U.S. MILITARY BASES: Resisting 'sexual terrorists' in Okinawa

Protester at a rally against an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by an American serviceman in Okinawa islands, southwestern Japan. March 23, 2008. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
Protester at a rally against an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl
by an American serviceman in Okinawa islands, southwestern Japan.
March 23, 2008. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

By Rahnuma Ahmed
For the military-industrial complex named the United States, Okinawa is a ‘hub’ for conducting strategic operations throughout the Pacific, but for its residents, US military bases seem to be a hub which harbours ‘sexual terrorists.’
As Okinawan resistance to the US bases lengthens, as our knowledge of the workings of the ‘garrisoning of the globe’ (Chalmers Johnson) deepens, it is not surprising that several authors have likened the US military to the ISIS (or ISIL, Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant).
Matt Pepe writes, ‘One of the strongest condemnations of terrorist groups like ISIS?rightly so?is that they exploit women for sex. Examination of the U.S. military’s history abroad reveals a track record of similar sexual abuse of local women and girls.’ US soldiers had told David Vine, author of Base Nation, that their coworkers had bought women as ‘sex slaves.’
Such information, of course, is hard to come by in the Western mainstream media.
Women’s bodies cemented military alliances
The United States has a global network of 800 military installations around the world; the emergence of the bases were accompanied by the development of ‘commercial sex zones.’ Most of theses bases resemble each other, writes Vine, ‘filled with liquor stores, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlors, bars and clubs, and prostitution in one form or another. The evidence is just outside the gates in places such as Baumholder and Kaiserslautern in Germany, and Kadena and Kin Town in Okinawa.’
When the Second World War came to an end, the behaviour of American troops became a matter of concern. They were behaving ‘as though Koreans were a conquered nation rather than a liberated people.’ Although this eventually led to a ‘hands off Korean women’ policy, it excluded women in brothels, dance halls and those working in the streets. The Japanese had forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Okinawa, rural Japan, and other parts of Asia into sexual slavery, known as the ‘comfort stations’ system. After the US occupied present-day South Korea (1945-1948), American military authorities took over some of the ‘comfort stations’ with the assistance of Korean officials (paradoxically, the issue of ‘comfort women’ is still a contentious issue between the Koreans and the Japanese).
According to a 1965 survey, 85% of GIs either had ‘been with’ or had ‘been out with’ a prostitute. Although the formal system of sexual slavery came to an end after the Second World War, Vine cites an American military chaplain who had commented, ‘Many men have their steadies. Some of them own their girls, complete with hooch [small house] and furniture. Before leaving Korea, they sell the package to a man who is just coming in’ (emphasis in original).
After US military bases were installed in South Korea in the 1950s, settlements known as ‘camptowns’ emerged close by; more than 150,000 Korean women, lacking any other economic alternative, took up sex work. Many of them were later subjected to severe social stigmatisation, and forced into destitution. While some would argue that the ‘supply emerged to meet a market demand’, Pepe caustically notes, military bases are not a product of the free market, they are ‘imposed without consent on communities where they dominate the local economies’ thwarting the ‘possibilities of independent development.’
Camptowns and prostitution were foreign currency-earners for Korea’s cash-strapped, war-ravaged economy, writes Vine; government documents reveal South Korean officials strategising on how to ‘encourage GIs to spend their money on women in Korea rather than Japan’ during their official leave, on offering classes in basic English and etiquette to women. Aeran Kim, a former sex worker recalls, ‘They urged us to sell as much as possible to the GI’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots.’ Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military.’
Another sex-worker, who refused to be identified, said, ‘Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.’
Okinawa as America’s ‘strategic frontier’
Okinawa Island (part of the larger Ryukyu Islands group) was described by Douglas Mac Arthur, the famous five-star general of the US Army, as the ‘island-bastion’ of America’s ‘strategic frontier‘ on the eastern coast of the Asian continent.
