Give Okinawa Back To The Okinawans
Editorial by Doug Bandow
Forbes, Jan 23, 2012

The U.S. is overextended and overburdened, but Washington policymakers are determined to preserve America’s dominant military presence around the globe. Financial pressure is forcing the administration to finally slow a massive, decade-long increase in military spending, but American garrisons overseas remain inviolate. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared: “The U.S. remains committed to maintaining a robust forward presence in East Asia.”

That means preserving multiple bases in Okinawa, which have burdened island residents since the U.S. defeated imperial Japanese forces there in mid-1945. Nearly seven decades later Washington refuses to take any meaningful steps to lighten the load. Indeed, Administration pressure in 2010 helped force the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama over the issue.

The American government insists that it is and always will be the senior partner in any alliance. Washington will protect you, but only on its terms. In this case, the U.S. wants bases in Okinawa, and wants them forever. Nearly 30 Okinawans, ranging from elected officials to students, are visiting Washington, D.C. this week to tell Americans about the resulting burden on the people of Okinawa.

Okinawa’s travails have a long history. The Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is the largest, were independent throughout most of their history. Only late was the territory conquered by imperial Japan. Okinawans were never fully trusted by Tokyo and suffered horribly in the closing stages of World War II.

The so-called “Typhoon of Steel,” as the American invasion campaign was called, ran from April through June in 1945. Combat was brutal. Estimated civilian casualties ran up to 150,000. The U.S. occupied Japan after the war and turned Okinawa into a veritable colony. Only in 1972, 27 years after the conclusion of the war, was the island turned back to Japan.

....... However, the U.S. military continues to control much of the island, roughly 20 percent of the land mass. Long fences separate residents from property owned by their ancestors. Air bases crowd civilian neighborhoods. Prime beaches remain under U.S. military control. Thousands of young, aggressive foreign men transform local life—and often not for the good.

Frustrated Okinawans have been asking for relief for years. Anger exploded in 1995 after the rape of a teenage girl and insensitive comments of the U.S. military commander. But nothing changed, despite large demonstrations. Okinawans faced a hostile partnership between the American and Japanese governments.

The U.S. military likes Okinawa because of its central location. Nor does the Pentagon want to pay to relocate the Marine Expeditionary Force. Inconvenience for Okinawans is not a concern in Washington, other than the extent to which it complicates the U.S.-Japan relationship. Gen. Burton Field, commander of U.S. forces in Japan, dismissed the “resistance in Okinawa” with the observation that “the sooner we are able to build a better place for the Marines to operate, the sooner we will put some of this animosity behind us.”

However, the real author of the Okinawans’ distress is Tokyo. The U.S. government negotiates with the national Japanese authorities, not the Okinawan prefectural government. From Washington’s perspective, responsibility to accommodate local preferences lies with Tokyo, not the U.S.

But the Japanese government also favors concentrating bases in Okinawa because of its location—its distance from the rest of Japan. Roughly three-fourths (by area) of U.S. military facilities, with half of American military personnel are located in Japan’s most distant and poorest prefecture, making up just .6 percent of the nation’s territory. Although nearly six of ten Japanese is critical of the resulting burden on Okinawa, none of them wants another U.S. base near their neighborhood.

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S.A. Mick McClary P.O. Box 6245, Great Falls, MT 59406