Gavan McCormack, “The Prefecture that Says “No!” – Okinawa as Japan’s Tahrir Square”

Professor Gavan McCormack will deliver the Art Matsu Lecture on Okinawa and the the civic democratic activism that has evolved there out of the 14-year-long resistance to US and Japanese attempts to build a new Marine base there. March 25, 3:00, Blow Memorial Hall, Room 201.

Gavan McCormack is Emeritus Professor and Visiting Fellow, Division of Pacific and Asian History of the Australian National University. He has written widely on Japan, North and South Korea, China, and Southeast Asia.

Five decades after the adoption of the (revised) US-Japan Security Treaty, two decades after the end of the Cold War, and amidst the present collapse of US-supported regimes across West Asia/North Africa, East Asia seems stable. But is it?

Japan is no Egypt. And yet in East Asia, the relationship between the world’s No 1 and No 2 (till yesterday) powers remains rooted in the war, defeat, and occupation of nearly seven decades ago, reinforced by the structures of Cold War. The “master-servant” quality of the relationship that Professor McCormack wrote about in 2007 (Client State – Japan in the American Embrace) endures. A belated Japanese attempt in 2009 to reform it ended in failure and the collapse of the Hatoyama government. Its successor, headed by Kan Naoto, having attached its top priority to serving Washington, proves similarly impotent and destined to follow Hatoyama into oblivion.

There is no precedent in modern Japanese history for an entire prefecture to unite, as does Okinawa today, in saying “No” to the central state authorities of the world’s two great powers. This talk looks at the civic democratic activism that has evolved in Okinawa out of the 14-year long resistance to US and Japanese attempts to build a new Marine base there, and argues that, in the utterly unequal contest between those forces and those of the nation states of Japan and the US, the advantage today rests with the former. The lesson of Tahrir Square is that a conservative, US-manipulated system resting on compliant state bureaucrats and media has no answer to a determined, fearless, non-violent and enraged populace. What is commonly called the “Okinawa problem” is better seen as the “Japan problem,” and, unaddressed, it becomes the East Asian problem and the American problem.

This event is sponsored by the Asian Studies Initiative.

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