U.S. Liquor Ban in Response to Okinawa Murders, Rapes by Military: Too Little Too Late?

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Following decades on Okinawa of rapes, sexual assaults, violence of all kinds, drunken driving incidents and, most recently, a brutal rape-murder by American military and other personnel, the U.S. Navy has imposed restrictions not seen outside bases in the Middle East: an island-wide ban on all alcohol (on and off base), and restriction of all personnel to military facilities except for essential travel.

This is the second time such a ban has been imposed on U.S. military on Okinawa; a 2012 short-term curfew and restrictions on alcohol consumption followed the rape of an Okinawan woman by two U.S. Navy sailors.

American Military Crimes on Okinawa

The restrictions are in direct response to the latest incident, one that came to dominate private conversations between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama at the May G-7 summit. At issue was the brutal rape-slaying of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman, apparently attacked at random, by a former U.S. Marine currently working for the military on Okinawa as a contractor.

Just prior to the ban but after the rape-murder, a U.S. Navy petty officer was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, hitting two cars and injuring two Japanese.

That crime, in turn, follows a March assault of a local woman by an American sailor on Okinawa. The sailor took the Japanese woman, a tourist, into his room after finding her passed out in a hotel corridor and raped her. So-called lesser offenses by military personnel against local Okinawans often fail to make the news outside of the island due to their frequency.

An issue long-forgotten in the United States, but which remains in the forefront for many Okinawans, was the 1995 gang rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl.

Crime is Part of a More Significant Problem

okinawaprotestdcImage Source: IB Times

While the crimes themselves are an ongoing “stand alone” problem for local residents, many see them as part of a much larger problem.

A significant portion of the island’s usable land has been occupied by sprawling American bases since the end of World War II. In many cases what were semi-remote facilities in the 1950s are now full-scale military bases located in city centers.

The bases occupy central locations, forcing Okinawans to drive, by example, from the three o’clock position on a clock to 12 and then back to 9 just to get what is a short distance across town as the crow flies. The bases conduct extremely noisy helicopter and fighter jet exercises on a 24/7 basis and, in northern Okinawa, artillery live-fire drills. In addition, U.S. bases contribute to pollution and water contamination, marked by spillages of jet fuel.

The final issue brought to the surface by American military crimes on Okinawa is the tension between the local people and the central government in Tokyo. Okinawa was never traditionally a part of Japan, and many people there trace their language and ethnicity separate from the mainland. Natives refer to their homeland as the Ryukyu Islands, not Okinawa. Feelings that the island is ruled by the mainland, but is not a part of it, are widely-held.

The concept that the central government pays little more than lip-service to the hardships imposed on the island runs deep; for example, the governor of Okinawa and his counterparts in Tokyo are waging a fierce fight over the potential relocation of an American base that would destroy a treasured coral reef.

Both the U.S. and the central Japanese government have strongly resisted calls to close or significantly shrink the Okinawa bases and relocate facilities to Guam, an American territory. Despite any short-term bans on alcohol and off-base activities, no real solution to the plight of Okinawans is in sight.

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