Editorial Base closure only way to prevent future crimes

May 20, 2016

Ryukyu Shimpo

Yet another precious Okinawan life has been stolen away. Comments by a man associated with the U.S. military implies that he was involved. At the root of the problem is the role of the Japanese and U.S. governments, who force an overwhelming proportion of U.S. military bases on Okinawa. Both governments, having failed to take an active stance toward consolidating and reducing U.S. bases in Okinawa, bear a substantial responsibility. We protest strongly.

Each time one of its members commits a heinous crime, the U.S. military claims it will endeavor to prevent future crimes. However, the present incident proves that it has never stood by this promise.

As long as there are military bases, the fear that more people will become victims will always remain. The most effective way to ensure the prevention of future crimes is to close the bases. The Japanese and U.S. governments should acknowledge this fact and take action.

Living with danger

Rina Shimabukuro, age 20, an office worker from Ota, Uruma City had been missing since April 28. On May 19, her body was discovered in a wooded area in Onna Village, unrecognizable. The prefectural police arrested former U.S. Marine and current military employee Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, on suspicion of disposing of her body in the woods.

Rina Shimabukuro had sent her boyfriend a text message saying that she was going out for a walk before leaving home. It seems she often took walks down a major avenue lined with commercial buildings.

The present incident shows that even far from any U.S. base, people in Okinawa live with the ever-present danger of being victimized by U.S. military personnel or those associated with the U.S. military.

If there were no bases in Okinawa, the suspect would most likely not have been in Okinawa, and the incident may never have occurred. The painful incident clearly occurred as a result of the presence of U.S. bases.

Why is the U.S. military stationed in Okinawa? The Japanese and U.S. governments allege that it is to protect Japan based on the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. However, the taking of an Okinawan life is anathema to Japan’s security. From the perspective of Okinawa, the contradictions present in the U.S.-Japan security arrangements are clear.

When measured by land area, 73.8 percent of all military facilities in Japan designated for exclusive use by the U.S. military were located in Okinawa in 2014. As of January 2016, that percentage has risen to 74.46 percent. From the perspective of land area designated for U.S. military use, the “reduction of burden on Okinawa” asserted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not progressed in the slightest. The present incident is a result of this situation.

Heinous crimes including murder and rape perpetrated by U.S. military personnel and persons associated with the U.S. military in Okinawa have been on the decline since reaching a peak of 69 incidents in 1977. Since 1995, there have been one to seven incidents per year, excluding the year 2013. However, there is nothing to laud about a decrease in the number of heinous crimes.

The Okinawan people did not invite U.S. military personnel and their associates to Okinawa of our own accord. The bare minimum condition for being considered a “good neighbor” is to commit no crime whatsoever. If the U.S. military cannot do that, it does not have the right to be in Okinawa.

At the end of our rope

Rina Shimabukuro worked at a shopping center, and those who knew her say that she was a hard worker, cheerful, kind and considerate. The smiling pictures of her that have been circulated show her as a happy person.

Twenty years old. If she had lived, she would have had many years ahead of her to gain life experience and grow tremendously as a person. She must have had dreams and aspirations. It is painful to think that those dreams will never come true. Many Okinawans must be truly heartbroken when imagining the pain felt by her friends and family, who had prayed for her safety and awaited her return.

We cannot allow Okinawan people’s lives to be continually endangered and survivors forced to live with the grief.

We cannot allow the Japanese and U.S. governments to brush over the present incident with comments about how terrible it was. The people of Okinawa have reached the end of our rope. Promises to enforce discipline and prevent future crimes are not enough.

In March of this year, a U.S. Navy seaman assigned to Camp Schwab was arrested for raping a tourist woman at a hotel in Naha. After that incident, the Okinawa prefectural government strongly called on the U.S. military to enforce discipline and conduct thorough human rights training in order to prevent a recurrence.

The suspect in the present case is not a member of the military, but he is a former Marine and is employed at Kadena Air Base. The U.S. military is incontrovertibly responsible for educating its employees and other associated persons as well as its personnel. However, as the persistence of incidents shows, there is a limit to the effectiveness of the U.S. military’s education. There is only one option—for the U.S. military to leave Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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