The presence of hundreds of military bases had marked the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) after its defeat in the Second World War. These were closed down after the normalisation of relations on the condition that their functions would be transferred to Okinawa. Mainland Japan had agreed; since then, Okinawa has borne the brunt of serving American and Japanese strategic interests.
Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, Tokyo?all lie within a 1500 kilometre radius, ‘If there is a trouble spot in the Pacific and the Department of Defense needs to move forces quickly, Okinawa [has] the facilities to support that response’ (globalsecurity.org).
Okinawa, which is only 0.6% of the land mass of Japan, hosts 75% of all US bases in the country. Of the 32 military bases located on the Ryukyu Islands, 20 are on the main island of Okinawa, occupying 20% of the island; there are also 48 restricted air and ocean training sites on the island. Almost half of US forces, nearly 26,000 military personnel, are stationed in Okinawa.
The Kadena Air Base was used for B-29 bombing missions during the Korean War (1950-1953); it was a major staging area throughout the Vietnam War (1955-1975); troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s; weapons used in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq were stored and transported from Okinawa’s military bases.
One thousand nuclear warheads were deployed in Okinawa; this was acknowledged (and removed) only before the US returned Okinawa to Japan, after a 22-year long US occupation (1950-1972). But since US military presence remained intact, the occupation of Okinawa continues. As Richard Falk puts it, it is a colony in a post-colonial era, subjugated to ‘pursuing the Asian strategic interests of the United States.’
A ‘sordid history’ and ‘deepest regrets’
It was September 4, 1995, about 8:00 pm. A 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl was abducted by two Marines (Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, and Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20) and a Navy Seaman (Marcus D. Gill, 22).
According to Harp’s attorney, Mitsonobu Matsunaga, the three men went out to buy sex but decided on rape instead ‘because one of them did not have enough money’ (www.latimes.com, October 28, 1995).
Gill had rented a car, he picked up Harp, Ledet and another servicemen, after having lunch, they drove around all afternoon, but when Gill spoke of rape, the fourth man declined and left the group. Harp and Ledet had nearly $30, but Gill said he was broke, and anyway, paid sex was ‘no fun.’ He proposed rape. He had come prepared with duct tape and condoms.
When the three servicemen saw a Japanese girl wearing a school uniform with a bag of books, they stopped the car, pulled her inside, put her in the back seat, taped her mouth and eyes, and bound her hands and legs. They drove to a secluded field, parked the car, Gill, who was described as a ‘tank’?6 feet tall, weighing 260-270 pounds?got out, and went into the back seat. He ”violently’ beat the struggling schoolgirl, telling her to ‘let me do what I want to do.”
The victim insisted on reporting it to the police, she didn’t want it to happen to another girl. The incident provoked the largest demonstration against US military bases in the history of Okinawa, drawing nearly 100,000 protestors.
The US invoked Article 17 of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) regarding jurisdiction over US military personnel, and refused to surrender the three suspects to the Japanese authorities. It led protestors to demand that the two governments revise the security treaty, and the SOFA; some argued for their cancellation.
The commander of US forces in the Pacific Admiral Richard C. Macke told defence writers, ‘For the price they paid to rent the car they could have had a girl.’
More recently, the Associated Press (AP) obtained more than 1,000 internal Department of Defense documents, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents, detailing investigations of sex crimes from 2005 to early 2013, involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, reveal a ‘sordid history.’ ‘[M]ost offendors were not incarcerated, suspects received light punishments after being accused of serious violations, and victims increasingly were wary of cooperating with investigators’ (www.capitolhillblue.com, February 9, 2014).
Light punishments were ‘non-judicial penalties’, ranging from offendors being ‘fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or [being] removed from the military.’ In 30 cases, only a letter of reprimand was issued. In 46 Marine, and 22 Navy, cases, personnel who had initially been accused of a ‘violent sex crime’  were punished for nonviolent or nonsexual offenses, such as, assault, failure to obey, adultery, having sex in barracks and fraternization. In two rape cases, the charges were dropped after the commanders overruled recommendations for courts martial. In sum, allegations were handled chaotically, and judgments were ‘random.’
