Imperium Watch: Okinawa and the Ugly Americans

Is the U.S.’s empire of military bases worth all it costs?

Comments (5)
Thursday, November 22, 2012

The U.S. military’s long-strained relationship with the people of Okinawa is more tense than usual now that two American servicemen are being prosecuted for gang-raping a Japanese woman in mid-October. Okinawans, who are tired of hosting more than 20,000 American soldiers—half of the 47,000 American servicepeople stationed in Japan—still remember the gang rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995. That incident led to demands by Okinawans that the U.S. reduce the number of troops stationed on the island.

Sixteen years ago the U.S. agreed to move the Futenma base, where the perpetrators of the 1995 rape were stationed, out of the city of Ginowan, but since then it has temporized. Two years ago it deployed crash-prone MV-22 Osprey aircraft to that urban base, infuriating Okinawans. Still-smoldering anger about the Ospreys is now exacerbated by this fall’s rape.

The history of the U.S.’s dealings with Okinawa is a troubled one. The island was ruled by the U.S. Department of Defense from 1945 until 1972; it was a bit like an Asian Guantanamo. During that time, according to Chalmers Johnson in The Sorrows of Empire, Okinawans were citizens neither of Japan nor of the U.S., and had to have special permission from the American military to travel anywhere.

“Okinawa was closed to the outside world,” Johnson wrote, “a secret enclave of military airfields, submarine pens, intelligence facilities, and CIA safe houses. Some Okinawans who protested these conditions were declared probable Communists and hundreds of them were transported to Bolivia, where they were dumped in the remote countryside of the Amazon headwaters to fend for themselves.” The U.S. seized land from farmers to build extensive bases. Later, during the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons and nerve gas were stored on the island; no warnings were given the local people.

The Okinawan installations are among the 73 bases (91 according to the Japanese) maintained by the U.S. in Japan. According to information in Chalmers’ book, as recently as 2001 the Japanese government was paying the U.S. $4 billion a year for the services it takes to keep the bases going: building maintenance, motor pool operation, translation, even intelligence-gathering in the form of electronic eavesdropping. As Johnson noted, those payments make Japan “perhaps the only country that pays another country to carry out espionage against itself.”

As is the case with many American military bases abroad, Johnson wrote, Okinawa has long outlived the reason it was established in the first place. It was “first justified by the need to mount an invasion of the main Japanese islands... then as a secure enclave for fighting the war in Korea, next as a forward base for deplying force against China, then as a B-52 bomber base and staging area for the Vietnam War, a training area for jungle warfare, and most recently a home base for troops and aircraft that might be used elsewhere in Asia or the Middle East. As Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, a historian and retired U.S. Army colonel, writes, ‘Foreign real estate has the same attraction for American defense planners that Nimitz-class aircraft carriers do for admirals and B-2 stealth bombers and heavy Abrams tanks do for generals... They can never have enough.’”

Johnson advocated, and so have others after him, that the U.S. put its extensive global empire of bases under review with a view to shrinking it. The bases leave us more vulnerable to terrorism, not less, in his view, because they are so often a source of provocation for residents of their host countries; the way they are managed often contradicts our statements about the values of democracy and justice; and they are costly to maintain, especially at a time when budget deficits are making basic services harder to furnish in our own country. “Permanent military domination of the world,” he pointed out, “is an expensive business.”

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Here is a detailed list of exactly which U.S. bases need to be closed.

Yes, Futenma is one of them.

Posted by Ronald on 11.23.12 at 7:28

US military bases are often the source of provocation causing terrorism? That's clearly untrue and a cheap shot for the sake of faulting America. Religious extremism causes terrorism, not military bases.

Posted by k on 11.24.12 at 8:54

The facts pointed out by Chalmers Johnson are 100 % true. The problems on Okinawa, while perhaps justified by the US Military as being caused by only a small percentage of the US Military stationed here is not a justification for continuing to punish Okinawa for WWII, which a high percentage of US Military believe to be a fact.

The fact that Okinawa people are no more to blame for WWII than the Italian People were or the Average German Person was for the real axis of evil or that the Polish People among others in Europe deserved to become a part of the USSR. To say that they are is to say that the average American was responsible for Slavery, or the near extinction of the American Indian or any other atrocities caused by a government while the average citizen does nothing but fear for their own safety.

Okinawa is forced to shoulder over 75% of the Forward US Military Deployment in Asia, with Okinawa having a minimum of 37 military bases with more to be built in the future.

The Rape in October was then followed by two other incidents while the US and Japanese Government tried to do damage control by telling the citizens that as curfew was in place when it clearly was not. At any time of the night you could find US Military out and about wherever they chose to be while the local police did nothing.

The mention of the 1995 brutal rape of the 12 year old girl is particularly grievous in that one of the suspects, Kendrick Ledet, upon his release from a Japanese prison, after serving only 5 years for this brutal crime, returned to the USA where he murdered a young Kennesaw State University Student, then killed himself.

The SOFA, Status of Forces Agreement, which on Okinawa is different than in any other area of the world where there are US Military bases, for the most part covers up the number of crimes on Okinawa.

