Okinawa Rape Grabs Headlines, Little Political Impact
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The arrest of yet another US military personnel in Okinawa on charges of rape this past week grabbed headlines in the international media. News of the crime was featured in major papers such as New York Times and the Washington Post and received the most coverage in national dailies of countries playing host to US troops and bases (ex. South Korea & the Gulf region). In Japan, an editorial (20 June) in the Asahi Shimbun called for the immediate revision of to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). While Japanese English dailies such as the Japan Times and the Mainichi News reported on Okinawa governor Keiichi Inamine's efforts to garner support for SOFA revision.
This arrest of a US marine for rape has forced US authorities to arrange a swift meeting, to be held within the next several weeks, between US and Japanese officials. On the agenda is the SOFA, which has not been revised since 1960. Although, Inamine's call for revision has been supported by the likes of Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, little if anything is expected to change. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who thwarted Ishihara's plans to run for premiership several months ago, has already come out clearly on the matter saying that, "the government is unlikely to meet immediately the Okinawa government's request for SOFA revision" (Linda Sieg, "U.S. to Hand Over Marine in Japan Rape Case", Reuters, 18 June).
Okinawans have always been secondary to interests that have long profited from the US-Japan alliance. The plight of Okinawans is well known. Okinawa hosts approximately seventy-five percent of all US forces in Japan who live on bases that occupy eleven percent of the Island. Since 1945, these people have endured crime, pollution, corruption and economic dependence stemming from this "security" arrangement. Most Okinawans have long protested the occupation, however, they have fallen victim to what the commander of US Marine Corp Bases in Japan, Lt. General W. C. Gregson, recently classified as, "the confluence of many, many interests" (Linda Sieg, "Okinawa's Strategic Value to Grow--Top U.S. Marine", Reuters, 20 June).
For US military strategists, Okinawa is of vital importance says Gregson, as it "facilitates the projection of US forces throughout Asia". The General predicts that improved mobility will increase this value. In return, the Japanese government has relieved itself of much of the burden related to national security and in the process has secured preferential access to US markets and US patents. In the loop are also many Okinawan land lords who profit from the long-term leasing of their land to US troops and object to their withdrawal.
That SOFA has not been revised in nearly 50 years despite over 5,000 crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, having been committed by US military personnel, civilian employees or dependents since 1972, demonstrates, with excruciating clarity, the low priority given to the well-being of the average Okinawan within the circles of power (Military Base Affairs Office 1999; 3-7).
As the Koizumi cabinet rushes to get laws passed that will allow Japan to make a military contribution to the Bush administration's plans for Iraq, very little attention is being given to people in Okinawa. Upon hearing about the rape, Koizumi expressed no more than "regret". His foreign minister used the same word.
While the strategic value of Okinawa as a launching pad for US led military conquests is heralded by politicians, the toll on the well-being of Okinawa's inhabitants is brushed aside as regretful. General Gregson argues that Okinawa's role in US military plans will heighten. For him the key is mobility. "If we have more mobility", says Gregson, "we can expand our involvement throughout the region". While this may sound like good news to US and Japanese policy makers who will profit from exploiting Okinawa, there is no doubt that Okinawans will continue to suffer. In this sense, the status of Okinawa certainly classifies under what Prof. John Dower calls "indefinite neo-colonial control". For Okinawans today, there seems little hope for a better future.