The documents also show a pattern found in US bases elsewhere, US troops who ‘commit sexual assaults are most likely to abuse their fellow troops.’
US president Barack Obama’s official visit to Japan in May 2016 was overshadowed by the slaying of an Okinawan woman, Rina Shimabukuro, by a former US marine and current civilian worker, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato. Obama offered his ‘sincere condolences and deepest regrets.’
Media reports of the AP investigation led USA’s elected representatives to insist on the need for ‘further changes in the military’s legal system.’ It caused military officials to reiterate that ‘numerous changes [were being made to] military law and policy’ to ensure that allegations would be taken ‘seriously’, that the perpetrators would be ‘punished’.
‘Sensitivity training’ or structural violence?
A women’s movement demanding peace, human rights, and demilitarisation was formed in September 1995 after the rape of the 12-year-old scholgirl. The Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence (OWAAMV) has concentrated on analysing the consequences of ‘long-term active foreign military occupation.’
Kozue Akibayashi and Suzuyo Takazato write, the mainland Japanese media regularly ask OWAAMV, what are the statistics of sexual crimes committed by US soldiers in Okinawa. To which they say, no official statistics of sex crimes by US soldiers are available of the period of US occupation. Social stigma generally prevents victimised women from speaking up, hence, official statistics ‘reflect only the tip of the iceberg.’
The US military’s history of sexual violence in Okinawa has been pieced together by the OWAAMV from hospital records, police reports, newspaper articles and oral histories of victims and survivors. The seventh revision of their ongoing research documents ‘around 300 cases of different sorts of assaults against women and girls, including cases of gang rape, attempted rape, abduction, and murder.’
Their research reveals that preparation for war intensifies gender-based military violence. During World War II and the Korean War, ‘women experienced rampant and indiscriminate military violence’, for instance, a group of 2-6 soldiers would abduct a woman at gun- or knifepoint; they would gangrape her, and often give her to other groups of soldiers for more gangrape; soldiers would not hesitate to kill or severely injure those who tried to help the victims.
During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, violence was aimed at women working in the sex industry, rape cases were ‘rampant’, 3-4 women were strangled to death each year.
Military violence against women in various forms increased in intensity when troops stationed in Okinawa were deployed to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s. The September 11 attacks in 2001 also ‘brought direct changes to the military violence against women in Okinawa.’ As did the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ‘crimes committed by US soldiers have increased or become more brutal.’
Akibayashi and Takazato emphasise, the military is a violence-producing institution, it is inextricably linked to sexual and gender violence. Soldiers, especially marines, are prepared to engage in life and death combat, they are trained ‘to maximize their capacity to attack and destroy an ‘enemy’, a dehumanized other.’ Denigrating women is intrinsic to much military training. ‘Pent-up feelings of frustration, anger, and aggression that soldiers acquire from combat training and experiences are often vented against women in their base locality, a reflection of misogyny and racial discrimination.’
Is a change in military culture possible? Takazato doesn’t think so, ‘Military violence is not random.’ Gwyn Kirk of the International Women’s Network Against Militarism agrees, it is not a workplace issue, nor is it about the abuse of power by higher-ups. ‘Soldiers are trained to kill. This means seeing ‘others’ as foreign or less-than-human, even those from allied nations like Japan.’
Gender, masculinity, national chauvinism and racism intersect, violently so. As Okinawan women say of US trooops abusing their coworkers, ‘If they do this to their own colleagues no wonder they do it to us.’ And therefore, US military women seeking justice for sexual violence committed against them, must remember that they are ‘part of a superpower with 1,000 bases overseas.’ If they seek gains, they must include women who are outside those bases, they too, ‘must be part of this conversation.’
Military violence is structural. Legal reforms, or talk of changing military culture, of imparting gender sensitivity training to troops, will not do.
Another definition of ‘security’
The question is, whose security does the military provide? ‘We have the US-Japan Security Treaty, but it doesn’t protect us. We demand another definition of security,’ says Takazato.
A re-definiton of security involves the dismantling of American military bases, and the end of the US occupation of Okinawa.

