The photo featured above is in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the only structure left standing after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to remind people of the horrors of nuclear warfare.
I recently visited Japan traveling all over the country to give presentations on my military experience as well as my anti-war organizing work. A total of 8 days (10 days if you include traveling!) visiting the country, speaking at various high schools and universities. Japan has been militarizing their country more and more in the past 2 years after changing their “interpretation” of their famous Article 9, also considered their “Peace Constitution”, which has kept Japan out of war for several decades. The Japanese people are extremely interested in the experiences of Post-911 veterans of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Veterans can give them a warning of what’s to come if they continue their militarizing efforts.
The funds for my travel was raised by a local high school teacher at Japan’s incredibly famous Doshisha University. Doshisha is one of Japan’s oldest private institutions which provides education from elementary school all the way up to graduate studies. The teacher who organized this trip attended a presentation given by veterans who previously traveled to Japan in November for both 2015 and 2016. Mike Hanes (Force Recon Marine) and Rory Fanning (Army Ranger) traveled Japan speaking about their experiences of war as well as speaking about America’s recent conflicts since 9/11. Rory has written excellent pieces about their trips, which you can read here and here.
The teacher was so impressed that she wanted more veterans to come speak, so she raised the funds to get me to go during the summer. This trip was also organized by an associate member of Veterans For Peace, Rachel Clark. Without Rachel, who organized, interpreted, and spoke with me, this trip would have never happened. I owe her a debt of gratitude for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to chaperone me around the country, attending to my needs as a foreigner.
Here is a snapshot of what my tour consisted of:
-Doshisha University at Kyoto
-Waseda University at Tokyo (YouTube link to my presentation)
-Civil Society at Fukui (Spoke with an anti-nuclear attorney)
-Attended a presentation by nationwide famous reporter Isoko Mochizuki (She’s been exposing the Japanese weapons industry and government corruption, also exposing sexual violence within Japan’s government)
-Visit to Kyoto’s Museum for World Peace Ritsumeikan University
-Doshisha University at Kyoto (Second time)
-Visit to Hiroshima’s memorials and Peace Center
For an 8 day trip, my schedule was packed. Long days of traveling from city to city, hotel to hotel, and from event to event. But it was all worth it. When I spoke to Doshisha University, I spoke twice to about 140 students each time. Every time I spoke, I always asked the audience if they knew about many U.S. military bases are in their country. Of course, they had no idea that 122 American bases own parts of Japan with most of it in Okinawa. You can find the list of bases in Japan on page DoD-6 of the 2015 Base Structure Report. To be fair, most Americans have no idea how many military bases the Pentagon operates around the world, let alone the countries they are bombing.
At Waseda University, I did not speak to students. The audience was mainly concerned citizens and peace activists. I participated in a symposium with some very famous journalists, who I would call ‘peace journalists’. They have been spending the past decade exposing the lies and corruption behind Japan’s involvement in Iraq. Yes, Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) did go to Iraq. The Japanese government told their citizens that the SDF was only providing water and building roads for Iraqis, this is a complete lie. After watching videos and listening to the presentations by the journalists, they provided ample evidence that the SDF were not building any roads and barely provided any water to Iraqis. Instead, they uncovered over 15,000 pages of “journals”, or what we would call government documents, which showed that the SDF was in fact collecting intelligence for the coalitions forces in Iraq.
One of the speakers that I most remember is Maki Sato. Mr. Sato has been traveling to Iraq frequently since 2002 providing real services to the Iraqi people. Through his organization Jim-Net he brings the Iraqi people heating and air conditioners, clean water filters, medical supplies, and much much more. It brought me so much hope to see ordinary Japanese citizens going out of their way to bring the Iraqi people real help, real peace. Here are some photos of his presentation that show him in Iraq providing necessary materials to make life easier:
One journalist, Takeharu Watai, spoke about the infrastructure in Iraq, showing what Iraq looked like before and after the 2003 invasion. Mr. Watai spoke about where Iraq gets its food today, its current infrastructure, and displaying a strong will of the Iraqi people just trying to live ordinary lives: starting businesses, selling vegetables, and yes even operating liquor stores! He even hurt his leg and still continued his reporting.
I then spoke at a community center organized by the Civil Society in Fukui. Many in attendance were anti-nuclear activists. One mother I met had moved to Fukui to leave the Tokyo area after the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor meltdown in 2011. But she only later learned about Fukui’s dependence on nuclear reactors. Fukui has 780,000 people that lives off of 4 nuclear power plants, 15 nuclear reactors in total. The citizens of Fukui are very concerned about nuclear power but also nuclear weapons. They know that if WW3 ever broke out, they would be one of the first places to be targeted as it is littered with nuclear reactors as well as residing on the west coast of Japan, a very easy target. But they also understand that countries like North Korea, China, or Russia wouldn’t be the first to attack. So they were very concerned about what America has been doing because the Pentagon’s actions could cause the break out of a nuclear war, ultimately ending their way of life. With Japan’s history of atomic bomb droppings and the Fukushima meltdown, they have much to be concerned about.
