The Asahi Shimbun
Monday, June 18, 2007
POINT OF VIEW / Hal Drake
Okinawa deserves to be free of the U.S. military
Special to The Asahi Shimbun
I believe the United States should pull its military forces out of Okinawa and leave the prefecture floating free and clear, with no defensive arms except those Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
When I joined Pacific Stars and Strips in Okinawa in 1956, there was an urgent and necessary need for American muscle on ground that we had recently savaged past the roots.
There was that open wound called the Cold war, born soon after the last breath of the Battle of Okinawa. The Soviet Union was powerful and dangerous and had shown in Hungary it would go to brutish extremes to hold war-gotten gains. There was also the infected sore of North Korea.
Both sides brandished nuclear spears. Was there only no-way-out way ahead? The astute American diplomat, George F. Kennam, held up a restraining hand. Relax that restless trigger finger, Kennan urged.
Russia, ruled by a faulty system, was born for failure. Wait it out and let that happen. And so it would be.
Okinawa was the last totally American ground in Asia, loosely granted something called “residual sovereignty.” The ground of Okinawas was theirs to walk on but not to govern. Americans did that, as they held a sturdy footing on a formidable base.
Back then, Okinawa resembled a kind of little America, with Kentucky Fried Chicken and the massive face of Col. Sanders beaming over a highway. But the ruling presence changed many times, personified by a procession of generals. The general on the hill could be named Booth or Hood or Shapley or whomever.
Few Americans could fault Okinawa as a training ground. It had the steep and rugged terrain of any bona fide battlefield terrain of any bona fide battlefield. And away from the maneuver smoke and crowded barracks, there were the rowdy bar strips of BC Street and Henoko.
There were all kinds of bizarre diversions. At the Club Sahara, revelers watched bloody bouts between Horace Habu and Malcom mongoose, the natural enemies that abounded in cemeteries. The creatures were dropped into a transparent glass cage to fight to the death.
“Next match is about to begin, folks. Which will win, the savage beast or the venomous serpent?”
Animal rights activists were outraged, but those fights were humane in comparison to gruesome bouts between a lion and a dog.
The best and worst of America’s young men came. There were some who looked after orphans or donated large sums to support homes for the elderly. Yet, there were reports of brutal rape. One rape of a 13year-old girl made world headlines.
This was all done in imported neon that flickered over a counterfeit America, a place gradually transformed into an island-wide Japanese play land.
The day of the GI dollar was coming to an end. The GI would soon be the out-of-cash customer who could not afford a cover-charge cabaret.
Then came that abrupt transformation called Reversion.
Okinawa was finally and at last part of Japan again, and islanders were no longer forced to forfeit even a centimeter of sovereignty.
The Soviet Union, suffering from terminal political illness, put itself to death. North Korea suffers from its own chronic political failure. Post-Mao China takes care of itself and its own. Neither can afford the grief or expense of war.
All has changed.
But there are still foreign military forces on Okinawa, beyond the time or reason for being there.
Yes, some may argue, Japan and America have critical and justified interests in Middle East oil fields, but both countries have the reach and strength to take care of them.
As the times turn, I would like to see Okinawa at last be given the independent hand the prefecture has never had — and perhaps even take a neutralist stance, disarmed by choice and financially nourished as a free port.
Hal A. Drake
The author is an American journalist now based in Brisbane, Australis.