By Annie Isabel Fukushima, PhD
On November 25, the Institute for Research on Women, the department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Libraries at Rutgers University will host our first event of three events with regard to “Rethinking the Asia Pivot: Challenging Everyday Militarisms & Bridging Communities of Women.” The first event is an international webinar that brings together activists from Guam, Japan, Mexico, Okinawa, the Philippines, and South Korea. The activists will discuss the impact of militarisms on communities and how they work to build peace and genuine security in their communities. The event is in collaboration with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership to coincide with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.
The United States has had a long interest in the Asia-Pacific. From the illegal annexation of Hawaii (1898), the occupation of the Philippines and Guam (as well as Puerto Rico and Cuba) at the end of the Spanish American War, and the occupation of Japan, South Korea, among other countries during and after World War II. The United States has long been turning towards Asia. Whether it is for economic reasons, as seen in the development of Transpacific Partnerships, or the build up of military bases as seen in Jeju Island or Heneko, Okinawa, the U.S. has interests in Asia. The pivot to Asia is part of the U.S. military strategy to contain China, and this intervention is commonly referred to as the “Asia Pivot.”
As the United States turns to Asia through military might and neoliberal economic maneuvers, what are its implications for the people, the land, and other species in the region?
There are lessons to be learned about military exercises; bombing in the Pacific has rendered Bikini Atoll unlivable. Others compare present-day Guam (or Guahan) to the Bikini Atoll. As people are displaced by military buildup, others are displaced by the environmental side-effects of buildup. And place between the Americas and Asia is a sea of islands with people, species, and land. Places where U.S. citizens settle are not immune. As tourists see places like Hawai`i as a vacation destination, the reality of Hawaii is its history and ongoing presence of the U.S. military that has led to the destruction of indigenous lands from Koho`olawe, to Makua Valley, and Pohakuloa. Indigenous peoples like Terri Keko`olani are speaking out about the human costs, impact on the land, and the rights denied due to military expansion and culture. Military exercises are known to leave behind contaminants such as depleted uranium. And some of the waste has yet to be unburied; Agent Orange was discovered in rusty barrels buried in cities in Okinawa – a legacy that the Vietnam War was not only about Southeast Asia. The health consequences of military contaminants are generational; the Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses has been at the forefront exposing the longterm effects of militarization even after demilitarization; Viequenses exhibit high rates of cancer, hypertension, asthma, cirrhosis, and other respiratory illnesses related to military contamination of environments.
The violence of military cultures is not only environmental, but also has material effects that come to the fore during crises. The International Women’s Network Against Militarism, a network of scholars and activists, was founded in 1997 in response to violence occurring on military bases. In particular, the rape of an Okinawan girl by U.S. military servicemen led to public outcry sparking the birth of an international women’s network to address human rights violations related to military buildup. As Cynthia Enloe has demonstrated, military violence that takes the shape of acts such as rape, cannot be seen as the actions of a “few bad apples.” Instead, sexual violence, rape, and trafficking must be contextualized by race, gender, and nation, that have visual, textual and material effects. Sexual violence has been a long-time concern for activists – from rape of military personnel to civilians; sexual violence is just as present on the frontline as it is on the fenceline of military bases. “Unknowable” numbers paint a picture of the politics surrounding U.S. actions and inactions towards rape, sexual violence, and trafficking – who is to be protected? Who and what is expendable? In fact the 21st century inheritance of war and sexual violence is not only a battle of weapons, but also history and memory. As Japan attempts to sweep its militarized sexual slavery under the rug, what do the visible narratives about U.S. military culture, rape, and (sexual) violence say about us? In 2006 Filipinas organized to raise visibility surrounding the rape by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith. The rape led to media and political discussions surrounding the Visiting Forces Agreement, Philippine sovereignty, gender-based violence, and military cultures. Gendered-base violence, such as the events surrounding rape cannot be disaggregated from the geopolitics of a U.S. turn to Asia as tied to neoliberal policies, military interventions, gendered and national subjectivities, and the transnational flow of people, goods, and ideas, in the region and to the U.S.
