TOKYO- The national elections have come and gone and the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) has taken a serious hit in the polls. This has left Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a very precarious position in regards to his stance on raising the consumption tax to combat Japans immense national debt, his own ability to effectively push through legislation with a drastically weakened body of support and his commitment to the Obama administration, to reposition as opposed to totally remove, the highly controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Okinawa Japan.
Where is Futenma, what is it?
Located in the middle of Ginowan city on the Island of Okinawa,
Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma began in 1945 as a bomber base. Construction of hangars and barracks began in 1958. The airfield was commissioned as a “Marine Corps Air Facility” in 1960 and became an Air Station in 1976. The Air Station is home to approximately 4,000 Marines and Sailors. It is capable of supporting most aircraft and serves as the base for Marine Aircraft Group 36, Marine Air Control Group 18, and Marine Wing Support Squadron 172. The Air Station provides support for the III Marine Expeditionary Force and for Marine Corps Base, Camp Butler.
More than 3,200 Marines are stationed at Futenma, which covers about 480 hectares and includes a 2,800-meter-long and 46-meter-wide runway. The installation is a critical component of the Marine Corps’ forward deployment because it is the home base of the 1st Marine Air Wing. The Wing’s primary mission is to participate as the air component of the III Marine Expeditionary Force. The wing’s Marine Air Group-36 provides tactical fixed and rotary wing aircraft and flies about 70 aircraft, including CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters and KC-130 aerial refueling airplanes.
What has Prime Minister Kan agreed to support?
PM Kan has vowed to keep his job and unlike so many other Japanese Prime Ministers, not give up and step down when things get hard. If he truly hopes to do this, he has his hands very full indeed. His predecessor, former PM Yukio Hatoyama stepped down suddenly when he realized that he was unable to keep his initial promises regarding the Futenma MCAS and his assurances that it would be completely removed from the island of Okinawa.
Public pressure to have the base and corresponding personnel removed is immense and it has become a national hot point in recent months yet again. Prime Minister Kan however, has assured the Obama administration that he will support the air stations relocation as opposed to its removal from Okinawa.
PM Kan has agreed to the relocation, as of May 27th, of Futenma MCAS from the area of Ginowan city to the Camp Schwab Henoko-saki area and adjacent waters. This would involve a massive amount of construction including “land reclamation” or building over the water. It is also clear that this endeavor would seriously damage the enviroment in the surrounding area including a spectacular coral reef located near Camp Schwab.
Why the controversy?
MCAS Futenma is and has been a major obstacle for developing infrastructure to the city of Ginowan and its residents for years.
The airfield covers about 1,187 acres and is located in the middle of the small city of Ginowan (New Yorks central park by contrast is only 843 acres). Everything critical to a developing urban area: roads, sewers, water mains all have to be awkwardly and expensively rerouted around the base. Just for these reasons, many locals are left asking questions like “Why can’t they just move the base to the larger and more appropriate Kadena Air base?” This is a valid question, all the functions could be readily employed there and the Kadena base has more than enough room to accommodate the Futenma group. The answer seems to the average Okinawan absurd; inter service rivalries: Kadena air base is an AIR FORCE base and Futenma is a MARINE base, these facts make combining these bases inconceivable to the Military there.
Helicopters take off during all hours of the day and night. The “Whoop whoop whoop” of rotor blades chopping air from a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter is not something that the average person easily sleeps through. Aircraft fly so low over the civilian buildings that the city itself is not allowed to build a structure over XXXX height for fear of some aircraft smashing into it.
The fear of aircraft crashing is in fact very real and something that is largely ignored or played down by the United States Government, the Military, the Japanese Government in Tokyo and the US Media. The Wall street journal callously stated in a recent article that….
The agreement calls for the U.S. to move 8,000 Marines to Guam by 2014 and to shift part of an existing Okinawa helicopter facility to a rural part of the island from a densely populated area. The aim is to diminish local hostility to the Marine presence, which has been stoked by a rape case and a helicopter crash.
“A rape case and a helicopter crash.”
To date, there have been 41 helicopter crashes in Okinawa since the island regained its sovereignty from the United states in 1972. Considering this, it is unlikely that the local hostility is based simply on a singular helicopter crash. It is likely however that the lackadaisical language used in the WSJ article was meant to refer to an August 2004 incident in which a thirty-one year old CH53-D Sea Stallion Helicopter took off from MCAS Futenma and then subsequently crashed into the Main administration building of nearby Okinawa international university.