Black Tsunami: Japan 2011

A photo book “Black Tsunami” by James Whitlow Delano documenting the devastation of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, published by FotoEvidence

  • ?Launched:?Apr 15, 2013
  • ?Funding ends:?May 15, 2013
“We started north from Tokyo at three in the morning, in a rented mini-van loaded with jerry cans of extra fuel, drinking water and food, all of which would be in short supply. We crossed to the Sea of Japan coast of Honshu because of rumors about an imminent nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
There would be an explosion at Fukushima Daiichi later that day which would deposit a massive amount of nuclear fallout on the ground, creating a nuclear no-man’s land, but we were unaware of the severity of the situation on the other side of the island, as we were focused on getting over to Iwate Prefecture safely.? By the next morning rain had turned to snow. In the center of the island gasoline was being rationed and lines of cars stretched for kilometers.? Supply lines in Japan for everything, including food and bottled water, were already breaking down.? In fact, we had to abandon the mini-van and hire a taxi that used propane for the lack of gasoline.? The snow intensified in the tsunami zone. I wanted to climb right out of the taxi window, so intense was the desire to record the unthinkable.? Still, we had little notion that life in Japan would never be the same again.?
James Whitlow Delano,?an American photojournalist who has lived in Japan for 20 years, captured conditions immediately following the Tohoku tsunami and has been back several times to record the eerie emptiness of the contaminated no-entry zone and the conditions facing displaced people.
FotoEvidence?is partnering with James to produce a hard copy book of his work, ?Black Tsunami: Japan 2011,? a beautiful but haunting portrait of the devastation left by the great tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and caused the nuclear meltdown that has permanently displaced tens of thousands. James? images of farms and villages in the exclusion zone show an uninhabited landscape where ancestral graves lie in neglect, where pets and livestock have been left to perish, and massive mountains of contaminated debris have become permanent features of the landscape. He takes us to the shelters where displaced families huddle around heaters for warmth and struggle with understanding their uncertain future.

An ocean going ship sits where it came to rest in the debris of the great 25m high (82 ft.) tsunami that hit Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture following the massive earthquake that struck under the sea off of Japan.
An ocean going ship sits where it came to rest in the debris of the great 25m high (82 ft.) tsunami that hit Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture following the massive earthquake that struck under the sea off of Japan.
This formidable tsunami wall was not enough to halt the black wave that hit this village after the biggest earthquake in Japan's recorded history, Toni, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. The tsunami was 25m (82 ft.) high, though residents here claim that it was 30
This formidable tsunami wall was not enough to halt the black wave that hit this village after the biggest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history, Toni, Iwate Prefecture, Japan. The tsunami was 25m (82 ft.) high, though residents here claim that it was 30
Cherry blossoms have open on a tree that seems to rise right out of the rubble. Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.
Cherry blossoms have open on a tree that seems to rise right out of the rubble. Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, Japan.
Once a great pine forest of 70,000 trees, covered the oceanfront at Takata Matsubara until the 11 March 2011 tsunami swept through decimating them all. Now the sea under cuts the roots beneath their stumps, giving them an other worldly appearance. Rikuzen
Once a great pine forest of 70,000 trees, covered the oceanfront at Takata Matsubara until the 11 March 2011 tsunami swept through decimating them all. Now the sea under cuts the roots beneath their stumps, giving them an other worldly appearance. Rikuzen

