Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bombs found near US base in Japan

Police say they have found evidence of two rocket-propelled bombs after two explosions were heard near a US naval base.

Local media reported that police were investigatng whether the blasts late on Friday were caused by an attempted attack on the Yokosuka Naval Base south of the capital Tokyo.

Residents reported that the roof of one home had been damaged by the blasts, police said.

Small, homemade rockets have previously been fired in protest against the deployment of US forces in Japan, but they have never caused any serious damage or injury.

The blasts occurred just hours after the US navy announced that the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was due to arrive on September 25.

It will be the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be stationed in Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks.

Local residents and civic groups expressed concerns over the deployment of the USS George Washington after a fire onboard the warship in May.

Some Japanese living near the base are also opposed to the US military presence in Yokosuka and the increased number of American sailors the aircraft carrier would bring to the area.

From Al Jazeera English.


There has been an American presence in Yokosuka since the end of World War II. It is a Navy town; both the Japanese Navy and the American Navy have bases in Yokosuka. The relation of the town to the U.S. sailors has been conflicted since at least the Vietnam War. Some of the angst is political. Japan has a large pacifist contingent. The pacifist regularly protest all that military hardware sitting in the bay. Particularly upsetting is the unmentioned fact of the very special weapons some of the U.S. ships in Yokosuka might carry.

For years the U.S. avoided this particular discussion by having oil-fired carriers stationed in Japan. But with the last of the conventional carriers getting long in the tooth nuclear carriers were an eventual fact of life. On the second of September that eventuality became a reality as the USS Kitty Hawk pulled into Puget sound to be decommissioned. Now with the USS George Washington in port the subject of nuclear power and by association nuclear weapons is on the table.

The issue of nuclear weapons in Japan has always been one fraught with peril. Japan is the only nation that has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Because of this Japan has a very strong peace movement and anti-nuclear movement. The U.S. has not helped the situation by being evasive on the issue. Official policy is to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on any U.S. Naval vessel. Of course this flies in the face of any and all reason. It is fairly obvious that a mine-sweeper is not going to be packing that sort of heat. An aircraft carrier on the other hand is a whole different kettle of fish.

Part of the disconnect here is that the Japanese people have never been allowed to have a serious discussion about nuclear weapons and power politics. They get their pacifism on the cheep. Japan sits under Uncle Sam's nuclear umbrella by default. In the late 60's there was an open debate on whether this arrangement should end. Many of the Japanese wanted the situation terminated. But this was the height of the cold war. Japanese politicians from the ever corruptible and always sleazy LDP were pushed, prodded, and bribed into voting against their constituents’ wishes. Japan's client status viz. the U.S.A. was continued. The Japanese people were not allowed to decide their own destiny; their wishes were ignored. Any wonder that in the 70's and 80's such organizations as the Red Army Faction were so strong in Japan? Disenfranchisement will do that to people. Eventually the radicals terroristic ways alienated the masses of Japanese citizens. Law enforcement broke the back of the radical left.

The great mass of Japanese lost interest in politics or at least political activism and settled into rank cynicism. The nation that invented Kabuki Theater settled into a prolonged performance of the same. Everyone knew their parts from the demonstrators to the government. Every year the pacifist would stage a protest at the American bases and every year the government would deploy its riot police. It was a performance that would put Cecil B. De Mill to shame. As theater is was astounding; as politics it was futile.

Japan still has not figured out what its true role in the world is. No one in Japan is really willing to figure out what truly independent defense or foreign policy looks like. Exactly what does Japan look like if it is delaminated from the United States? Can a modern nation like Japan truly follow a pacifist strategy? Should Japan pare down its "Self Defense Force" to levels that really reflect that mission or should Japan come to grips with "reality" and engage in power politics? Should the only nation that was attacked by nuclear weapons abandon the U.S. nuclear umbrella and perhaps develop its own nuclear capacity? How would other nations in the Asian rim react to that?

Japan has never come truly clean about its long history of Imperialism. From the turn of the 20th Century to the end of WWII Japan acted in a beastly manner. The Koreans were the longest suffering people under the Japanese yolk. The Chinese did not fair much better. In the 1930's Japanese Imperialism and militarism went into overdrive. The peak of Japanese militarism was reached on December 7, 1941 (December 8, 1941 in other parts of the world) when Japan overran most of the European Imperial outposts and set up its Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere . Most of Asia has bad memories of that time. In Japan nationalist and ultra-nationalist prevent the teaching of the real history of that era. Thus most Japanese are profoundly ignorant of horrors of the period. They know all about the horrors visited on the Japanese by the U.S.A. as the martyrdom of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are drilled into their heads at an early age. This again produces a very warped version of pacifism and does nothing to ensure Japan's neighbors that they won't again become the victims of Japanese excesses.

Thus everyone in Asia reluctantly accepts the status quo. The U.S. is allowed to forward deploy all sorts of hardware in Japan and Korea and act as a regional hegemonic power. China allows this because it would rather the U.S. play the role than Japan. Other countries in Asia are of the same mind. Japan itself chains itself to its U.S. sponsor out of loyalty and inertia. It dutifully follows most initiatives coming out of Washington as they allow Japan to play a role on the world stage without causing much concern from its neighbors. The Japanese dog is kept on a very short leash by its American master and this is acceptable to almost everyone. The only problem the U.S. has with this arrangement is that sometime its dog refuses to do its masters bidding. Witness the non-compliance in of Japan in Iraq. Otherwise the Japanese are faithful clients of the Americans, an economic and military extension of U.S. power in the region.

The USS George Washington is just a physical manifestation of that arrangement. It is just another example of Japan having to bend to America's wishes. That is the main cause of Japanese irritation; that and some NIMBYism from the local residents. The carrier will cause more strain on the locals. Sailors and Marines are not exactly the best of neighbors, just ask the Okinowans. What is surprising is the vehemence of the objection, not even in the days of the Vietnam War was an assault like this perpetrated on Japanese soil. Could the American misadventure in Iraq have radicalized some Japanese Citizens? Are we looking at the work of a lone crank or a rebirth of Red Army like radicalism? So many questions, so few answers, keep your eye on the Miura Peninsula; it is going to get very interesting there.

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