Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2004
International Symposium


Herbert Docena

Researcher-campaigner, Focus on the Global South


Close down the bases, Shut down an Empire

I would like to thank the Japan Peace Committee for giving me this opportunity to be here. It's always a privilege to be with friends who are also struggling to be free from the shadow of US military presence.

We gather under very dark clouds.

Today, I visit a Japan that is increasingly turning its back on the past. In the last two years, we witnessed what is perhaps the most dangerous shift in Japan's military policy in fifty years. I come from a country where my grandparents still talk with bitterness about the Japanese occupation. I guess it's a testament to how perceptions of Japan have changed through the decades that my generation associates Japan with Sega, Ultraman, or Takeshi Kitano. Except for news about the grandmothers who were abused as "comfort women" by Japanese soldiers during the war, we Filipinos certainly don't think about war when we think of Japan. Gone were those days. With the dispatch of Japanese forces to Iraq and the drive to have Article 9 abolished, however, should we have reason to fear Japan again?

Never again

In 1952, when you began a new chapter in your country's life, you effectively said, "Never again." No more Nanking. No more "comfort women." No more Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. No more Japanese imperialism. No more Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [It's important to repeat these words and names again and again - Nanking, comfort women, Japanese imperialism, atomic bombs- especially because in the face of the drive to have them forgotten.]

Through the years, as you yourselves can attest, there had been unfaltering attacks on Japan's pacifist constitution. The US and the right-wing have been forever goading the Japanese into accepting war again. Lately, they seem to have been more successful than ever. The establishment of the so-called Self-Defense Forces in 1954, for instance, first met very strong opposition from the Japanese public. But now, itユs just accepted as a given, as though it was something that was always there. In the 1960s, a mass upheaval would have followed a decision to send the SDF to a war-zone. And yet in 2001, the SDF sent naval ships to Afghanistan to join an aggressive war. And then, last year, the SDF went to Iraq - just as young Japanese soldiers went to Manchuria, Malaysia, the Philippines, etc over 60 years ago. We live in ominous times.

At the wrong place at the wrong time

As we meet here today, the people of Fallujah in Iraq are picking up their dead. Last week, 15,000 US forces encircled the city and began showering it with bombs and artillery shells. According to a news report, the US forces were at least kind enough to have used one 1,000-pound bombs - instead of the 2,000-pound ones - in order to lessen "collateral damage." Among the first buildings destroyed was a hospital. Among the "terrorists" killed were doctors attending to the dying.

Before going to Fallujah, one soldier was quoted as saying: "We'll unleash the dogs of hell, we'll unleash 'em... They don't even know what's coming - hell is coming. If there are civilians in there, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time." According to initial estimates by the Red Cross, at least 800 people were in "the wrong place at the wrong time." Since the beginning of the war, according to a recent scientific study, over 100,000 Iraqis have been "in the wrong place at the wrong time" - in their own country.

What can we do?

To make sense of this number, imagine if half the city of Sasebo, with a population of 250,000, were killed. We can also scale it to the size of Japan's population to get a sense of proportion: it would be the equivalent to around 650,000 Japanese killed. That's around three to four times the number of those who died from the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. And this is just the first year. If Iraq feels too distant and too foreign, then imagine this: What would you do if over 100,000 people have died in your living room - and more are about to get killed? Doing nothing or going on with our lives as though everything's normal is akin to just sitting back and watching the television while someone's being murdered right in our living room.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq moves us farther and farther away from the dream which your parents and grandparents, having come home from Manchuria or Manila after World War II, vowed to pursue. The invasion of Iraq has made it more and more difficult to build a world without wars, an international order based on justice and equality, and trans-border relationships based on respect and sovereignty. If the US succeeds in Iraq, then it will use its control over Iraqユs oil to further enforce its will on the rest of the world and use this power to dominate the rest of us. If we allow the US to succeed in Iraq, then it's like saying that it's OK to wage a war based on lies; that it's OK to trample on international law; that it's OK to plunder another country's resources; and that all that's OK even if it means having to kill 100,000 people in the process. How can we even hope to prevent future wars, how can we say "Never again!," if we allow this war to go on now?

The war on Iraq, therefore, is not just a war on the Iraqi people. It is a war on our hopes, an attempt to destroy our dreams. We have to help stop the killings in Iraq not just because we feel pity for them and we have to save them but because we want to save ourselves. We have to save our dreams. This, then, is also our war. And in this war, we can't just sit back. We can't just watch. And we can't just weep.

