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America's Abominable Record in Okinawa

News Abroad




Mr. Johnson's newest book is The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (Metropolitan Books).

America's 703 officially acknowledged foreign military enclaves (as of September 30, 2002), although structurally, legally, and conceptually different from colonies, are themselves something like microcolonies in that they are completely beyond the jurisdiction of the occupied nation.1 The United States virtually always negotiates a"status of forces agreement" (SOFA) with the ostensibly independent"host" nation, including countries whose legal systems are every bit (and perhaps more) sophisticated than our own.

In Asia, the SOFA is a modern legacy of the nineteenth-century imperialist practice in China of"extraterritoriality"-the"right" of a foreigner charged with a crime to be turned over for trial to his own diplomatic representatives in accordance with his national law, not to a Chinese court in accordance with Chinese law. Extracted from the Chinese at gun point, the practice arose because foreigners claimed that Chinese law was barbaric and"white men" engaged in commerce in China should not be forced to submit to it. Chinese law was indeed concerned more with the social consequences of crime than with establishing the individual guilt or innocence of criminals, particularly those who were uninvited guests in China.

Following the Anglo-Chinese"Opium War" of 1839-42, the United States was the first nation to demand"extrality" for its citizens. All the other European nations then acquired the same rights as the Americans. Except for the Germans, who lost their Chinese colonies in World War I, Americans and Europeans lived an"extraterritorial" life in China until the Japanese ended it in 1941 and Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang stopped it in 1943. But men and women serving overseas in the American armed forces still demand that their government obtain as extensive extraterritorial status for them as possible. In this modern version, extrality takes the form of heavy American pressure on countries like Japan to alter their systems of criminal justice to conform with procedures that exist in the United States, regardless of historical and cultural differences.

Rachel Cornwell and Andrew Wells, two authorities on status of forces agreements, conclude,"Most SOFAs are written so that national courts cannot exercise legal jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel who commit crimes against local people, except in special cases where the U.S. military authorities agree to transfer jurisdiction."2 Since service members are also exempt from normal passport and immigration controls, the military has the option of simply flying an accused rapist or murderer out of the country before local authorities can bring him to trial, a contrivance to which commanding officers of Pacific bases have often resorted. At the time of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, the United States had publicly acknowledged SOFAs with ninety-three countries, although some SOFAs are so embarrassing to the host nation that they are kept secret, particularly in the Islamic world.3 Thus, the true number is not publicly known.

U.S. overseas military bases are under the control not of some colonial office or ministry of foreign affairs but the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a plethora of other official, if sometimes secret, organs of state. These agencies build, staff, and supervise the bases-fenced and defended sites on foreign soil, often constructed to mimic life at home. However, not all overseas members of the military have families or want their families to accompany them; therefore, except in Muslim countries, these bases normally attract extensive arrays of bars and brothels, and the criminal elements that operate them. The presence of these bases unavoidably usurps, distorts, or subverts whatever institutions of democratic government may exist within the host society.

Stationing several thousand eighteen-to-twenty-four year-old American youths in cultures that are foreign to them and about which they are utterly ignorant is a recipe for the endless series of"incidents" plaguing nations that have accepted U.S. bases. American ambassadors quickly learn the protocol for visiting the host foreign office in order to apologize for the behavior of our troops. Even in closely allied countries where English is spoken, local residents get very tired of sexual assaults and drunken driving by foreign soldiers. During World War II, the British satirized our troops as"over-paid, over-sexed, and over here." Nothing has changed.

The SOFA as Unequal Treaty

Okinawa, Japan's most southerly prefecture and its poorest, has been the scene since 2001 of a particularly fierce confrontation between Washington, Tokyo, and Naha over the Japanese-American SOFA and its use by American authorities to shield military felons from the application of Japanese law. To many Japanese and virtually all Okinawans, the SOFA represents a rebirth of the"unequal treaties" that Western imperialists imposed on Japan after Commodore Perry's armed incursion in 1853. On November 15, 2003, in talks with Japanese officials in Tokyo, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he planned"to press anew for the Japanese government to relent on a long-standing U.S. demand for fuller legal protections for members of its military force accused of crimes while serving in Japan."4 Most American press accounts avoided details about what this enigmatic comment might mean, including whether the American defense secretary was equally concerned about legal protections for Japanese citizens forced to live in close proximity to American soldiers and their weapons and warplanes.

