Women and militarisms: Culture of denial: historical forgetting and making of a national memory

by Ikehara Ariko, Ginoza Ayano

A part analysis and reflection piece written by two women of Okinawan heritage about the recent statement made by Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, regarding his public statement on the issue of “comfort women” and the current situation on US military sexual assaults in Okinawa.

On May 13, 2013, the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, made a deplorable comment about the necessity of a prostitution system in Okinawa and asked US military officials to enact such a policy in order to “take control of the libidinous energy of the US Marines stationed in Okinawa.” There is a colonial impulse and imperial undercurrent running through his statement. Okinawa has been shouldering the burden of the legacy of WWII by hosting approximately 75% of US bases in Japan today, which is a precarious situation after being occupied by the US military from 1946 ~ 1972, and reinstituting its governance as part of Japan in 1972. The current focus by the media on the rise of military-related sexual assault is not new. On the contrary, the problem has been going on in Okinawa since 1945 as reported by the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, which was established in 1995 after the highly publicized rape case of a 12-year-old girl by three service men in Okinawa[1]. Furthermore, the Osprey deployment to Okinawa, not mainland Japan, continues to position Okinawa as the “dumping ground” for Japan’s unwanted problems. [2] By ignoring the colonial and the imperial markings in the present, the mayor continues to recreate a hierarchy that maintains Japan’s hegemony over Okinawa.

Meanwhile, the US is taking its own measures on how to curtail the issue of sexual assaults, far away from Okinawa or other parts of the world, in the home front U.S.A

On May 7th, 2013, The New York Times reported that the number of sexual assaults in the US armed forces went up from last year. “Pentagon released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010[3].”  The number, which is undoubtedly a low percentage, represents only the women who came forward with their claims, thus leaving out the majority of the incidents of sexual assaults not reported. In response to the report, President Obama stated:  “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

While the US proposes various measures to resolve the sexual assaults within the military, Japan is taking a different approach to the issue of sexual assaults committed by members of the US Arms Forces stationed in Okinawa.

Question of Proof and “Necessity”

There is a culture of denial and erasure of those considered others in Hashimoto’s statement and his obsession with “proof.”  He asks for proof but the question does not consider the fact that the history is incompletely told and that some proofs are outside of the scientific formulation of how proof becomes fact. He wants proof that Japanese soldiers kidnapped Korean women and forced them into a comfort women system. Despite the overwhelming statements and testimonies to the fact, he still needs “proof” of the kidnapping and the sexual slavery of those who are still living/surviving today. Up against the common sense and the natural consequence of the war, these bodies are not counted and have no rights to be counted, even today.

Statements made by President Obama and mayor Hashimoto, though different in strategy, are not concerned with women. Instead the concern is shifted to the male by the logic of the “necessity” of circumstance brought on by the condition of war and military. Under such condition, Hashimoto underscores the soldiers’ need to release their libido and the sexual energies toward women as “necessity”, while he takes no account of the victims who are women and Okinawa as the place of re-situation and repeating of the same system: it becomes necessary. He rationalizes the sexual crimes against women simply because Japan was not the only country that participated in the criminal act. In fact he goes on to say the “’comfort women’ system” is something that cannot be helped. A certain feeling that conjures up from the phrase, “can not be helped,” numbs the real sense/feeling of suffering. Thus the rhetoric of “necessity” for women to be serviceable to male sexual needs reinforces the idea of women as inferior and, therefore, can be sacrificed to protect the nation, and to maintain male supremacy reinforced by the militarist imperial power structure. This “necessity” creates a false sense of peace and security for women in the current situation in Okinawa. Proposing to institute a prostitution system for the US military, in order to solve the current issue of sexual assaults against women in Okinawa, ignores the history of militarized prostitution in Asia. Moreover, the statement ignores the on-going system of prostitution for the US military in Okinawa and other parts of Asia.

Masculine Memory and non-subject-hood:

Hashimoto’s rationale for recommending the use of the “entertainment business” in Okinawa is a solution based on a heterosexist assumption that a male cannot control his sexual desire. Within prevailing heterosexual norms, a female body must be available to gratify the sexual drives/energies of the Marine Corps on Okinawa, which follows the male-centric logic based on gender inequality The issue of inequality can be observed at the national and international level where Okinawa as a subject worthy of care is contentious in the US-Japan-Okinawa tripartite relationship. On this score, Japan does not consider Okinawa as a real partner who can affect decisions in the US military affairs on Okinawa. In this unequal partnership, Okinawa is rendered as ineffective in its own affairs. How many times is “NO!” required to be effective? From the stationing of B52 “stealth” bombers to Osprey helicopters and everything in between–visible and invisible—Okinawan people have voiced their opposition by standing with their bodies in public demonstrations over and over again. But over and over, the so-called “common sense” takes over the human sense. Again, these bodies do not count as subjects.

Conclusion: Historical forgetting in the present

Hashimoto’s statement attempts to erase and distort the proof of the lives survived from the horrendous “comfort women” system. Nothing is said of the role of the Japanese Self-Defense Force or the historical forgetting and dismissing of the people of Okinawa as a sacrificial other. The underlining gesture mimics the ultimate act of imperial devotion: throw away precious life for the emperor. An act that “threw way Okinawa like a stone” to the US in order to save the emperor and Japan is reminiscent of the effect that is produced by Hashimoto’s statement that makes sense for woman’s body to be used to secure and protect certain bodies against others.

 We ask (repeatedly with others), are not Okinawa, people of Okinawa, and women worthy of care?

The question hangs in suspension as the act of denial repeats the forgetting in the present.

To be continued…

[1] 資料8 (「年表・ 米兵による戦後沖縄の女性犯罪」)高里鈴代『沖縄の女たち:女性の人権と基地・軍隊』(明石書店 1996) 237-247.

Also from: Akibayashi, Kozue. (2002) Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence: A Feminist Challenge to Militarism. Dissertation.  Columbia University Teachers College. pp. 197-230.

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