Incidents and accidents involving the U.S. Armed Forces are occurring frequently. Deep down, Okinawan citizens want their “neighbors,” who ignore the law and commit crime after crime, to leave Okinawa. Both the U.S. and Japanese governments should directly address the concerns and resentment of these citizens and take drastic measures to prevent further incidents and accidents.
According to prefecture estimates, between Oct. 25 and Nov. 8, there were 13 incidents that resulted in the arrest of U.S. soldiers, of which eight were either suspected or confirmed violations of the “Liberty Regulations,” instituted by the Americans to restrict late night outings and alcohol consumption.
On Nov. 10, Jahana Kiichirō , vice governor of Okinawa Prefecture, called Hashimoto Naofumi, ambassador in charge of Okinawan Affairs, and Tanaka Toshinori, director general of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, to stress the significance of the situation and protest that recent events presented “extraordinary circumstances.” The U.S. Armed Forces declined to take part in the call. One can only be dumbfounded by the lack of awareness shown by those in charge of the U.S. Armed Forces that have caused these incidents and accidents.
In addition, on Nov. 18, a U.S. soldier was arrested for drunken driving in Okinawa City.
Okinawa is protesting to the U.S. Armed Forces, the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Okinawa Liaison Office and others about the lack of awareness of drunken driving issues and the failure of drunken driving regulations. However, it is plain to see, without the city drawing attention to it, that the “Liberty Regulations” now exist in name only.
I can’t help but question whether the U.S. Armed Forces and the U.S. and Japanese governments are really addressing these objections. When it comes to these incidents, the concerned parties are the U.S. Armed Forces and the U.S. government, as well as the Japanese government, as it bears the responsibility of providing the military bases, and so it should fall to them to announce a state of “extraordinary circumstances” and provide an urgent response.
There were 17 incidents and accidents involving U.S. soldiers in the period from the end of October to the end of November. One incident every two days. If the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in Okinawa cannot restrain themselves, the Japanese government has to step in.
The prefecture has sought to hold meetings of the early stage cooperation working team to prevent accidents and incidents involving U.S. military personnel, though a meeting has not been held since April 2017.
On Nov. 10, a day of protests, Ambassador Hashimoto said, “We are continuing to make arrangements for the next meeting.” Parties representing Okinawa, the U.S. government and the Japanese government must all share a sense of crisis and urgently establish a forum for discussion.
Discussions should not be limited to a prefectural level, but should be expanded to the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee. In addition, the incoming Joe Biden administration should be asked to tackle the issue of incidents related to U.S. soldiers in Okinawa. We must clearly state that Okinawa is not a lawless place that will tolerate oppression from U.S. soldiers. Revision of the unfair U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which has provided the conditions for crimes committed by U.S. military personnel to proliferate in Okinawa, should be on the negotiating table. This is the responsibility of the Suga administration.
This month marks 50 years since the Koza riot, which was sparked by a series of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel and a disregard for human rights. The gaps in awareness and abdication of responsibility displayed by leaders within the U.S. Armed Forces, who have overseen incidents that have resulted in injuries to civilians, and the failure of both the Japanese and U.S. governments to act and to leave the situation as it is, has not fundamentally changed even after half a century.
Can we really continue like this? Both governments should provide clear answers to the people.