As of November 2003, the United States had stationed in Japan some 47,000 uniformed military personnel, not counting 14,000 sailors attached to the Seventh Fleet at its bases at Yokosuka (Kanagawa prefecture) and Sasebo (Nagasaki prefecture), some of whom are intermittently at sea. In addition there were 52,000 American dependents, 5,500 civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and 23,500 Japanese working for the U.S. forces in jobs ranging from maintaining golf-courses and waiting on tables in the numerous officers' clubs to translating Japanese newspapers for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).5 This large contingent was deployed at ninety-one bases on Japanese soil, of which thirty-eight are located in Okinawa, where they occupy some 23,700 hectares or 19 percent of the choicest territory of the main island. Okinawa is host to some 28,000 American troops plus an equal number of camp followers and Defense Department civilians. The largest contingent of U.S. forces in Okinawa consists of 17,600 Marines, followed by Air Force pilots and maintenance crews at the huge Kadena Air Force Base, the largest U.S. military base in East Asia. Even without these unwelcome guests, Okinawa is an overcrowded island with an indigenous population of 1.3 million in a land area smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Marines are spread out in huge forbidding enclaves from the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Division at Camp Foster (the 3rd Division is the only one of America's three Marine divisions located outside the continental United States) to Camp Hansen in Kin village, Camp Courtney in Gushikawa, Camp Schwab in Nago, and the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma located in the dead center of Okinawa's second largest city, Ginowan, where it takes up fully a quarter of the city's land area. All have been there since the battle of Okinawa in the spring and summer of 1945 or the height of the Cold War in the 1950s.

There is nothing particularly unusual about this manifestation of American military imperialism in Okinawa except for its concentration. It offers scenes that are easily reproduced in Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Kuwait, Qatar, Diego Garcia, and elsewhere, including more recently Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Iraq. However, one distinguishing feature of the Okinawan bases is how much money the Japanese government pays to support them-some $4.25 billion a year out of a total annual cost of approximately $7.6 billion It does so in part to keep American soldiers well out of sight of mainland Japanese -- much as the Tokugawa Bakufu quarantined Dutch merchants on the island of D


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Kelly Dietz - 10/3/2004

Michael,

Thanks for being the one to make the point that everyone else seemed to miss -- that Okinawans are not Japanese.

I'm in Okinawa researching this very point, and how it affects base-community relations. I'd be interested to hear your take on my take on it, since you were stationed here yourself so recently.

I tried to find an e-mail address for you, but couldn't, so I'll give you mine:

kelly_dietz@hotmail.com


Alec Lloyd - 1/13/2004

Mr. West, you mar an otherwise fruitful exchange with statements like this:

"Will we invade again as you question? Who knows what the Bush gang would do, they certainly invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, but generally I would look for more sophisticated and intelligent approaches that did not weaken our security rather than improve it. Corrupting the local politica process, blackmail of assorted flavours both personal and national, assassination and coup engineering, all tricks we have used in the past and no doubt will use in the future as the situation warrants."

Allow me to buy you a box of Reynolds Wrap so you may line your hat with aluminium foil.

If you truly believe that the Japanese government can, in any conceivable way, be conflated with the renegade regime of the Taliban or Saddam Hussein's fascist dictatorship, than all further discussion of world politics with you is pointless.

This may come as a shock to you, Mr. West, but all of the Western democracies indulge in public relations campaigns. The most obvious examples are to promote tourism, but a general increase in affection (say, when a trade dispute is looming) is also common.

States are not unitary actors. There are internal political forces that you seem to acknowledge in theory but refuse to address.

If, as many on this page seem to think, the US people can be manipulated by xenophobia, the same is true in spades for other, more ethnically homogenous states. "Yankee go home!" is a great campaign slogan when you're looking for a wedge issue and some quick notoriety. It immediately raises you to an international level, forcing a superpower to deal with your otherwise insignificant political party.

As for our "empire," I will remind you that this isn't 1898. Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are hardly the New Raj. If the locals want to leave, they haven't made much of a fuss.

Furthermore, as I have pointed out, there is simply no evidence that the US military enourages its members to misbehave and systematically bully local nationals. If you like, I can show you a stack of regulations on foreign conduct, and the Judge Advocates aren't a particularly easy-going group of people.