The Book
?Black Tsunami: Japan 2011? will be an important book because the Tohoku tsunami and subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have had a profound effect on the Japanese psyche. James’ work reveals a deep appreciation for the beauty of Japan and profound compassion for those whose lives have been devastated by both the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown it provoked. The book is designed by Mark Weinberg, whose recent work for FotoEvidence was recognized as one of the best books for 2011 by Photo Eye.The hard cover, black and white book will be printed using a four color process at?Ofset Yapimev?in Istanbul.
The iPad version of “Black Tsunami: Japan 2011” (FotoEvidence) took the bronze medal in the digital book category at PX3 in 2012.
Afterword by Bill Emmott
The afterword in the book is written by?Bill Emmott, former editor of of?The Economist, the world’s leading weekly on international current affairs, now an independent writer and consultant on international affairs, who writes regular columns for?The Times?in Britain and?La Stampa?in Italy.
From the afterword
“An outsider?s memory is of little importance compared with the memories of the people of Tohoku, and of the rest of Japan, for they will not forget March 11th for centuries, if ever. But it is nevertheless important to share those Japanese memories, in however small a way, to maintain a sense of solidarity, of understanding, and above all of our human vulnerability in the face of nature?s force.”
From James Delano dedication
“This book is dedicated to the people whose lives were lost, or continue to be disrupted because of the Black Tsunami.?This natural event created a cleavage in Japanese history and in my life here in Japan. It has truly been a ?Year Zero?. To stand on solid ground and look up to third floor windows or higher impaled by trees, has forever cemented my sense of humility and awe for the forces of nature. A lot of people, young and old, weak and strong, needlessly lost their lives that day. I think about them, especially when walking through the cities where they once lived along one of the most beautiful coastlines on the planet.”
Links to the Black Tsunami project

Fukuoka Asian Art Museum Residency

Open Call for 2013 Residence Programs!
Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM) has conducted Artist, Researcher/ Curator in Residence Program annually.
The program invites Asian artists and researchers or curators for an extended period of time to Fukuoka to present a range of interactive programs such as workshops and lectures together with the invitees. The application will be accepted from 1 July to until 31 October 2012.
More information @;

Application Guidelines
Open Call for residence programs for 2013
Open Call for residence programs for 2013! Artists and researchers/curators will be selected from 21 countries/region in Asia. The program will be placing even more importance on ?exchange? with the museum visitors and local community through a creative channel of art.
  • Number of Participants to be Selected:
    4 artists (1st and 2nd period)
    2 researchers/curators (3rd period)
  • Countries/ Region Applicable:
    Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
  • Residency Period:
    1st period: 15 May to 23 July 2013 (70 days)
    2nd period: 11 September to 19 November 2013 (70 days)
    3rd period: 15 January to 25 March 2014 (42 days max in this period)
  • Applications are Accepted between:
    1 July to 31 August 2012
For more information, please refer to the following pages.
Researchers/ Curators


Lost & Found: 3.11 Photographs from Fukushima

Exhibition at Hiroshi Watanabe Studio in Los Angeles (c) Lost & Found Project

This month of March brought the passing of the one-year anniversary of the devastating tsunami which hit the coast of Japan in 2011, laying waste much of the region, in some cases washing away entire villages and causing upwards of 20,000 deaths. Since the disaster, relief efforts came in a variety of forms, but one which humanizes the numerical abstraction of the death toll stuck out in particular.
In the current?Aperture?magazine issue?206, photography critic and independent curator?Mariko Takeuchi?writes:

In the cities, towns, and village affected by the disaster, a vast number of personal photographs were salvaged, pulled from underneath rubble and mud by all sorts of people. They were discolored by saltwater and covered with dirt; some were misshapen or even emitted foul odors. With very few exceptions, it was impossible to identify the people who had made the photographs, their subjects, or their owners?if indeed they were still alive.

What began as a small community effort has turned into the?Memory Salvage Project, a volunteer organization that has to date recovered and begun restoring 750,000 lost family photographs.

