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Enduring US Military Bases

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Message J.T. Cassidy

This week a Japanese House of Representatives panel earmarked 140.9 billion yen (about 1.37 billion dollars) to cover a portion of the costs for running U.S. military installations in Japan. The public learned about the decision on the same day the news reported on the arrest of a US sailor for the murder of Masaaki Takahashi, a 61-year-old Tokyo taxi driver. A 22-year-old Navy Seaman stationed just south of Tokyo in Yokosuka, admitted to stabbing the victim with a kitchen knife before fleeing his cab on the night of March 19.

The crime has stirred renewed public resentment towards the stationing of some 50,000 troops on and off the shores of this island nation. This latest incident follows on the crest of what has been perceived by many as a growing wave of crime committed by US military personnel. Last month some 6,000 people took to the streets of Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, where the bulk of US military forces in Japan are stationed, to participate in demonstrations that called for the removal of American bases from their land. The public display of anger was sparked primarily by an alleged assault on a 14-year-old Okinawan girl by a US Marine in February. While charges were never filed and the Marine in question was released from Japanese custody, local resentment toward the US military presence in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan festers. Protest organizer, Tetsuei Tamayose has said “the voice of Okinawa is angry." What’s needed he believes is “a fundamental change."

The US command in Japan has been quick to respond to public outrage. In the wake of this most recent incident involving murder, the U.S. Navy has imposed a nearly week-long ban on alcohol consumption for Yokosuka personnel in order to observe what officials are calling ‘‘a period of heightened sensitivity’’ to mourn the death of Masaaki Takahashi.

Statistically US military personnel commit fewer crimes than the Japanese population at large. While crimes involving US forces do occur, American military personnel are, according to the figures, better behaved than the overall population of Japan which is probably one of the best behaved populations around. Many Americans here are quick to point out that these incidents are just the work of a few rotten apples who are spoiling the reputation of the entire barrel. The men and women of the US forces in Japan are for the most part model citizens. But there-in lies the rub. They are not citizens, nor are they immigrants or even visitors. The fact is they are the remnants of an occupation force that has long outserved its purpose. Simply saying the actions of a few doesn’t sum up the whole, risks getting stuck with the wrong answer to that equation. It’s a view that forces us to accept things as they are and limits our ability to change them. When you take out all the apples to weigh the good against the bad you’ll see it’s the barrel that’s rotten and bursting at the seams from an overextended global military presence. What’s really needed is “a fundamental change.” 

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JT Cassidy resides in Yokohama, Japan. His writings have appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Commonweal Magazine, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, the Japan Times, and elsewhere.

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