Like any large organization, the military has its warts, and because of its profile, they get more attention. However this article does nothing to lay out a case that SFAs are designed to allow a systematic and widespread abuse of host country citizens. Instead we have a series of anecdotes that prove only that no judicial system is perfect.

Given the choice between being tried by the legal system of any other nation and the UCMJ, I pick the UCMJ, and I'm sure you would, too. Indeed, I'd wager just about everyone on this page, when push came to shove, would prefer the UCMJ to a foreign system where such basic concepts as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is not a given.

However, the UCMJ is arguably harsher than many of the legal codes in question.

We would therefore be seeking its use NOT because of its leniency, but because of its FAIRNESS.



Jerry West - 1/9/2004

Mr. Lloyd you inquired as to the meaning of my statement: Yep, and if I want a winning lottery ticket, all I have to do is ask.

In more detail it means that just asking us to leave will not necessarily get that response from us, and that leaving Japan or anywhere we may feel that it is in our national best interest to remain is a more complicated process than telling us to be gone. As you admit yourself, such a request may trigger a PR campaign on our part to change minds. Don't stop there, depending on how important we view our presence in a place to our security it may trigger more than just PR.

Will we invade again as you question? Who knows what the Bush gang would do, they certainly invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, but generally I would look for more sophisticated and intelligent approaches that did not weaken our security rather than improve it. Corrupting the local politica process, blackmail of assorted flavours both personal and national, assassination and coup engineering, all tricks we have used in the past and no doubt will use in the future as the situation warrants.

I think that we pretty much agree on the dynamics of social and economic iteraction between bases and surrounding communities. There is no doubt a love/hate relationship with some loving bases, some hating them and some doing both at the same time. In foreign countries you also have the factor of people not living near the bases and the pressure that they can bring to bear regionally or nationally concerning US presence. One thing that sets the overseas situation apart from the domestic one.

AL:

You are probably correct. It isn’t an “empire” at all.

JW:

Then what is it? Setting aside the 19th century and what it may have been, I think that one can safely say that the US has been an imperial power since 1898. Colonies in Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and so on. Occupation forces in a number of countries, garrisons in a number of others, involvement in the destruction and establishment of governments worldwide and puppet regimes whose soldiers and others we train and work closely with, so on and so forth. We may not have formally incorporated much of our empire into our overt political framework, but it is still empire, or if one prefers some euphemism for empire. Which euphemism do you prefer?

AL:

So all self-interested statecraft is imperial?

JW:

That depends on what kind of statecraft you are talking about. Seeking to control others is imperial. Building a network of colonies, client states and establishing garrisons around the globe is imperial in my book.

AL:

Mr. West, we HAVE left the Philippines, precisely because that was what the government desired.

JW:

We left the Philippines because it was in our interest to do so. They wanted us out and we had no reason pressing enough not to leave and cause friction with the Philippines. Had they wanted us out at the height of the Vietnam War when our bases there were part of the war effort, do you suppose we would have just folded the tents and pulled out?

If Castro asks us to leave Guantanamo are we packing our bags? Or will we cling to that piece of empire?

I think that we leave places because it is perceived to be more advantageous to leave than stay. Being asked to leave could certainly factor into the equation, but it is only one part.


Alec Lloyd - 1/9/2004

We seem to be in considerable agreement, I'm afraid I don't understand a couple of your statements.

JW: Yep, and if I want a winning lottery ticket, all I have to do is ask.

Huh?

JW: For one, I don't think you can make much of a case for a "voluntary empire."

You are probably correct. It isn’t an “empire” at all.

JW: We certainly do it far more out of self interest (whatever you want to ascribe that to) than altruism.

So all self-interested statecraft is imperial? That stretches the definition of “empire” so broadly as to make the term meaningless. I guess when we begin our next round of NAFTA trade negotiations we should be on the lookout for Mexican and Canadian “imperialism.”

JW: And, for two, the Japanese or Koreans or anyone may ask but I doubt if we would leave if we saw it in our best interest to remain, despite whatever hostility such a decision may incur.