To call our event “Rethinking the Asia Pivot,” is to call for new interventions in thinking and practice. Therefore, the inspiration for the events include scholarly thinking and activism, as well as the role of the visual in (re)shaping how one may see (or not see) a military turn to Asia.
In 2013, I received an email regarding Sonoma County Museum’s “Camellia has Fallen.” The exhibit featured the works of artists reflecting on 1948, where the army executed thousands of residents on the island (~60,000) because the island was seen as Communist. From acrylic to video installations the artists uncovered histories of trauma. The exhibit is named for a “1991 painting of red camellias in the snow by South Korean artist Kang Yo Bae, recalling a folk story of the flowers falling like drops of blood in the massacre.” In late 2013, the artists and curators were looking for the next home for the exhibit. Where would these important works travel to next? Why not Rutgers? And so, we were able to bring some of the digital works to Rutgers.
At the time Obama was making plans to visit Asian countries to discuss the Transpacific Partnership, as military buildup continued aon Jeju Island and Okinawa, and rape of military personnel by their peers made regular headline news. What does the turn to Asia mean for the people in Asia and the Pacific? What does it hold for the Americas?
Therefore, in late 2013, I convened a small committee: myself, Suzy Kim (author of Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945 – 1950) and Kayo Denda (head librarian, Margery Somers Foster Center, Douglass Library). We reached out to the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and “Rethinking the Asia Pivot” was born. “Rethinking the Asia Pivot” at Rutgers University is possible due to the solidarity and organizing amongst women of color faculty at Rutgers in service to our community and students.
Our collaboration led us to ask important questions surrounding the Asia pivot: How will the pivot impact Asia and the Americas broadly (and how has it historically impacted the Americas)? How do women, scholars, activists, and political leaders respond to the changing climate of security and increased securitization through the military? What’s at stake for women, human rights, the environment, and nations? What are the health implications of militarisms from environmental impacts to physiological and psychological impacts of living near or on military bases? How are such health impacts gendered? What are the environmental consequences of natural disasters and the subsequent impact of disaster militarism on local communities? What are the generational impacts of military policies – for young people recruited, veterans, their families, local communities and nations?
Through digital works on display, transnational discussions in a webinar, and scholarly and activist discussions in panels, we hope to critically engage together with event participants “rethinking the Asia pivot.” The events comprise of artists, scholars, and activists from Denmark, Guam, Japan, Massachusetts, Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Okinawa, the Philippines, and South Korea. To kick off 16 Days of Activism Campaign, we begin with an international webinar on November 25, 6PM EST. On December 3, films will be screened. The films discuss the ghosts of Jeju that haunt the present, the migrations, dislocations and spectacles produced through the making of the Panama Canal, and the relation between water, sexual economies, and bases in the Philippines. Artist works featured include: Michelle Dizon’s Basing Landscapes, Dalida Maria Benfield’s Hotel Panama, Kakyoung Lee’s Burning Island, The Dawn of Jeju 4.3 by Manamongs, Im Heung Soon’s Sungsi, and Reiterations of Dissent by Jane Jin Kaisen. To rethink the pivot towards Asia requires conversations that bring in history, representation, policy, and practice. Therefore, the finale event occurs on December 4: it is our international symposium featuring Cynthia Enloe as the keynote. Panelists will discuss themes related to history, technology, visuality, narrativity, representation, strategies, policy and violence. To engage with the visual culture of the pivot to Asia, digital works will be on display throughout the entire day.
We invite you to join us during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign to address gendered-violence and human rights.
Please visit: rethinkingasiapivot.com for more information.
Sister events are occurring in New York City, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
Annie Isabel Fukushima is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow with the Institute for Research on Women and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University (2013 – 2015). Dr. Fukushima’s chapters appears in Human Trafficking Reconsidered: Rethinking the Problem, Envisioning New Solutions (2014) edited by sociologists Rhacel Salazar Parrenas and Kimberly Kay Hoang and in Documenting Gendered Violence edited by Lisa Cuklanz and Heather McIntosh. Her work discusses an array of issues on race, gender, and sexuality with regard to trafficking, intimacy, violence, and militarisms. Currently she is revising her manuscript Migrant Crossings.