Amazingly, nobody was killed. The stabilizer from the helicopter broke off and fell in the street and it crashed, but thankfully, due to summer vacation, the building was empty. The clean up and response by the Marine Corps added immense fuel to the fire and further enraged local Okinawan’s and island authorities. Nobody, not the police, not the fire department, not even the mayor was allowed access to the grounds surrounding the crash. Yellow tape was put up with an English message warning everyone that there was “No Entry”. The university building was cleared, and, they even tried to stop local TV media from filming the crash site. The Marines used chain saws to cut down over fifty trees on Campus, without any sort of permission, scraped off the layer of top soil from the crash site and removed the wreckage back to the base.
This left the island outraged and justifiably so. Why the secrecy? That particular helicopter is old and the standard equipment on it is publicly accessible knowledge. It was being prepared for shipment to Iraq though, and it has been theorized that depleted uranium rounds were on board, something that is illegal in Japan. Whatever the reason, this particular crash, one of many, solidified the idea in the minds of many people that Futenma is the “Most dangerous military base on the planet” and that the American Occupation actually never ended.
Also mentioned in the WSJ’s drastically insufficient explanation was “a rape case”. This kind of language inflames people who know that in fact, there have been many such cases in Okinawa and will continue to be as long as The US military is there. Of course, the majority of violent crime in Okinawa is committed by the 400,000 Okinawan men within the designated age range effecting violent crime. The point to consider and remember is that the US military there is a guest and its continued presence a sore point, a point of continuous contention for anti-base activists so, it is literally necessary for all US forces on Okinawa to be perfect. This is something that likely will not occur. The case the WSJ was likely referring to, was the highly politicized and horribly shocking abduction, beating and gang rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan school girl by two US Marines and one Sailor in 1995. This was followed by additional rape incidents and charges in 1999, 2001, 2006 and 2008. The 1995 rape was also proceeded by horrific incident after horrific incident since the occupation of the island in 1945. Suzuyo Takasato of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, explains:
Okinawa is a place where the armed forces have
learnt how to kill and hurt people in close proximity
to the local population for more than 60 years.
This situation breeds a structural violence, rather
than one that can be understood simply in terms of
the crimes of individual soldiers.
Okinawa reverted to Japanese administration in
1972 but the violence continued, and even became
more chronic. There were a number of rapes and
attempted rapes, as well as sexual abuse in public
areas and even a case where a private house was
invaded. The victims included a 10 year-old girl and
a 14 year-old girl.
These crimes particularly after 1995, garnered massive media attention and the consistency with which they occur and the US militaries immense shortcomings in properly dealing with them and the attention that accompany them have consistently and again, rightly, tarnished the USA’s image in Okinawa and the world.
The pain and controversy of these bases on Okinawa absolutely does not stop with regards to the United States and it’s actions. The Government of Japan and the leaders in Tokyo and in fact, the average Japanese citizen living in Japan have shown time and again that in reality, Okinawa is simply not terribly important to them. Out of site, out of mind.
70% of Americas military forces in Japan are located on Okinawa yet the islands entire population only accounts for about 1.3 percent of Japans total population. It is clear to anyone who looks at the situation that the Japanese enjoy, to some extent at least, having the American military security blanket but they do not want to deal with the American military on a day-to-day basis. This makes Okinawa an attractive alternative. The resorts that are so popular with well to do Japanese tourists coming to the island are also blessedly segregated from the areas that young US marines and airmen frequent.
Historically as well, Okinawa is not close friends with its bully of an older brother Japan. Okinawa has only been part of the country of Japan for 400 years. In addition to that, at the end of WW2 it is likely that many Okinawan people would have preferred an American presence to the Japanese option. 200,000 people died during the battle of Okinawa, at least half of them civilians. Many were killed by gun fire or explosions that originated from Japanese soldiers who were ordered to kill civilians as opposed to letting them surrender. Forced suicides occurred. Many of these memories are still very much alive in Okinawa among its people and the governments continuous disregard for the cries for help coming for those people fans flames that in conjunction with a growing and intense discontent for a foreign military force in their backyard could easily explain the current “controversy.”
Analysis and conclusions
Americas Military presence in Okinawa is not about protecting Japan. Japan has one of the most well-developed militaries in the world. In 2004 alone Japan spent 46 billion dollars on “defense”. The Japanese Military is 240,000 strong. Everyone constantly discusses how Japan has no Ballistic Missiles, yet, components developed for Japans space program could easily be adapted to fit the specific requirements of an ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile). Japan is not a militarily weak nation.