Really? What would we do, invade again? There is a tendency among some to portray various international actors as unitary. Thus “South Korea’s people” or “Japan’s people” want bases to close. Local will and political sentiment, as I pointed out, is in fact far more nuanced. Communities often “hate” the very thing that sustains them. In northern Michigan, the locals refer to tourists as “fudgies,” because they buy the famous confection, are fat and (by association) mentally slow. Fudgies are objects of derision and resentment, for they tie up traffic, make noise and generally inconvenience people. They also sustain the local economy. Without them, the area turns into a ghost town.

Military bases work on the same dynamic. Some segments of the population may wish to see them closed, there may even be widespread popular support for this. But it also common for government officials, who are privy to military and strategic intelligence, to recognize their usefulness. Nevertheless, I find your scenario extremely unrealistic: if Germany, or Japan or Britain for that matter immediately called for all US bases to close, we would oblige. We may not like it, would probably launch a public relations campaign to try to change their mind, but in the end, we would leave.

JW: Do you suppose that we would have closed shop and left the Philippines in 1968 had they demanded it then? More likely there would have been a coup.

Mr. West, we HAVE left the Philippines, precisely because that was what the government desired. Oh yes, I know: the US has done ill in the past. Amazing. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Are you saying we would overthrow Japan’s government? Germany’s? What, exactly are you implying?


Jerry West - 1/8/2004

I hate to break it to you, too, Mr. Lloyd, but I happen to agree with your statements on the UCMJ. I may not be a JAG lawyer but I do have some familiarity and experience with that piece of work.

No system delivers perfect justice, as you state, and I even doubt if the sweet hereafter will either. In the case of the UCMJ it is subject to a fair amount of Command influence and pre-determined verdicts, probably more so than many civil courts, and the principle of trial by a jury of one's peers is only likely to apply in practice to senior officers. This is not to say that there are not fair trials or that justice is not often done.

I also agree with much of what you say about bases and SOFAs, but that is beside the point.

Some areas where we may see things a bit differently:

AL:

The reason the US uses SOFA is that it spares our military from having to instruct its members in 178 different legal systems.

JW:

I think that that is only part of the reason. SOFAs also insulate us from responsibility and make more difficult if not remove a level of political pressure that could be brought to bear on us.

Perhaps a more fair and considerate policy on SOFAs would be to have them apply only to personnel who are acting in the performance of their duty, and not to those on leave or liberty. Those who did not want to take the time to become familiar with local laws and their consequences could stay on base if they did not want to expose themselves.

AL:

We are guests; our “empire” is voluntary. If the Japanese wish us to leave, all they have to do is ask.

JW:

Yep, and if I want a winning lottery ticket, all I have to do is ask. For one, I don't think you can make much of a case for a "voluntary empire." We certainly do it far more out of self interest (whatever you want to ascribe that to) than altruism. And, for two, the Japanese or Koreans or anyone may ask but I doubt if we would leave if we saw it in our best interest to remain, despite whatever hostility such a decision may incur. Do you suppose that we would have closed shop and left the Philippines in 1968 had they demanded it then? More likely there would have been a coup.

AL:

The price they pay for that is rambunctious US GIs running around their ports.

JW:

And my point is that by the US putting a tighter lid on the rambunctious GI problem we would be better guests and have less friction with our allies. It can be done, I've been there, I know what it is like.

AL:

....there’s a lot of other countries who’d like some of it, too.

JW:

In the same way that hookers like johns. :)


Alec Lloyd - 1/8/2004

In response to my post on the UCMJ, Jerry West wrote:

“I agree, and sometimes not just either.”

I hate to break this to you, Mr. West, but the same can be said of every legal system. If you see perfect justice, you will have to wait for the Hereafter.

The reason the US uses SOFA is that it spares our military from having to instruct its members in 178 different legal systems. We are guests; our “empire” is voluntary. If the Japanese wish us to leave, all they have to do is ask. As a valuable trading partner and strategic ally, we set a great store on Japanese goodwill. When our lease expired in the Philippines, we left.

Indeed, for all the “Yankee Go Home” sentiment, it is strange to notice that when our troops are on the actual point of closing the base, the locals suddenly find great affection for the money and jobs our facilities bring. Okinawa is poor, and it won’t get any richer when 30,000 GIs decide to spend their American dollars somewhere else.

Yes, all allies will develop friction on various points, just as families see disagreements. The question is whether the relationship overall works. And it is particularly satisfying to blame “rowdy foreigners” for everything.

Your remark about US military bases is indicative: in fact local law enforcement have a similar situation with military members. And many local communities here in the US have identical complaints: the planes are too noisy, the strip bars are obscene and the troops too rowdy. But when BRAC rears its ugly head and the “closing soon” sign is hung up on the front gate, all of these problems are forgotten in the desperate desire to keep those rowdy troops’ money close at hand.

If Japan wants to build a blue-water navy and spend more than 2 percent of its GDP on defense, it is welcome to do so. However, the Japanese still find it convenient so use that money for other things and shelter under the American strategic umbrella.

The price they pay for that is rambunctious US GIs running around their ports. The South Koreans have a similar situation: if they want us to leave, we will be happy to oblige. However, when our Secretary Rumsfeld broached the idea of pulling our troops back from the DMZ and closing the base near Seoul (a long-standing request), the ROK suffered a collective heart attack. Suddenly we couldn’t leave, and certainly pulling our troops back would be very dangerous. Suddenly the SOFA didn’t seem such an imposition.

A few months ago the US decided not to return one of its divisions to Germany, where we’ve been a favorite target for decades. Oh the despair that elicited! One of Gerhard Schroeder’s recurrent nightmares has to be the closing of Ramstein and the rest of the US bases there. Right now his economy can really use the money.

So could Poland or Romania, or the Czech Republic, all of whom make attractive alternatives. If Germany’s being “exploited,” there’s a lot of other countries who’d like some of it, too.


Jerry West - 1/8/2004

Having experience on Okinawa I concur that it is a beautiful place. I also spent three years stationed in Japan and have some knowledge of how the SOFA works, in this case the US-Japan Security Treaty. A treaty that has been for decades a mutual agreement between the two countries, and not something that the US should expect any longer as a right of victory, as some have implied. I find this passage in Dr. Johnson's piece particularly noteworthy:

**The current (conservative) governor of Okinawa, Keiichi Inamine, contends that U.S. military personnel pay less than one-fifth of what Japanese citizens pay for the public services they receive and that if the tax rate on their vehicles were equal to what ordinary citizens pay, Okinawa's income would increase by ¥780 million.9 It should be noted that none of these clauses exists in any of the SOFAs with NATO countries.**

The question is, why not treat the Japanese equally with other countries that we have SOFAs with? One can understand how this could be a sore point, particularly those as face concious as the Japanese.

I think that one of the points that Dr. Johnson is making in this piece is that a vast web of military bases around the world combined with rowdy GIs and what can be seen as a condoned disrespect for local laws and customs gives us a bad reputation and calls our moral character as a nation into question. It could be argued that in many cases this does us more harm than good, gaining us an ever growing number of enemies for little gain otherwise.

We could improve the leadership of our military, increase discipline and get rid of rowdy GIs as one step, which might make our unwanted (by locals) occupation in some areas more palatible, but I am sure Dr. Johnson's remedy cuts closer to the source than such a band aid.

John Anderson wrote:

Take one of his throw-away facts: a suspect can be held for almost a month with no access to help such as a lawyer. He seems to think this is a fine thing, which leads to more convictions.

JW:

In my experience GI prisoners awaiting trial were held in the base brig and delivered to the Japanese authorities upon demand for whatever purpose, then returned to the brig and not turned over to the Japanese prison system until conviction. If there have been failures on the part of the US to provide prisoners on demand or worse if they have been removed from JN jurisdiction, I could understand pressure to turn them over sooner.

Holding people for long periods of time without recourse to legal counsel of one's choosing and other contact kind of makes me think of Gitmo, naw, the US wouldn't do that!

JA:

He also seems to feel that local law should always trump "foreign" law, and service people accused of crime under local law should be turned over to local authorities for investigation and prosecution. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But think what might be in store if SOFA agreements were all dropped. If we still had bases....

JW:

Foreign laws should not apply to the bases. Keep your bibles and pregnant women on base and you have no problem. It makes little sense to plump a base in the middle of an ally then proceed to use it to insult and anger them.

Beyond the broader argument of whether or not we need bases in these places to start with, if we do have there would still be SOFAs, the issue is how should they be crafted to maintain the respect of those people who have to live with them.

JA:

....getting back to base should not be a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card - but neither do I think the police of, say, Newport Rhode Island should be allowed to search the underwater research laboratories in pursuit of a drunk-and-disorderly suspect.

