Foreign Academic Okinawa Watchers: Activism over Scholarship


Robert D. Eldridge, Ph.D.

In my previous commentary, I discussed the biases of Okinawan academics and their close, unhealthy relationship with the local media. In this installment, I would like to introduce the problem of foreign academics, including their close connections with the above Okinawan academics, and their activism which comes at the expense of their obligations to impartial scholarship and their status as residents or visitors to Japan.

Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The very thing Einstein cautioned about is what has happened to our often incorrect understanding of Okinawa as promoted by many foreign academics.

While the Okinawa media draws the lines of its image of what the “Okinawa problem” is, Japanese and foreign scholars fill that picture in with their own commentary, limited observations, and regurgitation of media stories and each other’s works. The result of this intellectual dishonesty and professional laziness is an oversimplified view of the situation in Okinawa, when in fact it is infinitely more complicated.

In addition, there is a strong ideological bias which motivates scholars to promote a certain agenda, as well as a political correctness which makes challenging the traditional narrative difficult for all but the truly brave. Related to this is the fact, as discussed in the previous installment, that a publishing industry has built up around “the Okinawa problem,” and the more sensational the topic and argument, the better it will sell. This commercial incentive suggests they are all good, albeit hidden, capitalists at heart.

The problem with this is not only are unrealistic positions unhelpful and counterproductive, but once an ivory tower scholar has taken such a stance, he or she is highly unlikely to change it because their reputations are on the line. They would rather stick to a fundamentalist view which represents only a part of Okinawan opinion than introduce a more accurate and representative portrait of the prefecture or the issue at hand.

More than in the past, it has been the foreign academics that have especially complicated the situation. If they visit Okinawa, they get much attention in the media, which quotes them as the media wishes them to be quoted. Often ignorant about the situation at hand, or the details, nevertheless, because they are academics, their quotes get attention and lend an air of credibility to the newspapers’ reporting to date.
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If they seek to be objective and hear out other opinions, such as the Japanese government or U.S. military, there is an unfortunate tendency by representatives of the two governments not to meet with academics and thus the latter ends up only being exposed to anti-base activists, media, local governments, and fellow academics. They then use their writing skills and media and academic publishing networks to blast the two governments and get the activists’ opinions out to the world in a variety of foreign languages, further confusing the situation and promoting the worsening cycle of misunderstanding, thus making solutions harder to arrive at.

During my time with the Marine Corps, I sought to correct this and went out of my way to meet with students and professors, even on weekends, holidays, and in the evenings, but quite often, professors that came to Okinawa would not try to meet with the military and/or intentionally misrepresent the positions or actions of the two governments.

In some case, some academics are highly hostile to the military. Peter Simpson, an activist professor at Okinawa International University from England, verbally harassed U.S. personnel who were on a cultural tour of Okinawa one day several years ago, which was widely shared on YouTube. He also has been an advocate of impeding the operations of Futenma, and an interview along those lines, in which he called for not only blocking access to the gates but using kites and other aerial objects to interfere with U.S. military aircraft landing or taking off from Futenma, appeared in the Okinawa Times in January 2012. It was supremely ironic—intentionally creating a dangerous situation which could cause a U.S. military plane or helicopter to crash.

As both a scholar and a policy maker, I found his calls for violence and unlawfulness offensive and irresponsible, and as a resident of Japan, I also found it unbelievable in that he, as a non-Japanese citizen living in Japan with the permission of the Japanese government, was calling for action against the policies of the very same government, against the safety of the citizens living near Futenma, and against the popular wishes of the Japanese electorate which supported the signing of the 1960 security treaty between Japan and the United States.

He is not the only individual involved in anti-base activities in Okinawa. Douglas Lummis, a U.S. citizen and former professor of peace studies at a university in Tokyo, is married to a local activist and he himself regularly goes out to put tape and signs on U.S. bases and protest against U.S. personnel in their vehicles.

Similarly, a translator of wartime accounts from the Battle of Okinawa and a teacher at a high school in Okinawa originally from New Zealand, Mark Ealey, is closely linked to the protests at Henoko, as the attached photo shows. Again, it is surprising that participation by foreigners in the protests, which regularly turn violent and are unlawful, is condoned, and as a fellow guest in Japan, I am surprised by the willingness of these individuals to disrespect their host nation’s policies and laws.

Scholar-activists such as Gavan McCormack of Australia and Katherine Muzik of the United States, regularly travel to Okinawa visit Henoko, see their Japanese colleagues, and write for the local newspapers. They, as well as Lummis and Ealey, were among 109 “international intellectuals” who signed a statement against the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko. The statement arrogantly says “the world is watching,” as if these men and women represent the public.

It is uncertain how and when these “intellectuals” came to represent the “world” (I do not remember voting for them), or how they were recruited as many of them have no connection to Okinawa and have never been to Camp Schwab before. (According to one person’s testimony, he was recruited by activists in Okinawa to sign it.) Yet, it is interesting that they would sign it without knowing the facts behind the assertions in the statement, such as “riot police and members of the Coast Guard have attacked demonstrators, causing serious injuries.” This same person admitted not having been to Okinawa since 2001.

As readers know, I, too, am against the relocation of Futenma to Camp Schwab, but for reasons other than those of the above individuals. (I am a supporter of the alliance and believe the Henoko plan actually undermines our capabilities and is militarily, operationally, strategically, fiscally, politically, environmentally, and engineering-wise is non-sensical). However, in addition to being against the Henoko plan, I am also against extremist ideology and group think.
Activism and lazy thinking are not attributes of quality academics, especially when the issue is so serious, affecting the security of hundreds of millions of people in the Western Pacific, including Japan and the United States.

I recently read a scholarly discussion in which the writer argued that the failure of scholars to perform their role was akin to “malpractice” as commonly associated with the medical field. In Okinawa’s case, the good doctor is misdiagnosing the patient, causing its situation to deteriorate and those who care about it to lose hope. Outside intervention by activists, including scholars, is causing the clinic to become too crowded, too noisy, and too confused. Retrouvez de nombreux produit chez nous, il y a les Predator Absolado Instinct TF etc. Venez voir.

Eldridge was born in New Jersey, U.S.A., in 1968, and graduated from the Department of International Relations, Lynchburg College, Virginia. He earned his doctorate from Kobe University Graduate School of Law in 1999. From 2001-2009, he was a tenured associate professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School, and from 2009-2015, served as the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7 (Government and External Relations), Marine Corps Installations Pacific in Okinawa. During this time, he was one of the proposers of Operation Tomodachi at the time of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. He is the author of numerous works including The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem (2003) and The Origins of U.S. Policy in the East China Sea Islands Dispute (2014).

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