Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A national embarrassment

US Forces Japan (USFJ) has issued orders that from today personnel attached to bases in Okinawa and Iwakuni are, for the time being, forbidden from leaving their bases except for a small handful of activities. The restrictions apply to approximately 55,000 people, covering both 29,000 members of the Armed Forces and their dependents.

USFJ has also called for Friday, 22 February, to be a day of reflection for the approximately 37,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan.

What, I wonder, will these measures accomplish? Tempers may cool if US personnel are cooped up for a few days, but the underlying problem still exists. Is it worth keeping US forces in Okinawa if their actions are going to undermine the US-Japan relationship and jeopardize the maintenance of more essential US military assets elsewhere in Japan?

As an American, I am ashamed that members of the US Armed Forces have so abused the hospitality of the nation hosting them as to undermine US national interests. Their actions have ranged from the heinous to the absurd — but they all indicate that the current US presence on Okinawa is unsustainable.

Washington has already accepted in principle that the US presence has to change dramatically. It is now incumbent upon the Bush administration — and its successor — to expedite the process of relocating the III MEF from Okinawa by any means necessary.


Janne Morén said...

Could make the curfew permanent. That would decrease the amount of incidents and disturbances a lot; don't forget that while crimes get the headlines, the day-to-day presence of the servicemen and the "service industry" created around the bases to serve them is probably doing as much or more damage over time. It can be bad enough living in or near a normal garrison town; here it's not even your own soldiers.

Skippy-san said...

With all due respect this is a simplistic and innaccurate reprensentation of the situation in Okinawa. In the macro sense, Japan is quite happy to keep the majority of US forces in Okinawa-it prevents large numbers of forces up on the main Islands.

Second, on a per capita basis, the American forces in all of Japan are much better behaved than their stateside counterparts-do a comparison of statistics and the numbers will bear me out. Compared with Norfolk or San Diego US bases here come out way ahead.

Lets not forget that a lot of this noise-as with noise complaints by mainland Japanese has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with US presence-but with Japanese domestic politics. They want to squeeze the Japanese government for money.

No matter how this particular allegation resolves itself-this particular Marine's life is OVER. He will be punished by the military and that punishment will be harsh-probably harsher than a Japanese court would administer.

As for your commenter quoting "the service industry" around the bases-go outside Gate 2 at Kadena these days-there is no such thing any more and has not been for quite a long time now.

I've been serving in Japan for 8 years now and I think you will find that if you get to know the Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Marines you will find that most of them love Japan and are very respectul of their adopted home. This type of article is not only incorrect-its incendiary and unfair-to either the US or the Japanese.

Japan Observer said...


I am certainly aware of the political dynamics surrounding the US presence, both in Okinawa and on the mainland. Not once have I couched my arguments for hastening the relocation of the USMC in terms of the poor, defenseless Okinawans. I know that the activists and demonstrators don't speak for all Okinawans.

But when US personnel have to be penned up in their bases for a "day of reflection," I begin to worry about the future of the US-Japan relationship. I believe that for the relationship to survive, the US needs to accelerate the process.

The US government has agreed to remove the III MEF. The principle is no longer dispute. The relationship will be better off once they're on Guam. The behavior of the Japanese government since May 2006 suggests that if Washington waits for Tokyo, the realignment will never happen. So my modest proposal is that the US government does something to break the deadlock, does something to implement the deal it has already signed.

Mr. Noah said...

Wait...I've seen the 37,000 number and the 55,000 number. Does 55,000 include Okinawa and 37,000 not? I'm confused.

Japan Observer said...

37,000 is the number of US Armed Forces personnel stationed in Japan.

55,000 is the number of personnel in Okinawa and Iwakuni (approximately 29,000) plus their dependents.

Mr. Noah said...

Ah, thanks.

I think they should cut that number down by at least 2/3, or preferably more.