- Cullman, Alabama

National News

December 13, 2012

INTERNATIONAL: Crime, Osprey add to Okinawan anger over US bases

OKINAWA, Japan — For nearly 70 years, Okinawa has gotten more than its share of America's military — more jets rattling homes, more crimes rattling nerves.

It's the only Japanese island invaded by U.S. land forces during World War II. It endured 27 years under U.S. administration, and it continues to host two-thirds of Japan's U.S. bases.

The 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor spread rage across the island of about 1.4 million. Now another rape and other crimes allegedly by U.S. servicemen have triggered a new wave of anger, though the suspects make up a tiny portion of the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed here.

Some Okinawans get emotional just talking about the stress they feel living in the U.S. military's shadow.

"Everywhere, everyone who has a daughter is feeling this way," said Tomoharu Nakasone, a father of four daughters, choking back tears.

Nakasone, who runs an FM radio station, grew up with the bases and thought he was used to the idea, even forgiving a fatal 2009 hit-and-run by a serviceman as a mistake. But he was outraged by the latest rape — in a parking lot in October — and petrified by a bizarre incident weeks later in which a 13-year-old boy was beaten in his own home while watching TV, allegedly by a U.S. airman.

"Entering someone's home is simply not normal. It is the lowest of human behavior," he said.

There has always been a degree of strain between Okinawans and U.S. troops, but it has grown more pronounced in recent months, not only because of crime but because of safety concerns surrounding the MV-22 Osprey, a U.S. hybrid aircraft with tilting rotors recently brought to the island.

The U.S. troops, mostly Marines and Air Force, are stationed on Okinawa under a bilateral alliance that's the cornerstone of Tokyo's foreign policy.

U.S. Ambassador John Roos and the commander of the U.S. forces in Japan have apologized for the crimes, promised to cooperate with the Japanese police investigations and increased restrictions on troops.

"We take the relationship with Japan very serious," U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Lt. Col. David Honchul said. "That's why these actions have all taken place because we are trying to show the citizens of Japan that we take this serious, and we are going to address this. And it's also telling our own service members that we take this very seriously."

After the October rape, an 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew was set for all military personnel in Japan.

The rules were tightened further after a drunken driving accident off-base last month. Now U.S. troops in Okinawa are barred from buying or consuming alcohol off-base. Even on-base, sales of alcohol stop from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Despite the military's efforts, many Okinawans sound fed up with American troops.

"They are being trained to kill for war. They can't look at a person as a human being," said Hiyori Mekaru, a 40-year-old nurse who has lived all her life on Okinawa. "I am angry. I don't want this kind of future, where we must have our children grow up, learning the names of military planes."

Ironically, the U.S. military's influence over Okinawans is evident even in their protests against the bases. They shout at passing cars, "Get out of here!" and "We hate you!" in good vernacular English that is unusual for most Japanese but typical for Okinawans. During one recent rally protesters closed by singing "We Shall Overcome."

Okinawans got their hopes up about getting rid of the bases in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan seized control from the conservatives that have ruled the country almost incessantly since the end of World War II.

The prime minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, promised that the rest of Japan would share in the burden of hosting American bases. But almost as soon as he made his promise, he was kicked out of office.

The Okinawan bases have faded to a non-issue in Sunday's nationwide parliamentary elections, which are dominated by concerns about the country's nuclear disaster and economic malaise. Japan has had one prime minister after another over the past several years, making any negotiations difficult.

And so the plan to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, promised after the 1995 rape, to coastal and less densely populated Henoko on another part of Okinawa has gone nowhere.

Yoshikazu Tamaki, an Okinawan prefectural (state) legislator, said keeping the bases on an island that makes up less than 0.5 percent of Japan's territory is "systematic discrimination."

He said he is disgusted by how Okinawa has been treated by its own government, and suggested that officials in Washington are more sympathetic about Okinawa's plight than those in Tokyo.

"These are young soldiers here, maybe 18, maybe 20," he said. "They are waging war every day. They are coming to Okinawa as a military base. The way we feel and the way they feel will never meet."

Japan must weigh Okinawans' complaints against its relationship with the U.S. military, which it values all the more as Tokyo quarrels with China over several small islands and watches nuclear-armed North Korea test its missile technology, most recently with a rocket launch Wednesday.

Okinawans are angry that Japan approved the deployment of the 12 Osprey aircraft, which began in October, though the government has asked for and received additional assurances of the aircraft's safety.

Washington says the Osprey is safe and is needed to ensure regional security. Okinawans are concerned about two Osprey crashes earlier this year, in Florida and Morocco, and because Futenma, where the aircraft make nearly daily test flights, is smack in the middle of the crowded residential area of Ginowan.

Honchul said the Osprey is "a very safe and capable aircraft" that has operated on the island without incident. Investigations into the two crashes did not find fault with the aircraft, he said.

Okinawans, however, remember how a U.S. helicopter dropped eight years ago into the Okinawa International University campus, next to Futenma base. No one was killed and no civilians were injured in the accident.

Over the last several months, dozens of people have been gathering daily at a Futenma gate to protest the Osprey. Kazunobu Akamine, who makes and delivers lunches for a living, was among the most boisterous protesters.

He said his son was nearly killed in the 2004 helicopter crash; he had gone to the university to pick up empty lunch boxes. Talking as if World War II were yesterday, he said his grandfather was fatally shot in the head while hiding in the mountains from U.S. soldiers.

Akamine also talked about how proud he was of his father, who supported his family by checking cargo on the U.S. base, but also secretly participated in anti-base rallies.

"There are so many people like that in Okinawa," Akamine said.

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter.


Text Only
National News
  • Fort Hood (UPDATED) Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.
    One of the officials, citing official internal U.S. Justice Department updates, said 14 others were hurt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information by name.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • High School Stabbings 4 students seriously hurt in Pa. school stabbings

    A student armed with a knife went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning, leaving as many as 20 people injured, including four students who suffered serious wounds, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • Obit Ultimate Warrior Former pro wrestler Ultimate Warrior dies at 54

    James Hellwig, better known as former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior, has died, the WWE said. He was 54.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Washington Mudslide Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

    As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Fort Hood Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment

    An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court Campaign Big donors may give even more under court’s ruling

    The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo