James Dustin Wright

Fulbright-Hays Award Winner

May 31, 2013

group of residents who gather monthly to protest against the construction of U.S. military housing in Iwakuni.

James Dustin Wright, a History Ph.D. student, won the prestigious Fulbright-Hays award in the fall of 2012. Fulbright-Hays grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to help fund overseas research conducted by doctoral students in other countries in modern foreign languages. Dustin received sufficient support to allow him to spend a full year in Japan working on his dissertation research.

Dustin received his B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Japanese from Northern Arizona University. After traveling and teaching English in Japan, Dustin received a Master's degree in Asian Studies from San Diego State University.

Currently, a fourth-year Ph.D. student studying modern Japanese history, Dustin says, “I was drawn to the history program [at UCSC] because I became increasingly less interested in the large political questions around the U.S.-Japan relationship. I wanted to know more about the people who live around those U.S. military bases.” Dustin's advisor, Alan Christy, observed, "surprisingly little work has been done inC Japanese history on the history of US bases in Japan. Most American historians of Japan have treated it as an issue for US history and policy, unlike our Japanese colleagues. Dustin's dissertation, particularly with its emphasis on the impacts bases have had on the lived environments of postwar Japan will fill a long-neglected gap. This is work that has the potential to pave the way for work by many other scholars as well."

Now living and researching in Japan, Dustin’s dissertation research is on the relationships between US bases in Japan and the communities that surround them. In particular, he is examining a series of protests outside U.S. military bases in western Tokyo and Iwakuni. In Tokyo, he is researching an event wherein "a group of farmers launched a movement--later called the Sunagawa Struggle--to prevent the expansion of Tachikawa Air Base onto nearby farmland. The struggle lasted for years, and often turned violent. When some of the protesters were arrested for trespassing onto the base, their defense argued that the presence of the bases violated Japanese sovereignty and the protesters had not trespassed onto a space that was legally recognizable. The trial went all the way to the Japanese Supreme Court, who eventually sided with the U.S. military in arguing that the military bases were not part of Japanese sovereign territory.” He is currently searching through records written by the protesters to finding evidence that these protests were not simply anti-U.S. military, but that protesters had motivations based on the necessity to protect farmland and livelihoods.

While in Japan, Dustin is also doing research in the city of Iwakuni, which has housed a large U.S. Marine base since the end of the World War II. In Iwakuni the long history of anti-base struggles rarely registered among the political elites in Tokyo. Dustin has discovered that “not only are protesters trying to get the attention of the U.S. military, they also struggle to gain recognition from the national government."

When Dustin visited Japan last year, he spent considerable time talking with people who have lived next to the base for decades. He learned that the military base has very much become a part of their life experiences, which is partly why he finds this topic so interesting. In the bigger picture of the global "empire of bases," he thinks that the American military bases are always local before they are global.

Upon his return to UCSC and completion of his degree, Dustin plans to become a professor of Japanese history or East Asian history. “I love teaching and being challenged by students' questions,” said Wright. “In fact, my dissertation project has in many ways been influenced by conversations with my students.”

Wright will be blogging about his time in Japan in affiliation with the Japan Policy Research Institute, at dustinwright.org.

His website: http://people.ucsc.edu/~jdwright/