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US Bases Are a Burden

Date Posted: 2000-08-11

It is a commonly voiced opinion that if the US bases were dismantled, the Okinawan economy would suffer greatly. This is not true. The bases only account for about five percent of the gross prefectural product, including base related payments from the Japanese government. Much of this money goes directly to landlords. So the idea that the island will descend into some kind of irreversible economic decline without American military dollars is false. Only a few property owners would miss the Americans. Local shops would suffer hardly at all, as the military buy practically all their goods in their own base stores.

From the Okinawan perspective 20% of the main islandís prime land is used to benefit very few local pockets. The bases hire only 200 Okinawans annually. The total number local people employed on bases is 15,000 at most - not much out of a population of 1.3 million. If the prime sites the bases occupy were freed up, they would actually boost the economy, not shrink it. Many buildings would be available for all sorts of uses. The islandís absurd transport infrastructure could be modernized, a big economic increase in itself. Instead of driving miles out of our way by skirting base perimeters, we could drive straight through the bases. Transport systems that go rationally from A to B such as railroads could be considered.

There would also be scope for money making ventures like animal or amusement parks, not to mention a great deal of pleasant green space at the moment denied to people who used to live there.

What is the objection to these ideas? Political strategy formulated in Washington and accepted by Tokyo. Is it any wonder Okinawans feel frustrated? We get no economic benefit from a large foreign military presence and feel our wishes are ignored by politicians in the far off capital, paying court to a foreign power.

The Tokyo politicians pay off co-operative Okinawan politicians with infrastructure projects. The investment is still lower than in mainland areas that do not have bases. In locations near American bases on the mainland, local communities get higher subsidies from the Japanese government than their counterparts in Okinawa. Whether the war strategists are right or wrong is another question. Meanwhile, please let us hear no more about American military bases propping up the local economy. In truth they are an economic burden on our island.

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