We have to be part of the global resistance to the war. We have to build our own local wings - a Japanese wing - of this global movement, and work together on common projects towards one aim: global peace with justice.

The following are some suggestions for the Japanese peace movement, and the global peace movement in general, to take up.

We have to expose and shame the US and its allies' brutality in Iraq.

One reason why the occupation forces in Iraq are able to destroy entire cities, massacre thousands of civilians, drop bombs on wedding parties, torture prisoners, deny water to children under siege, and commit all sorts of war crimes is because the world does not seem to care. We have to go out again on the streets, hold vigils in front of US embassies, distribute leaflets, display placards and streamers, make speeches, write letters to newspapers, raise our voices - all to say that, "No, what is happening in Iraq is not acceptable and it must stop." After the siege in Fallujah, there has been a resurgence in anti-war actions around the globe - from Sydney to Seoul, from London to Istanbul - and we have to keep it up, every day or every week, using civil disobedience or direct action in order to expose the brutality of the occupation.

The United States is still up against a formidable foe: the world's conscience. A major weakness of the US occupation is that majority of the world's people don't approve of it. Majority of the world is still repelled by aggression, and injustice. We have to counter the US' attempts to desensitize people by making it appear as though killing 100,000 people is acceptable, normal and ordinary, and therefore not worthy of comment and indignation. We have to keep raising our voices and we have to keep exposing the atrocities in order to force the US to think twice about killing another 100,000 Iraqis.

We have to keep saying that the only solution to the violence and lawlessness in Iraq is to uphold democracy and respect the Iraqis' will. And what they want is clear: according to a recent survey commissioned by the US itself, 80% or a clear majority of Iraqis want all foreign troops to leave. We have to keep trying the counter the propaganda that the people struggling against the occupation are "terrorists." In fact majority of them are ordinary Iraqis, proven to be supported by their communities, who are merely asserting their right to self-determination. We have to support them not because we necessarily approve of their political programs or ideologies but because we recognize their inherent right to be free and because we recognize the illegality of the occupation.

We have to bring home the Japanese troops from Iraq.

The second weakness of the United States-led occupation of Iraq is the dwindling number of international troops. The US needs more soldiers in Iraq than they have right now, especially in the face of the mounting resistance by the Iraqi people. But they can't afford to this because all of their troops are now heavily overstretched in various deployments around the world. The US government is also very reluctant to force Americans to perform compulsory military service because this will be very unpopular.

This explains why the US government is so keen on getting more troops from other countries. And yet, government after government has rebuffed the US. From 30, the so-called "coalition of the willing" is down to 21 members - with many of these remaining members keeping only a token number of troops. In July, the Philippines withdrew its troops in order to save the life of a lowly Filipino truck driver. Two weeks ago, Hungary and the Netherlands also announced that they will no longer be dispatching more troops to Iraq. If Japan does not extend the stay of the SDF after December, then we would be able to deal a major blow to the coalition.

We therefore have to organization an all-out educational and political campaign that will turn public opinion against the extension of the deployment. We have to keep saying that the Japanese forces are not helping rebuild Iraq. As part of the occupation forces, they're preventing Iraqis from beginning to rebuild their own country. The SDF troops in Japan are not humanitarian relief or reconstruction workers. As your prime minister himself has said: "The SDF is an army. To describe it as not a military force goes against common sense."

Therefore, as part of an occupying army, the Japanese forces are as complicit in the killing of over 100,000 Iraqis and as responsible for the massacre in Fallujah last week. The Iraqis themselves donユt see the occupation forces as there to help, but to kill and subjugate. We have to appeal to the Japanese' revulsion at war and demand that nobody be killed in the name of the Japanese people. If the Japanese people really want to help Iraqis, the best thing it can do is to respect what the Iraqis want them to do: Leave.

We have to stop the use of Japanese taxpayers' money to finance, and therefore prolong, the occupation.

The third major weakness of the US occupation in Iraq is the lack of funds to finance and sustain the occupation and "reconstruction" of Iraq. War is not cheap. As the US faces its worst budget deficit in history, it will be more and more reluctant to pay for its cost. This is why it has increasingly turned to its other allies to chip in and bear the burden so that more of its own money could be spent on bullets and bombs. The US would have wanted to give aways these funds in support of its aims in Iraq - to shower Iraqis with money, infrastructure projects, NGO funding, relief operations, scholarships, etc. in the hope that they will somehow forget about those things which can't be eaten: independence, sovereignty, dignity.