Regional security is often another component widely discussed in relation to troops in Okinawa, particularly the postioning there of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary unit and its potential role in maintaining “order” in the region. If China was to move against Taiwan, the 3rd MEF would ideally jump into action however, since 2004 many units from the 3rd MEF have been deployed in such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar, to name a few. What is left is a seriously diminished force if it is in fact meant to deal with a very competent and developed Chinese military.
It seems much more likely that maintaining the status quo and agreements made behind closed doors in Tokyo and Washington have much more to do with the state of the US military in Okinawa than the often allotted excuses. Shintaro Ishihara, the Mayor of Tokyo has made his opinions well-known and he claims that Japan is directly supporting American imperialism by allowing these bases to remain open in Okinawa. Japan is a nation whose top 2% of the rich, ruling class have done very very well going hand in hand with the United States over the years. It is unlikely that this “good ole boy” network would happily give up its connections and positions of power just to appease some people they do not even consider to be “real” Japanese, on a little poor island they never have to visit let alone try and raise a family on.
Whatever the true motivations, it is unlikely American forces will leave Okinawa any time soon.
This puts a very special strain on the people of Okinawa. Abandoned by their government, seemingly harassed and ignored by a foreign military power, the younger generation of Okinawans are being put to a choice. Allow a foreign military that you believe to be responsible for 60 years of repression further expand its control and desecration of your island home or do you begin to fight back more forcefully?
The government in Tokyo also is risking allowing the development of a more radical faction in the local Okinawan society to form by continually lying and scamming the people it is supposed to protect and represent. Also, allowing the US the move forces to mainland Japan would be political suicide for anyone so it is clear this will not be occuring. Imagine if a US helicopter crashed into Keio University (Japans Yale). One can be certain every politician would be up in arms about the foreign militaries presence and changes would be affected.
The US military, despite modest efforts at supporting the community and improving relations with locals still parades around the island with an attitude of clear-cut supremacy and cultural ignorance. This is seen easily and daily by the people that call Okinawa home and its effects simply cannot be ignored.
The US military does not need to leave Okinawa to fix this, not at a superficial level at least. Symbolically closing MCAS Futenma and relocating the majority of the operations to another area while conceding on several other smaller points of contention while making a genuine effort to appear earnest in attempts to reconcile with the Okinawan people would be enough to smooth these tensions over before they escalate to a level that all parties involved should hope to avoid. In addition, the National Government in Tokyo should promise smaller concessions and then quickly deliver said changes despite Okinawan insistence that the removal of the Futenma air station is the only possible answer. Making an effort, any effort and keeping promises, even if they are not the promises or efforts everyone is hoping for can go a very long way in Japan. At any rate it would be a far site better than the flat-out lies and empty promises, the ignorance and the overriding sense that nobody cares, which has been given to the Okinawan people thus far.
If you like this then, you should check out more from the “Myths of Japan” series:
|Drugs in Japan Myth||Japan’s Gay culture||Divorce a Japanese Tradition||Numerology||Myths of Japan|
Very good piece Eric
It is a very complicated issue.
Okinawa is easily one of, if not the most beautiful place in Japan.
Its a shame to see it disturbed and molested in ways that could be avoided.
Exactly, it’s complicated and there’s a lot a stake, and that’s why an opinion piece that’s balanced, thorough and empathic is a nice change from what we usually get on issues like this one.
Completely off topic, but did you watch the lesnar/carwin bout?
Thanks again Mon ami.
Lesnar Carwin….dear god…..what a joke. Not happy about that. AND…FEDOR LOST!!!! what the hell is going on??? I need answers, NOW!.
Were you ever in the Service? Have you ever BEEN to Okinawa? I spent time in Okinawa and I never experienced any anomosity from the people there, in fact I felt welcome.
It seems to me that this is a few people making a problem from nothing at all.
I have been to Okinawa and yes, with the Marines. I deployed there for about 6 months in 2000 with 1st battlion 7th Marines.
I loved it. The island is amazing and the lifestyle of training and semi isolation we had at camp Schwab was something I thrived on.
That having been said, when I went to bigger bases :Kadena, Foster, Hansen, I did not feel good about what I saw. The areas around the bases are frankly uncomfortable at best and in some areas down right disgusting. Strip clubs and prostitutes are there looking for one thing- US military boys to get paid by. Fist fights, destruction of public property and general disorder are common. I know because I saw it and although the disorder I helped contribute to was something of an inner service rivalry, it is no excuse, and must be annoying and even scary for the Okinawans that have to see it.
