[Heartfelt thank you]
From mid September through early October, we were able to conduct the 2023 VFP Peace Speaking Tour in Okinawa and Japan, thanks to many individual supporters across the U.S./Japan, and the following organizations: VFP National and various chapters, Samuel Lawrence Foundation, and WILPF, in addition to numerous Japanese local civil society's peace organizations, environmental organizations, media groups, educational institutions, educators' groups, etc....
[Introducing this year’s speakers]
From the U.S. Pat Elder joined as a speaker for the entire tour. Jenny Pacanowski joined our events via Zoom at three venues. Matt Hoh provided us with two amazing videos which shaped the nature and purpose of this year's tour. Also, Ken'ichi Narikawa, a co-representative of VFP Japan Chapter, joined most of our destinations as a veteran speaker.
[Our tour itinerary and what we gained from this tour]
Okinawa (including 2 remote islands) - Yokosuka - Kitakyushu - Nagasaki - Sasebo - Hiroshima - Iwakuni - Tokushima - Nishinomiya (Kobe) - Kyoto - Kyotango - Komatsu - Kaga - Nakano, Tokyo ( in three weeks)
Many of you are likely to be recipients of Pat's email newsletters. If not, you can email him at email@example.com and he will add your email address to his global list. Throughout the tour, he tirelessly produced reports for each location that described the threat posed to human health and the environment by per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The Japanese, until now – have been hesitant to cover the role of the US and Japanese military in the use of these toxins and how they are ingested by people.
The tiny amount of coverage in the Japanese media regarding PFAS use by the military (until now) has been limited to a discussion of their use in firefighting foams, the occasional accidents, and their impact on drinking water. We changed the dynamic! We were successful in attracting important front-page coverage throughout the country that focused on Pat’s message that these chemicals are used in a host of military activities – from engine cleaning - to wire coating - to chrome plating and that the toxins are regularly allowed to empty into surface waters and waste water treatment plants that are not equipped to remove the chemicals.
The entire time we stressed that the situation has been caused by the callous and irresponsible attitude of the US and Japanese military. We explained that this is the result of unchecked militarism while Japan is intent on substantially increasing the size of its military.
Jenny's courageous talk on her during-and-post-military experiences encouraged and empowered many people both young/old and male/female in Japan. Her explanations destroyed people’s preconceived notions regarding military service provided by the Japanese media and government.
I was very pleased to get to know VFP Japan's new member and a former Japan Self Defense Forces Army Sergeant, Mayumi Uozumi who had a powerful and deeply emotional exchange with Jenny, is a gifted speaker not only as a female veteran but also as a young mother who has protested against the incineration of radio-active rubble from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.
For the first time, I was able to meet Mr. Kazuaki Harada in person. For many decades, Mr. Harada has been studying Agent Orange and other toxic materials produced in Japan, and stored or discarded secretly in various spots across Japan. Mr. Harada helped us to find a place to sample water in Kokura, Kita-kyushu, one of the most polluted places in Japan. Ken'ichi, a former SDF Navy Lt. Commander, was deployed to Okinawa as well as Djibouti in Africa among many other places during his duty.
This is a very sensitive business for us – as U.S. citizens, to criticize the newly constructed SDF bases in remote islands in Okinawa, considering the strong push from the Pentagon. Together with the twin bases in Korea (Jeju) and Okinawa (Henoko), these new SDF bases are part of a U.S. geo-strategic plan to contain China. We had to be careful to avoid any comments which might invite criticism as"meddling Japan's domestic matters." This explains why we are so grateful for Ken'ich's opinion from a Japanese veteran's perspective. He can say it! He has a kind of magic with the audiences he addressed throughout the country.
Prior to the speaking tour in Japan, I traveled from Maine to Florida as an interpreter, accompanying a TV director and a cameraman from Okinawa TV. This trip was confirmed only two weeks prior to their visit to the U.S. In this extremely short preparation time frame, Pat helped me hook them up to do interviews with leaders in the fight against the military’s PFAS contamination. They filmed Pat and me in Maryland taking a sample of contaminated water near a military base. While we were in Japan they filmed us again - taking a sample of contaminated water near a military base. It was great because both events ran on the same newscast.
Here are two segments produced by Okinawa TV. You can set your YouTube screen for automatic "English translation."
