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A Common Ground

Date Posted: 2000-08-25

I would like to respond to Mamoru Kaneshima's excellent letter in your August 17 edition. Please note that these are my personal opinions as a private citizen only, and not those of any branch, department, or organization within the United States Government.

It is true that a common opinion shared by many is that Okinawa's economy is propped up by the large military presence here. This is an assertion that ignores many basic economic realities (total revenue must exceed total cost if profit is to be made, etc.). The military is not a business. It is not a development fund. It cannot even be considered Foreign Direct Investment, despite it being the military of a foreign power. Defense spending is a drain on any country's GDP, and in the case of Okinawa, it is logical to assume that the amount of input in terms of capital and labor which make the military presence here possible, outweigh the resultant product of that investment, as regional security is not something which has a specific dollar (or yen) value.

Mamoru Kaneshima's letter makes the point that "U.S. bases are a burden on the local economy." Yes, that is true. Military spending is an economic burden. It is a burden on the national economy, as well. It is a burden to every economy, everywhere in the world. So are public schools. And traffic lights.

Japan spends less than 1% of its government budget on National Defense, compared to a world average of around 6%. The United States spends around 17% each year. What does this mean? It means that Japan retains the services of the world's most advanced and powerful military, as per "The Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation between the United States of America and Japan," while acquiring those services at a cut-rate discount.

None of which addresses the basic question of, "Why must Okinawa bear the bulk of this burden for Japan?" Ignoring the geographically strategic significance of Okinawa; and not taking into account the possibility of blatant discrimination and apathy on the part of the "politicians in the far off capital, paying court to a foreign power," who are not ethnically or culturally related to the people of Okinawa; I would say that I don't know why this is so.

Part of the reason, in my opinion, is the fact that the discussion revolving around bases in Okinawa and defense policy in Japan as a whole, gets lost in the fanatical and unreasonable positions of the liberal and conservative extremists within the Japanese media and government. The extremists do not approach these issues with an eye to the real world, but rather with an eye to garnering reactions through media effect, and promotion of ideologies that are incompatible with a workable national policy. Having the most to say, they say it the loudest, and drown out the many voices of common sense which represent the silent majority in Okinawa and Japan as a whole. And Okinawan politicians have the unenviable position of being the ones who, no matter what decisions they make, will be viewed as pandering to Tokyo money and local landlords by their constituents, and sacrificing national policy on the altar of provincial concerns by their contemporaries in the mainland.

In either event, the American military is caught in the middle of this issue. What is strange to me is how many extremists from both camps focus directly on the bases and their personnel, and ignore the more important issues. How else can you explain the fact that a foolish, drunken minor committing a misdemeanor makes the front pages on several separate occasions, while the stabbing death of an Okinawan by an Okinawan is relegated to a three inch column on page three of the paper?

The truth is, most American service members don't even want to be here. It is nothing against your beautiful island. It's just that they would much rather be home in America, near their friends, family, and the life they know. Rather than in a foreign land where, according to almost everything they see and hear from the media as well as their superior's policies, everyone hates them. But I can tell you this, American servicemembers will do their duty. They will do what they do not personally want to do, because they are servants of the American public. They will uphold their oaths to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And this means they will obey the policy dictates of their country's democratically elected officials.

The American military is in many ways powerless against the onslaught of negative public opinion, especially in a foreign land. According to the highest ideals of our nation, the military must remain distinctly apolitical. Under no circumstances should the military begin dictating foreign or national policy. For this reason, we can not become engaged in the decisions and discussions that bear so direct an impact on our lives.

This is something which the framers of Japan's Meiji Constitution failed to address adequately, and as a result, Japan fell victim to the ultra-nationalist agenda of a few radicals during the 1920's and 1930's, right up until the end of World War II. With this terrible lesson as a reminder, I would ask the people of Japan this: Do you really feel that you should come to the military to voice your complaints? Perhaps your own politicians are in a better position to address your concerns. If, as many of my friends in Okinawa have told me, people did not feel that elections don't affect them (younger people especially), more could be accomplished toward representing the desires of the Okinawan people. This is a difficult problem and one that my country also must learn to address (in Japan's last parliamentary elections, only 62% of registered voters turned out; in America, it was less than half).

In any event, you should know that I think most of American servicemembers sympathize with the unfair burden of the Okinawans, but feel victimized and misrepresented by many forces in your society. I would have you note that the Okinawa Bar Association recently accused American Servicemembers of committing serious crimes at a much higher rate than their Okinawan neighbors (even submitting a 45 page report outlining the lawlessness of Americans), only to admit a week later that their figures were completely wrong. In fact, we are more law-abiding than our counterparts who are native residents here. Where is our apology for these blatantly stereotypical, dishonest, and politically motivated accusations? I won't hold my breath.

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