In addition, there is a general atmosphere of arrogance accompanied by the natural idiocy of extreme youth. Add alcohol to that and an insurmountable communication barrier and it isnt difficult to imagine problems arising quickly.
These thing you say have been going on for a long I first went to Okinawa in 1964 the fist fights the hookers strip clubs.It’s not just Okinawa.Where I live in Okinawa no strip clubs but there are hookers and yes fist fights but it is for and between okinawan men so don’t just blame the Americans
Even though I was never stationed in Okinawa, having been in the Marine Corps, all I ever heard was that if you ever go to Okinawa, to always be on your best behavior and not fuck it up for the Marine Corps.
Hell, Marines raping Okinawa locals is valid enough on its own for people to want the military out, aside from all the other BS.
But …… we are the good guys, and we know what is best for everybody.
ED- you would have loved Okinawa man.
I agree, I think, a lot of the servicemen/women that are sent there actually A: dont want to go, or B: think they are honestly there to help. Most dont go out there with bad intentions, however, there is a certain amount of “what happens on the Rock stays on the Rock” type of thinking there, that is not helping anything.
It annoys me to see the 2008 incident dismissed as a ‘rape case.’ If you lived in Okinawa and visited the crime scene, you’d understand why it happened, and you’d understand why the victim’s family graciously dropped criminal charges against the Marine.
Anyway, when I was stationed there, I didn’t feel welcome or unwelcome by the local nationals, but by my colleagues. The zero tolerance for off-base incidents, and the constant threat of curfew restrictions, lowered morale and turned servicemembers against each other. It seriously felt like a prison at times, and I’ve never seen that kind of atmosphere in a non-wartime environment.
Okinawa’s a beautiful island, but it can be incredibly stressful if you’re affiliated with the military.
Logically I understand what you mean, however, my time in Okinawa was quite different, for me at least. I would have to say the majority of the other members of my unit would probably be on your side of the fence in that, they did not enjoy their time there. Many restrictions, constant double standards that changed depending which Officer you happened to be talking to any given moment and generally a lack of “freedom” that was had even on base states side. Perhaps it is because my expectations were SO incredibly bad that I was pleasantly shocked once I got there and saw the reality of my situation on “The Rock”. Finally, I have found, much to my dismay actually, that I am most productive and develop most quickly within extremely uncomfortable and rigid environments and in Okinawa I accomplished several professional and personal goals that had eluded me up to that point. It might sound good, but this trait does not juxtapose favorably with the more “normal” lifestyle I currently have.
“…you’d understand why the victim’s family graciously dropped criminal charges against the Marine”
Please elaborate … I don’t have the background information to understand what you say or what you mean.
I talked to a student, who was Japanese and had moved from Okinawa to my town, when I was in highschool. He had nothing good to say about the place and many complaints about american soldiers. He loved American culture though and seemed very happy to be here.
The students last year, from Okinawa, at the college I attend were different from the other Japanese students. They mostly kept to their dorm rooms and would glare at any white people that looked at them. These experiences are isolated (to a strange small factory town, of 28,500 people, with bad water in a valley shape that breeds misery) and are most likely not the norm. Still my experiences have left me feeling uncomfortable about Okinawa and the only way you could get me to go there is if a Japanese woman asked me.
Another one of your comments I just found. Okinawa is a nice place. I have been back since, and frankly I enjoyed it more with the military, and not for the reasons one might think.
i lived in a secluded area then, and it was possible to run from one point, to another, then swim from one beach to the next and see only one or two people. It’s literally a tropical paradise and incredibly dense with culture. I did two different martial arts while I was there and although I spoke no Japanese, I learned a lot.
it’s a place worth visiting but for a long, easy vacation. a couple weeks maybe. No rush.
Actually it’s not very complicated at all. Lets go back a bit,,,,,,so on a sleepy Sunday morning in December 1941, the Japanese cast their lot in life by jabbing a giant hot poker in the eye of a fat sleepy fire breathing dragon. Now you ask, “How long must they, the Japanese people pay for that?” Well for as long as civilization is around to be able to read and comprehend the history books. My grandfather fought for three tears in the jungles of Luzon killing Japanese every chance he got. And my great aunt, a Pan Am stewardess, was captured and raped for years until the Japanese were defeated.. So I say, “Fuck em.” Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!
I can’t wait until you’re scalped by a Lakota brave, bro.