JW:

I agree.

Dave Livingston wrote:

So what's your problems with our having dictated SOFA to suit our wants & needs? In 1945....

JW:

A bit of history, Okinawa was under direct US control until 1972. The SOFA with Japan is not dictated, it is negotiated and comes up for renewal periodically, not without dissent and demonstrations. Far from being enemies the Japanese have become important allies, including providing considerable support during the Vietnam War.

DL:

So we have an empire? It isn't one we want, nor is it one we will retain a moment longer than necessary to ensure the defense of these United States from our newest enemy, militant and sggressive Islamism.

JW:

Islamism is an excuse. We have an empire for economic reasons and what we are defending are certain sectors of our economy. We will keep it as long as it appears profitable and the taxpayers will tolerate it.

Alec Lloyd wrote:

They exist because many local governments are corrupt and their legal systems victimize foreigners.

JW:

Kind of like Mississippi not too long ago or probably any number of podunk towns in the US today? Perhaps the military should have a SOFA with each state so GIs can drink in dry counties and ignore local traffic laws?

They exist to define the rights and responsibilities of the partners to the contract. Corruption is not necessarily an element. Neither is arrogance, but it exists.

In the case of Japan, which is the main point here, the legal system is not that bad.

AL:

The UCMJ is many things, but lenient isn't one of them.

JW:

I agree, and sometimes not just either.

Goji wrote:

....it's equally true that a foreigner in a Japanese court has a much higher rate of conviction than a national....

JW:

It may be that foreigners are less likely to go to trial if there is any doubt about their guilt. One needs to look at that too.


Michael Riordan - 1/8/2004

LOL Dude I guess you have never been to Okinawa? It's actually a beautiful place. Dont blame Japan dont blame Okinawans. The U.S. is there because they want to be there. We are not there protecting anyone's interests but our own. Do some research.


Michael Riordan - 1/8/2004

LOL, I was in Okinawa from NOV 93 to MAY 94 attached to 3rd Marine Divison. We were from 1st Mar DIV Pendleton. At the time I didnt know much about Okinawa but since then I have learned a great deal. We took Okinawa from Japan and then gave it back to them striking the deal to keep our troops there. Hello Okinawans are not Japanese. It wasnt our Island to give away. True we did help out the Okinawans by defeating Japan but how come they never had any say? History never changes. The elite few make money globally while the American military is used as hired thugs to carry out the dirty deeds. This Major who is crying about being an American under Japanese rule? LOL He was probably beat up as an enlisted man and was a loser as an officer. It was his choice to stay in the military. So now suck it up sir and pay the price. You were out drinking while your wife and kids were at home another choice you made. Quit your crying your supposed to be a Marine....................


NYGuy - 1/7/2004

Jesse,

It simply seems that Mr. Chalmers is stating what should be obvious- that the American soldiers and their Japanese hosts come from two very different societies, and when you put the two peoples together on a small island, in a very unequal relationship, you're going to have some complications.

NYGuy

And when you put the Japanese on a different continent they wind up raping and killing older women, younger women, and children. Japan’s behavior in China was similar to many other countries over the century. You are right that the Japanese legal system is different than ours.

This does not mean that putting US personnel in another country to defend that country should put our soldiers at the whims of another country. Protecting its personnel from injustice is something diplomats have been concerned about for centuries, especially when the foreign force is not an invader but a protector for the locals. That is why the UN officials have such immunity and can get away with murder in NYC because of their diplomatic immunity. In the words of the old Democratic Party refrain, “everyone does it.”

If Johnson has something new to ad, beyond a political rant, it might qualify as an interesting article. As it is presented the article is nothing more than an article even the National Enquirer would not print.


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2004

Goji is someone after my own heart, one to call a spade a spade. Your common-sense sssessment is much appreciated.

Dave Livingston


Goji - 1/7/2004

Oh, come on. I lived in japan for better than 5 years - and not as military - as a civilian working for a Japanese company and living in the "real" Japan, not goddamn Tokyo - yes some Marines are fuckups, especially in Okinawa and around Roppongi in Tokyo - but guess what? They are around bases within the US as well, and in equivalent numbers. While it's distasteful that the Japanese courts find it difficult to try these offenders (or even have access to them) it's equally true that a foreigner in a Japanese court has a much higher rate of conviction than a national (don't trust me on it - look up the numbers!) and that Japan has its own protectionist ways as applies to it's native sons - witness ex-president Fujimori, who now lives happily near Tokyo, despite allegations of poilitical murder his Peruvian police inflicted under his orders.
Yes, all countries tend to want to protect their own - at least we're honest enough to argue about it in public.


