Resistant Islands and Resistance with Gavan McCormack at the University of Leeds, 29 May 2018
At the beginning of my time as a doctoral student at the University of Leeds in 2008, one of the first conversations I had with my supervisor Dr Paul Waley began with his assertion that if I wanted to know more about East Asian politics, North Korea and the impact of American power in the region I should “read more Gavan McCormack.” In 2016, at the outset of my challenging time at Australian National University in Canberra, I was given the keys to my new office in the hive-like HC Coombs Building. As I put the keys into the door for the first time, I turned around to see the name plate on the door opposite to mine – Professor Gavan McCormack. To my mind and career, this was akin to unexpectedly sharing a corridor with Noam Chomsky, Bruce Cumings, Zygmunt Bauman, Conrad Totman or Eric Hobsbawm.
During my time in Canberra, in a trope of academic life surely familiar to most contemporary scholars, I never made or had the time I wanted to get to know anyone or make personal connections. However, from my office on the fourth floor (while furtively attempting to produce as much as possible in a short and complicated period of time), I noticed that in spite of the fact Professor McCormack had officially retired many years ago, his office light was on earlier in the morning, later in the evening and practically most of the weekend. It appeared that Gavan worked harder than practically everyone else in the building, even when the fierce Canberra weather made the hypothetical thermometer melt. Readers may be aware of Professor McCormacks’ pivotal editorial role in the production and management of the award winning and agenda shifting and defining online open access journal The Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus along with Mark Selden (one of the founders of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars whose journal is still published as Critical Asian Studies). They may also be aware of Professor McCormack’s sharply argued work on the Korean Peninsula, the post Korean War status quo and the impact of both and American power on North Korea. Those with a closer eye for detail may even be aware of his early work on the intersections between landlordism and Japanese imperial ambitions in Manchuria.
Professor McCormack’s work is an essential answer to perennial student questions; “where was the Cold War actually cold?” and “if we are in the post-Cold War, why does geopolitics still seem so Cold.” His most famous answers to these can be found in his extensive and powerful output on Japanese politics and the impacts of American military and political power on the development on the islands of that nation. Pre-empting 2001’s Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic by more than two decades, McCormack had already begun considering the impact of the consumerism and practices of consumption that go hand in hand with late-period Capitalism and the structures of a military-security-industrial complex on modern Japan, later translating Rokurō Hidaka’s extraordinary The Price of Affluence: Dilemmas of Contemporary Japan. McCormack’s forensic analysis of the impact of American and Capitalist power on the islands of Japan has stretched out to what might be still considered its last colonial territories and their relationships with the ecosystem of contemporary global military/security practice. Okinawa, only annexed by Tokyo in 1872, found itself doubly colonised following 1945 by the United States military, was not returned to Japanese sovereignty until 1972 and to this day much of its terrain is still co-opted by a seemingly parasitic US Air Force. It remains a site of intense resistance to the hostile powers that occupy it.
"Professor McCormack’s work is an essential answer to perennial student questions; “where was the Cold War actually cold?” and “if we are in the post-Cold War, why does geopolitics still seem so Cold.” His most famous answers to these can be found in his extensive and powerful output on Japanese politics and the impacts of American military and political power on the development on the islands of that nation."
Gavan McCormacks’ fine work for Rowman and Littlefield, Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States, details in tandem with his co-author Satoko Oka Norimatsu the violence done to the islands territory and its people, a violence that spans the gamut of colonial possibility from environmental degradation, to sexual abuse and domination, to cultural and historical forgettings. Perhaps these structures of violence and oppression seem permanent now, etched in stone or at least in the metal wings of US fighter jets at Kadena Air Base, immovable in spite of Okinawan’s disapproval and disgust.
However, if there is anything that the last few months have demonstrated in East Asia, it is that once solid, immutable status quo’s can suddenly appear diffuse, in flux and perhaps temporary. Whatever the level of concrete possibility and potential offered by the developing situation on the Korean Peninsula, the unexpected rapprochement between the two Korea’s and the extraordinary scenes at Panmunjom on the 27th of April it is clear that the geo-political tectonics may be shifting. Perhaps even Okinawa and other island military colonies across the Pacific could have different futures.
"... if there is anything that the last few months have demonstrated in East Asia, it is that once solid, immutable status quo’s can suddenly appear diffuse, in flux and perhaps temporary."
Given all of this I am delighted to be welcoming Professor Gavan McCormack to the University of Leeds on the 29th of May 2018 for what will serve as one of the launch events for the second edition of Resistant Islands: Okinawa Confronts Japan and the United States. Leeds and its surroundings are themselves something of a colonised island in the military-security nexus of our age, loomed over by the technologies of global surveillance represented by RAF Menwith Hill, a base of the US National Security Agency since 1966. Featured frequently in the revelations from Edward Snowden, its radomes, satellite dishes and other complicated technologies have long been contested by local and national campaigns for many decades. The University of Leeds was also Gavan’s institutional home between 1971 and 1977 where he taught Chinese history in the wake of Owen Lattimore, so it will be something of a homecoming as well.
The University of Leeds was also Gavan’s institutional home between 1971 and 1977 where he taught Chinese history in the wake of Owen Lattimore, so it will be something of a homecoming as well.
Along with this event in Leeds, Gavan will also be launching another book The State of the Japanese State - Contested Identity, Direction, and Role, including a fearless critique of Abe’s ‘rampant state’ for Renaissance Books at Daiwa House, London on the 5th of June. Professor McCormack’s recent work has had the rare honour of publication in all three primary East Asian languages. There can therefore be few scholars alive today better capable of unpicking the many historical, political and cultural threads of power and resistance in the East Asia of our present.
I invite all who are interested therefore to join our resistant island at the University of Leeds on the 29th of May, 2018.
Resistant Islands and Resistance with Gavan McCormack
6 – 8 pm
29 May 2018
Grant Room (3.11), Michael Sadler Building, University of Leeds, LS29JT
All interested parties welcome, no RSVP required
For more information about the event please contact Dr Robert Winstanley-Chesters, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies (East Asian Studies), University of Leeds at [email protected]