AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 725

[ Interarea/Border-Crossing Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 725: The Transnational Politics of US Military Occupation in East Asia: Japan, Korea, and Okinawa

Organizer: Annmaria Shimabuku, University of California, Riverside, USA

Chair: Katsuya Hirano, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Discussants: Katsuya Hirano, University of California, Los Angeles, USA; Koya Nomura, Independent Scholar, Japan

In 1945, the US military entered a vacuum left open by the ruins of Japanese Empire and occupied Japan, Okinawa, and southern Korea. Although people in each “area” continued lives that crossed across the sphere of a “dying” Japanese Empire, the occupation superimposed a postwar geopolitical map of a territorially-divided inter-state system and suppressed the social interconnections that had taken shape along with Japan’s imperial expansion. Similarly, the way area specialists pose geopolitical issues on postwar East Asia has been deeply embedded in the nation-state framework of inter-state (i.e., “international”) relations. As a result, nationally-divided “area” studies has been limited in addressing “transborder” phenomena or transnationally configured “local” issues. Our panel asks how the “local” reveals this structure of geopolitical power. Deokhyo Choi performs a bottom-up history of the contentious position of zainichi Koreans vis-à-vis the US, Japan, and Korean peninsula amidst Japan’s occupation by the Allied Forces. American studies scholar Ayano Ginoza examines the ambiguous status of Okinawan identity in between US and Japanese Empire, and investigates an alternative form of governance through the politics of indigeneity. Historian Luc Walhain departs from a micro-relation analysis of black marketeering around US military bases in South Korea and maps its transnational circulation throughout US Empire. Japanese studies scholar Annmaria Shimabuku appeals to Foucault’s notion of governmentality to circumvent the dead-end politics of sovereignty in Okinawa in respect to her critique of Japan’s inability to come to terms with the US-Japan Security Treaty that founded the emergence of the postwar Japanese state.

Postcolonizing the “Postwar”: Democratization and the “Korean Problem” in U.S./Allied-Occupied Japan
Deokhyo Choi, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Historical accounts on “postwar Japan” have often hailed the US/Allied occupation and democratization of Japan as a critical historical break from Japan’s “feudal” past. Such conventional accounts operate upon a common temporal framework and relational binary in narrating the formation of postwar Japan. While the temporal framework is based on the discontinuity between pre- and post-1945 Japan, post-1945 (“postwar”) history places the birth of a “new” (or fully “modern”) nation-state Japan as borne by US/Allied occupation or as shaped through the U.S.-Japan encounter as the “victor” and “vanquished.” In other words, such “postwar narrative” erases Japan’s imperial traces and colonial “others” from history and thus underpins the amnesia of Empire. Employing a postcolonial approach, my paper challenges the framework of this “postwar narrative.” Differing from conventional historical accounts on democratization in US/Allied-occupied Japan, it begins with the question of how Japan’s “postwar democracy” was forged vis-a-vis the postcolonial Korean population in the former metropole (zainichi Koreans) and their transborder social relations with the Korean peninsula. Moreover, I argue how postimperial/postcolonial encounters between the former colonizers and colonized, besides US-Japan postwar encounters, molded Japan’s post-Empire nation-state building process. I focus particularly on everyday, on-the-ground encounters between the Japanese and zainichi Koreans within this historical conjuncture, in which each was defined by the US respectively as the defeated and liberated nationals. Based on a micro-historical analysis, my paper demonstrates how such postimperial/postcolonial encounters culminated in the reformulation of Japanese colonial racism and the institutional exclusion of zainichi Koreans from Japan’s “postwar democracy."

The Ambiguity of Okinawan-ness and the Politics of Indigeneity
Ayano Ginoza, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

The US military presence in Okinawa is commonly approached as a problem that can be resolved by negotiating with the Japanese or American governments. However, as a colonial space in between US and Japanese Empire, Okinawa exists in a vacuum of sovereignty. Under these conditions, some have turned to an indigenous people’s human rights movement to articulate their identity. Since the first written statement identifying Okinawa as an “indigenous issue” was submitted to the UN Commission on Human rights in 1996, the Association of Indigenous Peoples in the Ryukyus, Citizens’ Diplomatic Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and other scholars have appealed to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This movement is both a strategic political claim to the land, and an effort to construct a legally structured system for Okinawans as an alternative to government under the dictates of a system of sovereign nation-states. Careful not to force Okinawan identity into pre-existing static categories, this paper elucidates the discourse of Okinawan racial and ethnic belonging as an ambivalent site contested by Japan, the US, and the United Nations. Furthermore, this paper embraces the ambivalence of Okinawan-ness as a possible form of resistance that does not look to the state as the ultimate salvation from discrimination. Specifically, through an analysis of documentaries on anti-militarist activists and United Nation documents on racism in Okinawa, this paper will highlight two formulations of Okinawan-ness: 1) As an ethnic/racial minority in Japan; 2) As Uchinanchu (indigenous people).

US Military Bases in Korea: The History of a Massive Cash Cow
Luc Walhain, University of St. Thomas, Canada

The establishment of permanent US military bases in South Korea more than half a century ago has given rise to prostitution, violence and environmental damage. However, a less known corollary of foreign bases is the illegal economies which develop around them. Black marketeering of U.S. Army goods has been so serious at times that top military officials stated that it could even threaten the military preparedness of the USFK. Despite the severity of this bootlegging in Korea, it seems that neither the Korean nor the American governments have resolved to put an end to this transnational trafficking in commodities and human beings while the network of U.S. military bases in Asia has continued to serve as a natural conduit that globalized illegal dealings. Examining the Korean case, this paper argues that US military bases abroad have a powerful neo-liberal agenda which exceeds the traditional focus on the geopolitics of the area, and which further strengthens the framework of American Empire. Local black markets yield economic interests that surpass the immediate profits of the local traffickers, indeed, all the way to Congress, which ensures that U.S. goods continue to be shipped abroad, tariff-free, where their servicemen are stationed. Furthermore, this global analysis is brought to life through a close examination of the micro-relations of power. From the American GI to the unemployed Korean factory worker, regular folks struggle with the limits of improper behavior and difficult socio-economic factors.

Okinawa’s Critique of Transpacific Colonial Reason
Annmaria Shimabuku, University of California, Riverside, USA

Although Okinawa “returned” to state sovereignty in 1972, 75% of all US military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, which only makes up 0.6% of total state territory. Hence, irrespective of the deprivation or recuperation of state sovereignty, Okinawa continues to remain in a “colonial” relationship vis-à-vis the US and Japan. This suggests à la Foucault that “we have to bypass or get around the problem of sovereignty.” In place of the area studies mode of analysis modeled on the postwar configuration of sovereign nation-states, I examine Okinawa’s postcolonial condition in terms of Foucault’s notion of governmentality by focusing on the circulation of intimate transpacific encounters between Okinawans, US military personnel, and Japanese people. Far beyond a political will of the state rooted in notions of “good and evil,” US-Japanese domination of Okinawa is enabled by a supra-national form of transnational governmentality in which the conscientious Japanese anti-military activist (good) and US military rapist (evil) actually complement each other to foreclose the possibility to think about the US-Japan Security Treaty. Rather, as the former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s recently defeated request to have other localities in Japan share the burden of bases revealed, the Japanese people are debilitated from the ability to problematize the Treaty because they neglect to host bases. Instead of use Okinawa’s victimization as the Japanese activist’s evidence of the US trampling on its state sovereignty, I instead show how Okinawa’s oppression is enabled by the inability of the Japanese to perform a “critique” of the Treaty.