I can’t wait until you write comments that make sense.
What about the atomic bombs the US dropped? Fuck you for being an entitled asshole who is not capable of thinking in a humanitarian way. You think no one in Japan has suffered due to the war?! Its always you you you.
A comment for an old blog, I know.
To be fair, service members don’t go around raping and pillaging around the island as the international community imagines. The island is rather peaceful, and the only parts that are affected by the human side of the “occupation” are those places directly outside of the bases. As a matter of fact, the crime rate for service members when compared to the local population is pretty damn low, especially considering how many restrictions and political BS they have to put up with from their commands.
The biggest problem is the extremely slanted anti-military local media that jumps right on any alleged incident that arises. The last few high profile rape cases (2008 comes to mind) actually turned out to boil down to he-said she-said retrospect or were cases of cry-wolf after the girl was found doing something she wasn’t supposed to be (prostitution being one of them). Of course, the media doesn’t bother reporting more after the accusations and everybody goes on thinking a rape has occurred. In addition to that, they have been found to lie about the number of participants for protests around Futenma (inflating numbers 10 times or more than how many actually showed, according to NCIS reporting).
Not dismissing the incidents that do occur when young, dumb, full of cum jarheads get too much booze in them, but I really do think the “military victim” portrayal of Okinawa is grossly exaggerated. A lot of it has to do with Okinawa’s angry dealings with the central government. God forbid any bases move up to the mainland, Tokyo wouldn’t want foreigners tagging their women of Aryan purity even with a population on the decline (lol).
For what it’s worth, I’m a Marine married with an Okinawan wife that was stationed there from 2006 to 2011 (on and off with deployments). The last few years I worked at Building 1 on Foster dealing with force protection, civil affairs and security.
That’s one of the problems with the way the internet works: New is portrayed as best and most vital and that simply is not necessarily true. So, thank you for commenting on a post that I consider important, potent and of some consequence.
I get your comment. I was stationed on Okinawa for six months and I have visited since, as a civilian. I understand that most of the service members there actually do not care one way or another about what goes on off base and some people, yourself included, actually have personal ties there. I made Okinawan friends when I was there for six months, but as far as I know, I was the only person in my entire battalion to do so. Of course I was the only one who went off base for Judo and Kenpo practice as well, hard to avoid making friends then.
Anyway, as I said I have been back as a civilian, and with a Japanese national, on a Japanese tour, at a Japanese resort and I can say clearly that in Okinawa, and even here in Tokyo, Young American service men walk around, rather stalk around, with a real chip on their shoulder and a general air of aggression. These days I try honestly to avoid trouble and I just don’t go to areas I know young enlisted guys frequent; I’ve had too many incidents with them in Tokyo and without exception, each one of them involved me having to ask them, plural, to calm down, take it easy or stop destroying some place. Personal experience, not stats, but I can’t forget what I know. In addition to that, yes, I was guilty as hell in Oki back in the day. Not causing trouble with locals but we kicked the living shit out of two Air Force SNCO’s at some shitty bar and really trashed the place.
It’s just a very intimidating and often scary situation. I didn’t realize it till years later.
Also, although not Okinawa, I have a Japanese friend here who worked as a liaison between the Japanese government as the Navy and USMC. He finally retired because he couldn’t take it anymore, from both sides. He’s be called or paged at whatever hour and would have to respond to an incident be it a rape, destruction of property, theft or general mayhem. Then his job was to A:keep it out of the news B: get the US guys back to their or a base and C: bargain down the amount of money the JAPANESE GOVERNMENT would pay to the victims to shut them up. And this was in Tokyo. From all accounts and what I saw personally, it’s considerably worse in Okinawa.
Is the media anti Military? Surely. Do I blame them? No. Just imagine being on the other side of the equation, abandoned by your own government and occupied by a foreign power that doesn’t respect your sovereignty or culture. I think that would have to suck.
Thanks again for the comment. This is still an issue that matters.
All good points and good to know you have firsthand experience. I think we agree on a lot of things bit disagree on semantics.
Seeing as the US AF has taken the move to decommission Yongsan airbase here in Korea, which was absolutely immense, and move the personnel south to less populated areas, I find it a bit odd that they are not doing the same with another base that lies within a major regional population center. Albeit being in the center of Seoul is rather different from the center of a small city, that being said, it can be done.
About the marine and air force sharing a base kadana has beet joint navy air force since 1975 before that it was naha people need to know what they are talking about with some of these things I was station in Okinawa from 1964 to 1975