We covered the crash of the helicopter into the Okinawa International University in 2004, with a documentary titled “Why Okinawa? Messages from the People, which played well to USA audiences but received little attention on Okinawa where the military panned it by saying the bases, were exaggerated and the crimes were very low.

The fact that these incidents continue shows a military that has more interest in defending their need to protect their assets in Asia, but one has to wonder what these assets really are.

As a US Army Veteran of the United States Army Security Agency stationed here on Okinawa, I am well aware of the information released by Mr. Chalmers Johnson, and following a 32 year career in Law Enforcement felt it was my responsibility for returning to Okinawa to try to help the situation by exposing the disease brought to Okinawa following WWII by an aggressive US Military determined to keep this unsinkable battle ship floating & the keystone to the pacific clearly in the hands of the US Military, regardless of the crimes which are clearly excused as the cost of doing business here. The secret agreement made prior to reversion to Japan gave the US Military full authority to continue their base building and secret plans for what they call protecting Japan against an aggressive North Korea, or China, or Russia or whatever other country can be made the reason for keeping these bases active.

Posted by Robert Avery on 11.25.12 at 3:33

Wow. While I sit here on Okinawa, I see a different place than your article and Robert describe.

When I spend my U.S. dollars in Okinawan restaurants, the staff seem to appreciate me. When I patronize the shops and attractions here, I am greeted and welcomed. As I pay the tolls on the expressway a warm greeting is exchanged and I am on my way. As I exercise on the public streets, I don’t feel hated but accepted as another person getting by in a society or community. I feel safe here, not unwelcome.

Most Okinawan people that I talk to, and I talk to Okinawan people here daily, understand that I am not here to oppress them or enslave the, but honestly, because my government gave me orders here. I am a Marine who follows orders and regulations. Yes, like every huge organization I guess, there are the deviants who, as their descriptive name would suggest deviate from normal, acceptable behavior. I am here to do my job and go home. Most of us here ARE abiding by the curfew, the off-limits areas and the rules put in place here.

I like your analogy Robert, as you explain that the, “Okinawa people are no more to blame for WWII than the Italian People were or the Average German Person was for the real axis of evil or that the Polish People among others in Europe deserved to become a part of the USSR.” You are right; but, take your argument to its logical conclusion. Just as the Okinawans should not face scrutiny for the Japanese leaders who caused the Pacific part of WWII, the entirety of the U.S. military should not be criticized for the decisions of its leadership or even the small minority of criminals who have infiltrated its ranks. More crimes are committed by Okinawans here on this island than by the U.S. military, they just don’t get reported. Speaking of reporting, if all you have to report on is a crime from 1995 and now in 2012 (and there are a few more), we are doing pretty good considering the crime rate of say, I don’t know, any American city of equal population to Okinawa Japan, or American college towns for that matter.

The crimes mentioned are reprehensible and criminals should be punished accordingly, I get it; but not all in the U.S. military are criminals. You, Robert, should know this, or are you a criminal too, if you are in fact a U.S. Army veteran? Did you come back to, “try to help the situation by exposing the disease brought to Okinawa following WWII by an aggressive US Military determined to keep this unsinkable battle ship floating & the keystone to the pacific clearly in the hands of the US Military,” or did you come back to enslave?

Stephanie, Robert is probably not a criminal, and most U.S. military members are not here to, “punish Okinawa for WWII,” as he has suggested. We are mostly just guys doing our best to “defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

I recommend gathering opinions from Okinawan people themselves rather than Chalmers Johnson; I did. They tell me that they do not hate us; they hate the fact that they don’t have a say in what happens to their own island. They have us imposed on them by our government, the Japanese government and treaties from WWII. They are told by someone else what to do or what will happen to their island. The U.S. military, and in different regards, the Okinawan people are like political footballs. Even 4-star Generals in our military don’t decide where bases go; that is up to the politicians and decision makers in governments. Okinawan politicians, who should have some say, seem to be over-ruled by decisions above their level. That said, I am not privy to the information / meetings / agreements politicians have, nor am I in a position to judge their decisions.

Lastly Stephanie, “crash-prone MV-22 Osprey aircraft”? Seriously? That airframe has just as good of a record, if not better than most other airframes that were adopted by the U.S. military. Again, it is about choice for the Okinawan people. Did you realize that most of the people who protested that decision were flown in because those who did oppose it or demanded the contrary were such a minority that they couldn’t muster enough local support to do the protests?

Semper Fi,


Posted by mjf on 11.25.12 at 23:32

Great article. Many people are getting aware nowadays how the US military only serves its own interest, not the interests of the countries they occupy. It's amazing how much money Japan is paying for hosting the US strategic presence. And the price is rising tensions on the island and in the whole pacific. Surveys show that three-quarters of the Okinawa population want the US military out. So get the hell out of there, Americans!! If you are so keen on creating employment for the local people than try thinking of something else than weapons or dumping your nuclear waste...

Posted by Door Jelsma on 4.4.13 at 3:39



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