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Military Crimes Deserve Greater Media Coverage

By: Hand that Feeds

Date Posted: 2001-04-06

American readers probably missed the recent Japanese news coverage of a JSDF member accused of molesting a local girl. There were headlines, lengthy articles, front page photos of top military brass apologizing to civilian politicians. It all looks wearily familiar, except this time Americans were not in the hot seat.

If the accused were not in the military of course, the coverage would be much less. This surely illustrates a point that gets missed when accusations are made about how the crimes of American servicemen are publicized disproportionately, compared to those of locals. It is not because they are Americans that they attract all the flak, but because they are in the military.

Infringements of the law by military forces get greater media coverage than the same offenses committed by local civilians for some very simple reasons. The military say they hold themselves to higher standards than the civilian community. So when someone in uniform, does a hit and run, a break-in or a molestation it is more shocking than the same crime committed by someone out of uniform and therefore is more deserving of comment and condemnation.

The other aspect lacking in crimes committed by civilians is that these miscreants are not paid to protect the community by the government. The US forces however are heavily subsidized by the Japanese government. The funds provided are the most generous of any other host nation with a similar agreement. (So much so that it is actually cheaper for the US military to station troops in Japan than at home.)

When one of these troops commits an offense, no matter how minor, there is a political dimension lacking in a crime committed by a civilian. From the Japanese point of view, a US marine burning down some bars has behaved far worse than a local hoodlum doing the same thing, because that serviceman’s role is supposed to be one of trust by the community he is paid to protect. Money to support the protection comes from Japanese pockets. So why is the sense of Okinawan outrage so hard to understand? When the guilty party looks as if he might not even be punished, the anger really boils over.

If a policeman commits a crime, that is a much more serious matter than a member of the public doing the same. It is also worthy of more media comment. It is nonsense to say that because police commit fewer crimes than normal citizens, not much fuss should be made over the occasions when they do transgress. In the same way the military should not complain or be surprised at the attention when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The military has a code of ethics that is much more stringent than that imposed on civilians. So when a man in uniform gets drunk and kicks a police car, the breach of his code is greater than that of a civilian doing the same thing. So is it also more newsworthy. If a monk is caught shoplifting that is bigger news than “man caught shoplifting” for the same reason.

The complaints that surface with as much regularity as the crimes, also ignore the fact that foreigners are given greater scrutiny in any country. When the foreigners are subsidized by that community and supposed to be guarding its security, their offenses deserve to be treated differently and condemned more harshly.

Suppose two people were murdered in the US. One murder was committed by a local and the other by a Japanese army officer. Which crime would garner more publicity? It would not be difficult to predict the acres of newsprint and TV footage devoted to the Japanese soldier. The other murder, unless it had some very unusual aspect, would most likely barely be noticed. Now suppose the Japan-US security pact were reversed and Japanese troops were stationed in America, rather than the other way round. The Japanese killer owed his status to American taxpayers whom he was pledged to protect. Would not the outrage at the Japanese officer felt by Americans be entirely justified? If this crime was one of a continuous series that never seemed to stop, would the harshly worded editorials and the political analyses questioning the value of the alliance be at all surprising?

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