Editorial: Reality of “period of unity and mourning” is drunk US Navy sailor driving against traffic on national highway

June 7, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

A U.S. Navy sailor stationed on Kadena Air Base was driving under the influence of alcohol and in the wrong direction along National Route 58 in Mizugama, Kadena Town, and crashed into two kei cars (small vehicles with specific tax benefits in Japan) successively, injuring one man and one woman.

Proof such as this that the calls for tighter discipline on U.S. military personnel have been ineffective has appeared time after time in Okinawa, and can be considered an ordinary spectacle.

Speaking idealistically in this situation is just a waste of time. It has already been more than 70 years since the end of the war. By now, effective steps against U.S. military-related criminal activity should have been taken.

U.S. soldiers are specially protected. They are able to avoid arrest by Japanese authorities and escape onto base compounds, possibly destroying any evidence. It is easy to imagine that this protection invites misconduct.

The U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) should be drastically revised. As it stands, criminal investigations are affected by U.S. soldiers and base employees withholding information under the special protection they are afforded. Japanese domestic law should apply on all U.S. military bases, with the potential for investigations to access the entire compound.

Route 58 is Okinawa’s largest highway, offers high visibility, and usually invites fast driving. For other drivers to see a car going the wrong way must have been extremely alarming. The arrested sailor’s blood alcohol level was detected at six times the cutoff value. It is amazing that there were no casualties.

The suspect testified that he had been drinking at a friend’s house in Yomitan Village. Not even a full week had passed since the 30-day ban on U.S. military drinking off-base in Okinawa was put in place, in reaction to the incident of a woman’s body being dumped by a U.S. base employee. Circumstances are so severe that the U.S. military is observing a “period of unity and mourning.”

The fact that the Japanese government’s only attempts at providing countermeasures to U.S. military criminal activity are to increase the number of police officers and patrol cars is absurd. More than trying to prevent incidents and accidents, let us set in place a process of dealing with accidents and incidents that occur. In light of recent events, current deterrence policies are no longer laughable.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the accident is deplorable. His words are severe but are only for appearance. If nothing comes of this, than this is no more than a performance.

In order to take steps to earnestly do away with U.S. military-related incidents and accidents in Okinawa, there is hope outside of SOFA revision. This would be to remove the military base concentration from Okinawa.

There was the rape of a woman that took place in March, the Stimulants Control Law violation in April, the body-dumping incident in May, and this accident as the next in succession. However, just since Okinawa’s return to Japanese sovereignty there have been 5,896 U.S. military-related incidents as of the end of last year. This incident is only one in about 6,000.

No one can help but call it absolutely outrageous that this much harm is concentrated in only one prefecture. The government should face military-related incidents seriously. For it to not do so is discrimination.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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