  • Slide2

?Restoration is not just a matter of infrastructure,? Professor Kuniomi Shibata, head of the Memory Salvage Project, says in a?video?for Discovery Channel, ?There are other important things.?
Snapshots were cleaned, numbered and digitized one by one with the help of volunteers who came from all over Japan. At least?20,000 photographs, and?13,000 photo albums have been returned to their owners. Several thousand other images abstracted by natural disaster have been assembled into an evocative and visually stunning traveling exhibition which has been on view in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and is now coming to New York.
Photographer?Munemasa?Takahashi, one of the leaders of the project?tells?New Yorker?sPhotobooth why the images on view are so powerful:

After the disaster occurred, the first thing the people who lost their loved ones and houses came to look for was their photographs? Only humans take moments to look back at their pasts, and I believe photographs play a big part in that. This exhibit makes us think of what we have lost, and what we still have to remember about our past.

Lost & Found: 3.11 Photographs from Fukushima?will be on view at Aperture?Monday, April 2, 2012 ? Friday, April 27, 2012.
Aperture Gallery and Bookstore
547 W. 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 505-5555

4th January 2005: People returning to their destroyed homes near the wreckage of the train near Tsunami victims near Hikkaduwa, try to salvage precious items. Photo albums were the most commonly collected items. Family members look at a wedding album. Sri Lanka Tsunami. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World


Meanwhile, In Bangladesh…

Subscribe to ShahidulNews


Sayed Asif Mahmud channels Moriyama for an expressive view of his city and country

By Dan Abbe on October 20, 2011Expand

From “My City of Unheard Prayers”
The work of?Sayed Asif Mahmud is my first exposure to the photography culture of Bangladesh, but it’s certainly given me the desire to explore further. Although these technically rough photos would probably make your high school photography teacher wince, they?re not the result of carelessness. In fact, they can be placed within a larger tradition of messy black-and-white snapshot photographers like Daido Moriyama and Antoine D’Agata. But let’s leave aside these figures for the moment, and look at Asif Mahmud’s work on its own.

From “My City of Unheard Prayers”

There are a few different series on Asif Mahmud’s site, but I’m particularly interested in “My City Of Unheard Prayers,” a series of photographs taken at night which seems to boil his work down into its most basic elements. He’s using light and shadow (also the title of?a Moriyama book) in a very primal way. The light in the frame usually doesn’t show us any “thing,” but rather a texture, or an opening, or a reflection. We could say that the photograph showing a man’s face the most clear, in that there is a proper subject to look at. But even in this photo, it’s difficult to focus on his face, instead of the haze which shrouds it. What can the shot of cars on wet cement tell us? It looks like they’re only there to illuminate the scar-like texture of the road, which holds the image together.

From “My City of Unheard Prayers”

Some part of me knows that these photographs don’t represent what Dhaka is “actually like.” ?My City Of Unheard Prayers? presents a highly stylized vision, which is what allows me to imagine that a road could have a scar in the first place. It is possible to say that this gritty, high-contrast black-and-white style has already been done to pieces by Moriyama and others–Asif Mahmud has a?dog photo to match?Moriyama’s most famous shot. This would miss the point, though. The style itself is accessible to anyone with a camera and film. (This does actually exclude a great number of people.) If we think of the style as a kind of language, spoken by Moriyama, D’Agata and others, Asif Mahmud has developed his own vocabulary–or, you know, “found his voice,” if you prefer. It makes the rest of his work, which includes a series about thetobacco trade in Bangladesh, all the more compelling.
[via?Mrs. Deane]

From “My City of Unheard Prayers”

Dan Abbe is a writer and photographer working in Tokyo. He writes a blog about Japanese photography,?Street Level Japan. On Twitter he’s?@d_abbe. Syed Asif Mahmud is a Pathshala alumni

