Scanning the headlines of most mainstream press does not do justice to the reality of events that are occurring around the world. A little digging, however, will heed significant results. Three recent events and their surrounding repercussions-the Greenpeace protest at Menwith Hill base in England against the U.S. anti-missile defense program, the ongoing action in Vieques, Puerto Rico amplified by the U.S. decision to cease military operations on the island by 2003, and the U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant accused of raping a Japanese woman in Okinawa, Japan followed by the subsequent outcry to revise the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)-offer an insightful cross-section of current global happenings and the spirit of resistance that threads them together.
One should notice another common thread among the three examples: U.S. military presence abroad. Post World War II undisputed U.S. military hegemony continues its path of painful decline and many places around the world find themselves separated by little more than geography. U.S. cultural and economic hegemony has brought many distant voices to stand in solidarity. The McDonalds down the street and Coke in your hand announce the U.S.-constructed neoliberal capitalist ideology that many countries and cultures have embraced and molded into all their own.
Resistant voices have always been present. While the dominant forces have produced much of the current world order, such voices have also evolved. Peace, social, women's, human rights, civil rights, and environmental activists populate the same demonstration sites and fight similar fights. So, we now hear about Greenpeace protesting at a possible U.S. military site in England and all types of people-some with the last name Jackson and Kennedy-protesting at U.S. base in Puerto Rico.
At around 5 am on July 3 more than 100 Greenpeace activists broke into Menwith Hill base, a major British defense site located near Harrogate, North Yorkshire to protest against U.S. plans to use it as part of its national missile defense program. One group of protestors entered the main gate playing the Mission Impossible theme song-eventually 20 people would be on top of the radar building, 15 on top of the water tower, and another 15 at various locations throughout the base. Specifically, Greenpeace UK director Stephen Tindale called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to refuse U.S. requests to use UK-based sites at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales, North Yorkshire. Plans could not go forward without Blair's approval.
U.S. bombing exercises have been going on at Vieques for 60 years. Initially resistance came from locals, then Puerto Rican politicians, next international activists, and finally to a select group of Americans who had the power to help precipitate President Bush's decision to end military operations there by May 2003. Such a politically motivated decision to placate the Republican-beloved Hispanic vote fell short of protestors' demands. People have been protesting and continue to do so because of the health and environmental destruction: why must such damage continue for two more years before action is taken?
No end would be in site if it were not for the involvement of well-known U.S. activists. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the popular RFK and environmental lawyer in his own right, was sentenced to a 30-day jail term on July 6 for trespassing on Navy property that would stop ship-to-shore shelling exercises for 2 1/2 hours while security officers located Kennedy and fellow protestors. Kennedy was defended by Mario Cuomo, former New York governor and popular Democratic strategist, who argued, "The defendants see the bombing of Vieques as an egregious failure of the legislative and executive branches to protect our democracy." Blame could arguably be extended to many others in the U.S.'s "democracy."
Kennedy's sentence came not long after Jacqueline Jackson, activist and wife of Rev. Jesse Jackson, had completed a 10-day jail term and Rev. Al Sharpton began serving his 90-day sentence. Labor leader Dennis Rivera, actor Edward James Olmos, and U.S. congressman Luis Gutierrez are also among the 711 defendants that have been through federal courts to protest actions in Vieques. Such notoriety draws media attention to the issue and before long a public swell is accompanied by political power to affect change. Bush's political buttons were pushed and the advantage was created for him to act-such developments in Vieques should draw the watchful eyes of other protestors around the world. This story as well as the rape case in Okinawa warrant the attention and assessment of Korean activists, especially those working on U.S. base and SOFA issues.
U.S. Air Force Senior Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland was turned over to Japanese authorities on July 6 after being held by U.S. military officials since July 2 because of a Japanese-issued arrest warrant in connection with the alleged rape of a 20-year-old Japanese woman on April 29 just outside the Kadena Air Force base. U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Howard H. Baker Jr., announced the decision to turn Woodland over after meeting with Japanese foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, who has since been reported by several of Japan's leading newspapers as making comments that place fault for the rape on the woman.
Under the present SOFA between the U.S. and Japan, U.S. authorities are not required to turn suspects over to local authorities until they are formally charged. U.S. Embassy officials attributed the decision to a combination of factors: the heinous nature of the crime, strong evidence against Woodland, the long history of violent crimes by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa, and the timing of the incident. The alleged rape occurred a day before Prime Minister Koizumi and President Bush held their first meeting in Washington.
Woodland's transfer came after several days of intense pressure from Japanese citizens and activists. They recalled the U.S.'s promise to "give sympathetic consideration" to handing suspects over before indictment after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's opponents accused the U.S. government of dragging its feet and called for revisions to the SOFA. Koizumi rebuffed such concerns by instead insisting on better implementation of the existing SOFA. However, Koizumi added that revision could be a future option as part of wider talks involving U.S. bases elsewhere, including Germany and South Korea.
Some U.S. media outlets characterized the U.S's decision to turn Woodland over before being formally charged as a "major concession." They report Japanese fears of damaging Japan-U.S. relations by saying that this case is an opportunity for Japan to show the rest of the world that they conduct "fair and humanitarian" investigations. Such rhetoric effectively diverts the burden from the U.S. to whomever the host country may be in any given situation.
It is too rare to find fingers pointed at the U.S. in the media or elsewhere about its policies and consequent abuses that have severe social and environmental effects for all the countries that currently accommodate U.S. military bases, and thus the world as a whole. Voices of resistance from England, Puerto Rico, and Japan must persist in solidarity and will hopefully just be a sample of all the activist work that is critical of hegemony, in any form that it may take.
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