John Dkaport - 1/7/2004

What you´re all offended after this article is that US Army Personal can not be forced to be subjected to any law in a country where they´re based. So they can do anything they want. You´re not thinking with your brain.

Imagine a foreign country army station in any town, USA and with all the blonde american girls at risk of being raped, robbed, or crashed bacause a bunch of nuts that are "supposed to be acostumed to discipline", can´t keep their way while off duty. Sounds bad, isn´t it?

Americans are not acostumed to follow the international law and respect other people´s rights. Each and every empire in history has grown, conquered and fall. The world will just see he fall of USA, because that´s human history.


Jesse Lamovsky - 1/7/2004

I don't understand where anyone got the idea that Mr. Johnson was unfavorably comparing American cultural and legal systems to those of Japan. I certainly didn't detect any biases in the piece. It simply seems that Mr. Chalmers is stating what should be obvious- that the American soldiers and their Japanese hosts come from two very different societies, and when you put the two peoples together on a small island, in a very unequal relationship, you're going to have some complications.

The question is this: is there any pressing need for such a large troop commitment on Okinawa in this day and age? Japan has long since left its militaristic and expansionist tendencies in the rearview mirror. The Pacific is still an American lake. No doubt there are other islands in the Pacific (or Stateside, for that matter), where the presence of the 3rd Marine Division would not generate so much friction with the locals. Why not look into a change in venue?


Alec Lloyd - 1/7/2004

I'm sorry, are our legions conscripting the locals? Impressing the peasants into their auxiliary formations?

Hardly.

The fact that SOFA exist does not mean we are latter-day Soldiers of the Queen. They exist because many local governments are corrupt and their legal systems victimize foreigners.

As posted above, apparently any "local" system of justice is preferable to the tender mercies of the American UCMJ (yeah, Leavenworth is a veritable Club Med).

The UCMJ is many things, but lenient isn't one of them. In most countries, a hefty bribe will buy you acquittal from anything. Most of the JAG officers I know (and I know a few) are more than happy to make a career out of nailing some soldier to the wall, particularly if it shows that they "have what it takes."


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2004

Hopefully, I spelled the name of the mountain correctly. In any case, those whimpering about how terrible it is that our boys are on the island I'd really like to see a confrontation between one the weeping weak sisters posting here and one of the G.I.s who fought to take Mt. Surabachi.

No, the Japan of today isn't the Japan of yesteryear, nor are its people. But I do recall, it was but a few years ago the Japanese were explaining to Americans that the Japanese economic model rather than ours was the wave of the future, but today the Japanese economy is in the words of "Stratfor," "In irreversible decline." On the other hand, ours is booming, regardless of Democratic Party politicians' attempts to forestall the economic recovery & boom.

All that said, common decency implies we attempt to get along comfortably & peacefully wherever our troops are posted and normally our troops attempt to do so.

So we have an empire? It isn't one we want, nor is it one we will retain a moment longer than necessary to ensure the defense of these United States from our newest enemy, militant and sggressive Islamism.


Dave Livingston - 1/7/2004

One little problem I have with the tenor of the complaints that our troops in Okinawa are not conforming to the customs of the Okinawians &/or Japanese is that if memory serves the reason our troops first found themselves on the island was in response to the events of 7 Dec. 1941. In short, the Nips began a war with us they lost. As usually happens upon the conclusion of a war the victor dictated the terms of surrender & peace. So what's your problems with our having dictated SOFA to suit our wants & needs? In 1945 the U.S. should have said, "O.K.m, Japan, our boys posted on Okinawa will be subject to Japanese law? Give me a break!


kurt rumler - 1/7/2004

The article stated that driving in Okinawa changed from right side to left side (like the rest of Japan)in 1972, on reversion; but in fact it happened in July of 1976. I was there in 1974-5 driving on the right, and then back in 1980-4, driving on the same roads on the left.