One of the keynote speakers was Hiroshi Shimada, an anti-nuclear attorney who graduated from Tokyo University (Japanese equivalent to Harvard). Mr. Shimada spoke about the importance of the Article 9 of Japan’s Peace Constitution. He reminded everyone that laws are for the people and the Constitution is for the government. The Preamble, the purpose of the constitution, is to keep peace in Japan while reminding the Japanese people of the bloodshed of war, to denounce war as an instrument of foreign policy, and to provide basic human rights. Article 9 forbids the use of force as a means to settling international disputes. The Peace Constitution came into effect in May of 1947, but immediately after the Korean War broke out in 1950 Japan began their path from a self defense force to a standing army. Since then, the SDF hasn’t been allowed to deployed overseas for military purposes. Of course, the SDF has been to Iraq which the government claims was for humanitarian purposes but after my trip I learned they were actually collecting intelligence, a violation of Article 9. And in 2014, the Japanese government officially changed their interpretation of Article 9 allowing SDF forces to be deployed for military purposes. So in the future, if the Pentagon wants Japanese forces to deploy with American military forces, they can now do so. This makes it a much more dangerous place in East Asia, especially considering Japan’s past imperial wars and policies like the colonization of Korea or the entire Second World War in the Pacific. In fact, South Koreans are more worried about Japan’s militarization than anything else, with nearly 60 percent viewing Japan as a military threat to their country.
I had the opportunity to listen to journalist and reporter Isoko Mochizuki who has recently become a phenomenon in Japan. Ms. Mochizuki is known to ask hard hitting questions to authority figures. She has been exposing the weapons industry in Japan, revealing sexual violence within the Japanese government, and uncovering collusion between media and government. She told stories of her hiding out in parks waiting for government officials to come out of buildings, who were actively avoiding her, and then she would rush in and question them without any hesitation and forcing them to give her answers. She is a true inspiration. We need more reporters like her all around world.
I visited the Kyoto Museum of World Peace, Ritsumeikan University. The peace museum covered every war since WW2, which you can imagine to be quite extensive. It’s focus was on WW2. I was so happy to learn that on the second floor of the museum they ask visitors the question, “What is peace, really”? The explained some statistics of poverty and starvation around the world, showing images of children in poverty all around the world. The museum would ask again, how can you really have peace when children are starving all over the world? I was relieved to see that Japanese professors and activists were pushing for answers that go well beyond the Article 9 Peace Constitution. After all, peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice.
Finally at the end of my tour I had the chance to visit Hiroshima. I really didn’t know what to expect. It turned out that the area where American forces dropped an Atomic Bomb on August 6th, 1945 has completely been transformed into an absolutely gorgeous park. We visited the iconic Hiroshima Memorial to pay our respects, but also to drop a banner!
Hiroshima was a beautiful city. People are living out their lives as naturally as possible, but always with the will for a nuclear-free world in the back of their minds. Many Atomic Bomb survivors are still alive and you can find events of them speaking throughout the city. Of all the places I visited, Hiroshima had the most foreigners walking around. It’s become a hot destination spot for tourists. I saw many families and visitors from all over the world.
I want to stress the importance of a particular part of the park that gets overlooked. Of course, the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) but many Koreans were killed in that tragic and unnecessary event. Remember, Japan had colonized Korea from 1905-1945. In that time, many Koreans were either forced to Japan or traveled there for work due to lack of opportunities in Korea. The Hiroshima bombing killed over 20,000 Koreans. There still exists a huge issue with the Japanese and American governments recognizing these Korean workers who were slaughtered by American forces. After fighting for recognition for a decade and a half, the Japanese government finally allowed for a Korean Memorial to be placed at the Hiroshima park. It wasn’t established until 1970. The Korean Memorial doesn’t even exist near the iconic Hiroshima Memorial. It resides on the opposite side of the park.
If you didn’t know by now, I am half Korean. I lived in South Korea as kid for four years, even before I came to the U.S. It was of great importance for me to visit this site and pay my respects to my ancestors who suffered under Japanese colonization as well as American violence. Being that I was in the U.S. military, I felt even more responsible for visiting. How could I have participated in an institution that continues to this day to oppress the Korean people? Well, I was born on an American military base in West Germany and have lived on military bases my whole life. My entire family has been in the U.S. military. I even participated in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The U.S. military has literally been my entire life. It’s all I’ve ever known. This doesn’t justify my participation in an institution responsible for the death of millions of people around the world, the current bombs being dropped in seven countries, or the past 17 years of war in the middle east. It’s just my life. But luckily I’ve awaken from this brutal, violent machine and I’ll dedicate the rest of my life trying to destroy it. America is the current empire of the world and there is no such thing as a ‘good empire’. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nuclear bomb, a conventional bomb, or a bullet. It all kills, and it all comes from empires. We need to end the idea of an empire or it will end us.