independent. It has nothing to do with smallness or with being an island or with having a certain history. There were plenty of Indians who believed that if they weren’t under the British everything would fall apart and they would never survive. This is an effect of colonization, these feelings that you can never be good enough, that your culture is holding you back or that domination by another is the only way to keep out the terrors of the world. These are fictions and fantasies that serve to fundamentally disempower us.
There is no fundamental reason why Guam and Okinawa could not become independent nations. There are plenty of political, economic and social issues that have to be contended with, and it would no way be easy, but there is nothing impossible about it. It is my strong belief that independence for Guam and Okinawa would be normal. What we have now, as colonies of the United States and Japan is abnormal and must be changed. Our political statuses today are the one’s that don’t belong.