NYGuy - 1/6/2004

Didn’t Japan invade China? And weren’t there 20,000 women who were raped and often murdered at this time in Nanking? And I thought that there were Korean girls who were housed by the Japanese government to meet the “needs” (raped) of the Japanese soldiers.

Yes there is a dark underside to all cultures, and some are worst then others. Perhaps the author did know about the above or it is not something that bothers him.

I understand that two wongs do not make a right, but I don’t want to see our troops get “Shanghaied” either. As the author implies Okinawa is not a nice place to bring up a family and in its poverty must have some sleazy characters who would do anything for money.

Instead of spending money on US troops, the Japanese should use the funds to provide their own protection. Then everyone would be happy. I know I would rather see our troops and their family back in the US. After all why should they be in such a deplorable place that is as the author says, “Okinawa, Japan's most southerly prefecture and its poorest.”

It would be better that all American’s service men and their family were back living in a decent part of the world and not the hell holes in other countries.


John Anderson - 1/6/2004

Mr. Johnson has, as far as I know, the facts. For example, I remember thinking at the time that our people could have been a lot more cooperative in the 1995 rape, and other publicised cases.

But where does he go with his facts? Not far from "any other culture is superior to that of the US." Much of the Japanese system is older than the US, and works - but then, the same could be said of Genghis Khan's rule. Take one of his throw-away facts: a suspect can be held for almost a month with no access to help such as a lawyer. He seems to think this is a fine thing, which leads to more convictions. I may feel that lawyers who do their jobs get disproportionate results, but I am grateful that my forebears fought - bloodily - to get that and related measures in place.

And there are bars and brothels near US bases ("except in Muslim countries"). Golly, imagine that. I guess that such things near Japanese bases are non-existent, right? Or for that matter, the waterfront area of any major port, military or civilian.

He also seems to feel that local law should always trump "foreign" law, and service people accused of crime under local law should be turned over to local authorities for investigation and prosecution. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But think what might be in store if SOFA agreements were all dropped. If we still had bases in Saudi Arabia people could be prosecuted for having a Bible - and an unmarried woman who got pregnant (yes, of course it happens) could be executed. In Germany and France, you can be prosecuted for having an old US copy of William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" because the cover has a swastika.

Yes, I agree that there are problems in Okinawa, and yes, I think they should be addressed with a great deal of sensivity to local custom and authority. But even in the US, I do not think local authority should override concerns of a military base. No, getting back to base should not be a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card - but neither do I think the police of, say, Newport Rhode Island should be allowed to search the underwater research laboratories in pursuit of a drunk-and-disorderly suspect.


Stephen S. - 1/6/2004

Johnson can't focus; he claims it happens everywhere. If it happens everywhere, then that's a larger problem. If the problem is really the status of forces agreement with Japan over Okinawa, then it's a problem that has been around for a long time, isn't new, and has a great deal of merit. For Johnson to claim that there are brothels and cultural degredation everywhere that there are U.S. bases as some kind of Empire problem alienates those who would agree with him that the SOFA on Okinawa is a problem (as I do) but a particular one. It's not a small aside: he's arguing that Okinawa is symptomatic of the entire U.S. military presence overseas. If he's not, then he's guilty of a very sloppily written article that wastes time by pursuing way too much. He could have eliminated all the tiresome recitation of the numbers of bases in other parts of the world and concentrated, again, only on Okinawa. Or made more sense by addressing the U.S. presence in South Korea.


Jonathan Dresner - 1/6/2004

Picking on a small aside in this substantial and focused article is indeed silly, a weak attempt to distract readers from the substantial and seemingly intractable real issues presented.


Herodotus - 1/5/2004

"However, not all overseas members of the military have families or want their families to accompany them; therefore, except in Muslim countries, these bases normally attract extensive arrays of bars and brothels, and the criminal elements that operate them. The presence of these bases unavoidably usurps, distorts, or subverts whatever institutions of democratic government may exist within the host society."

Yes, the noted brothels of Suffolk horrify the English to this day. Or what about those in Kosovo: their vastness is famous world over. [Mr. Johnson might not know that U.S. servicemen and women are not normally permitted out of the bases in Kosovo]. This is silly; it's a weak attempt to lump a whole lot of disparate things into a single thing and then have us all shake our heads in displeasure. If he stuck to the disputes over bases in Asia, where there are problems, he'd make a whole lot more sense.