OP-ED: Japanese Delegation Wants the U.S. Out of Okinawa
A 24-member delegation from Japan is in Washington, D.C., this week opposing the presence and new construction of U.S. military bases in Okinawa. Participating are members of the Japanese House of Councilors, of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, and of city governments in Okinawa, as well as leading protest organizers and the heads of several important organizations opposed to the ongoing U.S. military occupation of Okinawa.
The famously stingy U.S. tax payer, frequently seen bitterly protesting outrageously wasteful spending of a few million dollars, is paying billions of dollars to maintain and expand some 90 military bases in Japan (and to make those who profit from such business filthy rich). Thirty-four of those bases, containing 74% of their total land area, are in Okinawa, which itself contains only 0.6% of Japanese land. Okinawa is dominated by U.S. military bases and has been for 67 years since the U.S. forcibly appropriated much of the best land.
The people of Okinawa tell pollsters year after year that they oppose the bases. Year after year they elect government officials who oppose the bases. Year after year they march, sit-in, protest, and demand to be heard. Year after year, the national Japanese government confronts the issue and fails to take any decisive steps to resolve it. Year after year, the people of the United States remain blissfully unaware that, as in so many other places around the world, our military occupation of Okinawa is ruining people’s lives.
Members of the delegation spoke at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C., Monday night. Toshio Ikemiyagi thanked people who came to hear them and pointed out that we all looked healthy and alert. That, he said, is because you have all had sleep. You’ve been able to sleep at night without deafening jet noise, he said. Ikemiyagi is the lead attorney on a lawsuit challenging the Kadena Air Base’s noise pollution. He played us a video on Monday of what it is like. For the people who live there, he said, the war that ended 67 years ago has never ended.
Keiko Itokazu, a Member of the Japanese National Diet, depicted in this painting, said the Okinawan people had been heartbroken since having been unable to protect a 12-year-old girl from gang rape by U.S. troops in 1995. The Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan gives U.S. troops immunity from Japanese prosecution. Between 1979 and 2008, U.S. forces in Okinawa caused 1,439 accidents (487 of them airplane related), and 5,584 criminal cases (559 of them involving violent crimes). The list includes fatal driving incidents, residential break-ins, taxi robberies, sexual violence, and other serious crimes against local citizens.
I spoke recently with Maria Allwine who describes herself as “a former Marine Corps spouse.” She said, “It is common practice for military personnel to use Japanese women as ‘mama-sans,’ exchanging house cleaning and sexual favors for money. Nothing new, but it’s given a wink and a nod by military brass. Those who don’t cheat are considered abnormal by their peers.”