ANSWER participates in actions against expansion of Iwakuni base

The march on the Iwakuni military base
Photo: Yoshio Nakamura
ANSWER banner at the march on the Iwakuni base
Photo: Yoshio Nakamura
International conference against the Iwakuni base
Photo: Walter Smolarek
Atagoyama protest against the construction of housing for U.S. troops
Photo: Walter Smolarek
ANSWER representative speaking at a demonstration against the State Secrets Protection Act outside the Japanese parliament
Photo: Kenji Tsuchiya

On the invitation of the AWC (Asia-Wide Campaign), Walter Smolarek, a youth representative of the ANSWER Coalition, visited Japan to participate in a series of anti-war actions. The main events took place Nov. 30- Dec. 1, with a conference, rally and march against the expansion of the U.S. military base in the city of Iwakuni. Smolarek also participated in meetings and public events to build support across Japan for the Iwakuni struggle.

AWC is a prominent anti-war organization based in Japan with affiliates across the Asia-Pacific region. It stands for the end of U.S. and Japanese aggression aimed at dominating Asia, and demands that these government respect the right to self-determination. ANSWER participates in the coordinating body of AWC.

The expansion of the Iwakuni base is an important part of the “pivot to Asia” strategy that is the new focus of the U.S. war machine. Under this doctrine, major military assets and troops are transferred from other parts of the world to the Pacific with the primary aim of bullying China. In addition to its location relative to China, the Iwakuni base is positioned to play a major role in the event of a war against North Korea.

A wide range of abuses has intensified opposition to the U.S. military bases in Japan, including the increased noise around the bases, the presence of Osprey aircraft (which are prone to crashes), the financial cost to the Japanese people (such as subsidizing electricity), and the rapes and other acts of violence committed by U.S. soldiers against the communities around the bases. ANSWER fully supports the AWC demands for an end to the U.S. military presence in Japan and the end of the U.S.-Japanese military alliance. Other fronts of the anti-U.S. military struggle in Japan include the movement against the presence or relocation of the base in Okinawa and the construction of advanced X-Band Radar stations.

Japan's Shinzo Abe administration is using its strategic role in the pivot to Asia to advance a right-wing agenda with the ultimate aim of remilitarizing the country. The right wing is currently resurgent in Japan, with Abe's Liberal Democratic Party returning to power after several years of rule by the center-left Democratic Party of Japan. A far-right-wing party, the Japan Restoration Party, received a large share of the vote in the last election, and outright fascist movements are growing and becoming bolder in their attacks on Korean communities in Japan. Textbooks are being revised to glorify the imperial/fascist past, and the government has nationalized the Diaoyu Islands, which were seized during Japan’s pre-1945 colonial expansion and are claimed by China. The ultimate aim is to repeal Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits the country from going to war.

Before going to Iwakuni, Smolarek visited an anti-nuclear energy camp in Tokyo outside the Ministry of Trade and Economy, which has been in place for over two years. The massive struggle against nuclear power plants was sparked by the Fukushima disaster after the tsunami in 2011. He then attended and gave a brief message of solidarity at a demonstration in front of the National Diet (parliament) to protest the State Secrets Protection Act. The law - which passed later that night -  increases the government’s ability to hide information from the public, including when pressing criminal charges, and is part of the Abe administration's overall right-wing offensive. Other events to build for the Iwakuni actions included forums in Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka.

Anti-war actions at Iwakuni

On Nov. 30, a conference was held in Iwakuni to kick off the weekend's events. The first portion of the conference was the International Rally. Other foreign guests attending the Iwakuni actions included a Korean activist who is involved in a similar anti-base struggle and a representative of Migrante Japan, a progressive organization of Filipino immigrants living in Japan. Smolarek said, "The ANSWER Coalition demands an end to the U.S. military’s presence in Japan. We are honored to be invited to join this struggle, and consider it our highest duty as progressive people living in the heart of the imperialist monster. We demand a stop to the consolidation of the U.S. bases, as a first step in the total expulsion of U.S. militarism. We demand reparations for the victims of the U.S. military." Click here to read the resolution adopted by the International Rally.

Later in the day, a panel was held focusing on the labor movement's role in the anti-base, anti-war struggle. Smolarek gave a presentation on social conditions in the United States, with a focus on youth, and how this relates to U.S. militarism. Just like in the United States, poor and working people in Japan are being squeezed by budget cuts, and subjected to growing poverty and unemployment due to the ongoing economic crisis.

The following day at Iwakuni consisted of outdoor demonstrations. The first was the regular protest held by residents of the Atagoyama neighborhood against the construction of a new housing complex for U.S. troops. The Atagoyama demonstrations have been organized every 10 days for over three years. The residents of Atagoyama were convinced to sell their land because the Japanese government said that it would be used to build public works. However, the government then announced that the land in Atagoyama would be used to build housing for the additional U.S. troops who would be deployed to an expanded Iwakuni base. The foreign representatives all gave solidarity statements with the Atagoyama struggle.

Demonstrators then went to Iwakuni city hall for a march on the U.S. base. ANSWER brought a banner that read “No U.S. bases – down with U.S. and Japanese imperialism.” As the march approached the entrance of the base, the Smolarek addressed the soldiers, explaining the demonstration and why they should unite with the struggle. The residents of Iwakuni, along with progressive people across Japan and the world, are determined to continue the struggle against the U.S. base and stop the "pivot to Asia" dead in its tracks.

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