As with its request for troops, however, the US has gone home mostly empty-handed. Of the $35-billion dollar estimated by the World Bank to be needed for Iraq's reconstruction, only $13-billion has been pledged and only $1.2-billion has actually been disbursed. Guess which country donated the most: Japan, with $5-billion or over a third of the total pledged. In addition to that Japan is paying $150,000 for the upkeep of each of the 40,000 US soldiers staying here per year. A number of them went to Iraq. Guess where all that money is from: from your pockets. And since itユs your own money, you have every right to demand that it be not spent killing people and occupying another country. You can demand that the amount should not be controlled by the coalition authorities and that it should be disbursed only by a legitimate and sovereign government directly chosen by the Iraqis - not by the United States.

We have to abolish US bases - in Japan and everywhere.

The war in Iraq illustrates what all those bases scattered around Japan and around the world are really for. Some of the troops who are seeing action and some the hardware being used in Iraq most likely stayed or passed by the military installations here in Japan, in Kuwait, in Diego Garcia or in one of the hundreds of bases or lily pads around the world. In Iraq, the US is building up to 14 military bases all over the country.

Their purpose will be more or less the same as those in other countries: to secure access to Iraq's oil, to project power in the region, and to subordinate any future Iraqi government. Planting military bases in every corner of the world is simply a means for perpetuating US military dominance which, in turn - as we have seen so clearly in Iraq - is being used to perpetuate an unjust international order.

We therefore have to oppose not just the bases themselves but also the system of domination which they make possible. We have to close down the bases not just because they're inconvenient or because they're noisy but because - as we have seen in Iraq - they're bases used for killing, destruction, and domination. To get a sense of what we can achieve together, just imagine what would happen if all of the countries close down the US bases that they are hosting. You are invited to join a vibrant and growing international network advocating the closure of all US military bases around the world. (Please see flyers for more details.)

We have to reverse the re-militarization of Japan.

Japan's active involvement in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq could only have been possible because of the ongoing re-militarization of your country. The deployment of troops to Iraq is just the latest and perhaps most serious sign of this development. Restraints on the SDF have been gradually and casually shed through the years. But there has been nothing as flagrant as actual deployment to a war zone. Your Article 9 has not yet been formally abolished. But it may have been increasingly losing its meaning.

It's not too late to regain it. In order to do this, we have to counter the drive to stoke and manipulate people fears. This is done in order to make them submit to anything. We also have to break the argument that the only way to survive and flourish in an era of superpower supremacy is to attach ourselves to this superpower and hope that somehow it will be better than the alternative and that we will be able to influence it. The invasion of Iraq should once and make us trash the myth of the US being a benevolent hegemon. At the same time, we have to insist that the alternative to US unilateralism should not be the emergence of regional superpowers dominating their own little fiefdoms, the way Japan claimed Asia in the 1940s.

The above suggestions may seem too daunting. But let us not, for one minute, think that we are alone: We are part of an emerging and strengthening movement that spans the world. We've shown what we can do together last February 15, 2003 when around ten to fifteen million people marched on the streets around the world to denounce the invasion. This movement will meet again in all its diversity this coming January in Porto Alegre, Brazil for the World Social Forum in order to build common strategies together and to conjure alternatives to the current world order.

Let us not resign ourselves to defeat: Japanese pacifism is itself a victory won upon the ashes of war. That it has been able to endure until now is itself the result of successful vigilance. Despite the historic mobilizations around the world, we were not able to stop the invasion but we have made it so much more difficult for the US to get what it wanted from this war. In the Philippines, we always look back to that shining moment in 1992 when the Philippine Senate, backed by thousands of people on the streets, ended nine decades of US military presence in the country. Sure, US military presence is back, although in a different form, but we hold on to the thought that victory is not entirely out of reach. As American peace activists quickly proclaimed, quoting a poet, after Bushユs re-election, "Don't mourn, organize!"

Thank you very much and more power to us all.

Herbert Docena is a researcher-campaigner with Focus on the Global South (, an international policy research and advocacy center. He spent two months in Iraq after the invasion as part of the International Iraq Occupation Watch Center (