Here is some video footage of our events:
At the venue in Nakano, Tokyo:
Part 1: https://youtu.be/bl4vJzPP4_8?si=tvn5fQKowu9F6WtB
(Talk between Ken'ichi & Rachel, who translates for Pat what Ken'ichi's talking)
Part 2: https://youtu.be/T3Gmcx4klnY?si=PN3a60S1ZcrucQOg
And we received numerous coverage from newspapers across Japan. You can visit the Facebook pages of our tour to see them. It is worth mentioning that the visit to the X-band radar station in Kyogamisaki was organized by a group of journalists.
Here are Matt's videos for which we highly appreciate:
FYI, this is another video of Matt from the Speaking Tour Zoom event in 2 years ago, in which he predicted what has been going on since then:
PFAS is a serious issue, not only in Japan but awareness is mushrooming all across the world, wherever U.S. Military bases exist.
The National Academies of the Sciences encourages people with likely occupational exposure to these chemicals to have their blood tested. Most veterans have been exposed through toxic water and air at bases. Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration discourages blood tests.
Kunitoshi Sakurai, Professor emeritus of Okinawa University, told us on October 21st, during the Zoom meeting held among our event supporters in Japan, "This year's VFP Japan tour was a huge success in terms of publicizing the threat of PFAS to the mainland” said Prof. Sakurai. He continued, “before, the majority of people did not know about it at all. Just recently, concerned residents in the Tama area in Tokyo, near the U.S. Yokota Air Base, started a civil society movement on PFAS. We have been working with them. Thanks to VFP's tour, the news about PFAS has spread through mainstream news outlets across the country. Several regions in Japan have started their own investigations and appeals to their local governments.”
The Okinawans have known of the disastrous effects of PFAS since local reports surfaced in 2016, but that news barely reached the mainland. For years, many Japanese thought the problem of PFAS – if they had heard of it - was largely confined to Okinawa. With 70% of US forces in Japan and 0.6% of the land area of Japan, Okinawa played a convenient role in masking the extent of the problem.
We have shattered this illusion, fomenting real change, by laying out scientific facts and pointing our fingers at the reprehensible actions of our military.
Our Kyoto supporters (CODEPINK Osaka members) wrote an appeal based on our event, which will be shared among our nationwide supporters. Also, we are so excited to inform you that our presentation in Nakano, Tokyo, was sponsored this year, and will be sponsored indefinitely, as one of the Nakano Ward’s designated civil society peace events, for which an official budget is allocated. Special thanks to our long-time supporters in Nakano!
We strongly hope that this will provide a stepping stone to spread this movement from Japan to Grand Asia so that our brothers and sisters will realize that hosting U.S. military bases has deadly consequences.
[And what about the U.S.? ] Read this and start thinking about PFAS!
The blood of soldiers and veterans is contaminated with PFAS that may pose a serious threat to health. Their families and neighbors who may live in close proximity to bases are at high risk, too. We must convince military families, especially pregnant women and those with children, to have their blood tested. 100% of babies in the U.S. are born contaminated with PFAS. The carcinogens travel through the placenta, blood, and mother's breast milk.
Prominent doctors and researchers are concerned about prenatal PFAS exposure. Their worries extend to the potentially toxic postnatal environment, including the use of powdered formula mixed with contaminated water. Processed food and personal care products may increase exposure. The blood tests inform physicians on the clinical steps to take to ward off diseases of the thyroid, bladder, liver, kidney, testicles, and the female reproductive system, to name a few prevalent diseases associated with these carcinogens.
We deeply appreciate Douglas Lummis in Okinawa, a great man and peace activist, who gave us the following suggestion: Military mothers and mothers-to-be must be our main target. Women can be smarter about these things.
We hope these women will suggest that their loved ones have their blood tested in order to test for thyroid, bladder, liver, kidney, and testicular diseases, since the military occupational specialties that involve mechanics, maintenance, etc are dominated by men. This is an urgent health threat in the U.S. We are treated like expendable creatures by our own government. I strongly believe that our service men/women and veterans' blood testing campaigns can be an expedient way to make revolutionary change in the world. It’ll save a lot of lives, too. Especially now we know that our data shows that our pollution level is several digits higher, yes, 100s and 1000s times higher than Okinawa and Japan. We must re-allocate our monstrous military budget to the environmental remediation, public health, and compensation for us and U.S. military bases’ host nations.
Rachel Clark & Pat Elder