Editorial: The Marines must withdraw to the continental U.S. after stray bullets found at Onna construction site

April 16, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

An accident which should never happen has happened in Onna. At the Afuso Dam construction site in the Camp Hansen Marine Corps base, damage that appears to have come from stray bullets was found in water tanks and the cars of dam workers.

When the stray bullets were fired, if there were people in the area, or if the bullets had gone in another direction, it could have caused a catastrophe. Stray bullet damage from Camp Hansen has occurred countless times since the end of WWII. It is obvious that this originates from the proximity of Okinawan residents and the base. The practice of live-fire exercises on the narrow island of Okinawa is in and of itself a mistake.

The Marines, who operate Camp Hansen and use it mainly for exercises, are inherently unnecessary in Okinawa. Considering the safety of Okinawan residents, the only option is for the Marines to return to the continental United States. If they truly need to conduct live-fire exercises, they would be better off conducting them on the expansive training grounds in the mainland United States.

According to representatives from Onna, Okinawa, and the Okinawa Defense Bureau, water tanks at the construction site were found empty on April 6, an what looked like bullets were discovered inside the tanks. On April 13, damage was found on the cars of workers who had parked at the construction site, and again, objects resembling bullets were found on the ground nearby.

Is any other place in Japan placed in such danger? At the House of Councillors Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense on April 13, regarding the reduction of Okinawa’s base-hosting burden Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed, “The Abe administration has negotiated with the United States, and accomplished [a reduction in Okinawa’s base hosting-burden].” However, the “reduction” Abe speaks of consists of things such as the return of a majority of the Northern Training Area (NTA), which comes with the condition that a new helipad be constructed, and the clarification of scope of civilian personnel, the effectiveness of which is under scrutiny. Both of these “reductions” are only for appearances sake.

The reality in Okinawa is that there is no “reduction” whatsoever. The danger and overburdening still continue.

The main culprit is the Marine Corps, which is not letting go of their unnecessarily large training ground and continue to conduct dangerous training exercises. A real reduction would could in the form of the Japanese government demanding the withdrawal of the Marines.

Meanwhile, thinking back to the stray bullet incident in 2008 in Igei, Kin, you can see the Okinawan Police’s difficulties with enforcing the rule of law.

During the Igei incident, the U.S. military did not cooperate with the prefectural police officers and investigators inside the base for things such as voluntary questioning. The lopsided Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) gives the U.S. primary jurisdiction while on-duty, blocking any revelations from coming out.

We cannot let the same incidents repeat over and over. It puts the lives of Japanese citizens in danger. The Japanese government has a responsibility to demand the cooperation from the U.S. military with investigations. The bullet-like objects have been collected by the U.S. military, and their involvement is clear. The Japanese and U.S. governments need to not only clarify areas of responsibility, but they need to seriously consider a plan to reduce the over-burdening of Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)

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