The novelist in wartime

By Haruki Murakami
In this powerful speech, the great author explains his controversial decision to accept a literary prize in Israel and why we need to fight the System.
I have come to Jerusalem today as a novelist, which is to say as a professional spinner of lies. Of course, novelists are not the only ones who tell lies. Politicians do it, too, as we all know. Diplomats and military men tell their own kinds of lies on occasion, as do used car salesmen, butchers and builders. The lies of novelists differ from others, however, in that no one criticizes the novelist as immoral for telling lies. Indeed, the bigger and better his lies and the more ingeniously he creates them, the more he is likely to be praised by the public and the critics. Why should that be?
My answer would be this: Namely, that by telling skillful lies — which is to say, by making up fictions that appear to be true — the novelist can bring a truth out to a new location and shine a new light on it. In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth lies within us. This is an important qualification for making up good lies.
Today, however, I have no intention of lying. I will try to be as honest as I can. There are a few days in the year when I do not engage in telling lies, and today happens to be one of them.
So let me tell you the truth. In Japan a fair number of people advised me not to come here to accept the Jerusalem Prize. Some even warned me they would instigate a boycott of my books if I came. The reason for this, of course, was the fierce battle that was raging in Gaza. The U.N. reported that more than a thousand people had lost their lives in the blockaded Gaza City, many of them unarmed citizens — children and old people.
Any number of times after receiving notice of the award, I asked myself whether traveling to Israel at a time like this and accepting a literary prize was the proper thing to do, whether this would create the impression that I supported one side in the conflict, that I endorsed the policies of a nation that chose to unleash its overwhelming military power. This is an impression, of course, that I would not wish to give. I do not approve of any war, and I do not support any nation. Neither, of course, do I wish to see my books subjected to a boycott.
Finally, however, after careful consideration, I made up my mind to come here. One reason for my decision was that all too many people advised me not to do it. Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me — and especially if they are warning me — “Don’t go there,” “Don’t do that,” I tend to want to “go there” and “do that.” It’s in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.
And that is why I am here. I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing.
Please do allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:
“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?
What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them.
This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: it is “the System.” The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others — coldly, efficiently, systematically.
I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on the System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist’s job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories — stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.
My father died last year at the age of 90. He was a retired teacher and a part-time Buddhist priest. When he was in graduate school, he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in China. As a child born after the war, I used to see him every morning before breakfast offering up long, deeply felt prayers at the Buddhist altar in our house. One time I asked him why he did this, and he told me he was praying for the people who had died in the battlefield. He was praying for all the people who died, he said, both ally and enemy alike. Staring at his back as he knelt at the altar, I seemed to feel the shadow of death hovering around him.
My father died, and with him he took his memories, memories that I can never know. But the presence of death that lurked about him remains in my own memory. It is one of the few things I carry on from him, and one of the most important.
I have only one thing I hope to convey to you today. We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called the System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong — and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.
Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow the System to exploit us. We must not allow the System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made the System. That is all I have to say to you.

The Price for "Progress"

Subscribe to ShahidulNews



Shinzo Hanabusa is yet another artist to be featured in the upcoming festival of photography, Chobi Mela III. Hanabusa’s work on Japanese farmers provides a fascinating insight into the cost of ‘progress’, in a nation like Japan.
The Second World War had adversely affected farming in Japan. I began producing a documentary on farming in 1962. The farmers were not getting a fair price for their milk. Then Japan started importing powder milk and things got really bad. In 1966 I heard rumours that the farmers in Akita were setting up a resistance movement. Following newspaper leads I went over to the locality. I was very upset, when I saw them throw the milk from the bridge as a sign of protest, at the fact that they had been reduced to this. But a big publication, Ewanami Shoten, printed the photograph and it helped turn things around a bit, so I felt good afterwards. I have since become known as ‘The Milk Photographer’. I hope the publication of this photograph in Southern Exposure helps farmers around the world get a fair price for their produce.
Shinzo Hanabusa, Japan