JPRI Critique Vol. III No. 7: September 1996
Okinawa Update
Japan Policy Research Institute Special Report

Almost exactly a year ago--on September 4, 1995--a twelve-year-old Okinawan girl was raped by three American servicemen, igniting protests all over Japan against the U.S. military bases on its soil. Since that time, much has happened. The three servicemen were tried in a Japanese court and sentenced to 7 years in prison for the actual rapist and 7 and 6 1/2 years each for his fellow kidnappers. The latter two have just appealed for reduced sentences, something the court will decide on September 12th.

In April of this year Prime Minister Hashimoto and President Clinton reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and agreed that certain facilities (most notably Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa) would be closed if suitable alternative sites in Japan were made available. However, most of the proposed alternatives on the main islands of Japan have been ruled out because of vigorous local protests. A proposal to join Futenma with Kadena Air Force Base (also on Okinawa) has been rejected by the Pentagon because melding air force and marine facilities will cause "confusion."

Meanwhile the leases on several pieces of land, which were forcibly expropriated and occupied by the U.S. military in the 1950s, have expired and their Okinawan owners have declined to renew the leases. Okinawan Governor Masahide Ota has refused to sign the leases on their behalf and also ignored a lower court order to do so. He has now appealed the issue to the Supreme Court, arguing that forced contracts violate the Japanese constitution, which protects private property. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision on August 28th, and whatever it decides is likely to cause considerable political unrest.

If, as many anticipate, it rules against Governor Ota, it will signal that the Supreme Court is a mere tool of the Tokyo politicians and is willing to rubber-stamp the confiscation of private property in Japan whenever the central government deems it desirable. If it rules in favor of Ota, Hashimoto has said he will sign the leases himself, as he is technically permitted to do under Japanese law. But such an act will likely rupture his fragile ruling coalition because the Socialists will not tolerate such high-handed tactics.

On September 8th, Governor Ota has scheduled a province-wide referendum (the first in Japan's and Okinawa's history) on the question of whether Okinawan citizens want the U.S. bases to remain. The results of the referendum are not binding, but some 80-90% of the population is expected to vote in favor of reducing or totally eliminating the U.S. bases. This, together with the Supreme Court decision, will probably cause Hashimoto to dissolve the Diet and call for new elections, perhaps as early as October. These new elections, the first to be held under a new, somewhat more proportional system of representation, will have a much more uncertain outcome than the U.S. elections in November.

The Pentagon, from the very outset, has tried to treat the rape incident as a 'regrettable,' isolated event that could be dealt with speedily by a public apology and turning over the perpetrators to a Japanese court. However, aside from their purblindness on the wider implications of the incident, the U.S. military has revealed a far more troubling pattern of thought and behavior.

On November 17, 1995, the commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Richard C. Macke, was quoted by military writers as saying, "I think that (the rape) was absolutely stupid. For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl." This lighthearted comment promoting prostitution over rape caused Defense Secretary William Perry to request Admiral Macke's early retirement. But the toleration of sexual misconduct in the U.S. armed forces is much more widespread than is generally known.

From October 1-5, 1995, the Dayton Daily News ran a series of investigative articles revealing that the U.S. military had allowed hundreds of accused sex offenders in its ranks to go free despite their being convicted in courts-martial.

Dayton, Ohio, has Wright-Patterson Air Force Base located nearby, and in 1994 three local journalists began to compile a computer data-base of Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard courts-martial and their outcomes. This effort required months of filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and the Army agreed to release its records only after being sued in court by the Dayton Daily News. Hence the statistics cited in the stories do not include Army figures, which would only increase their magnitude.

When the Okinawan rape occurred, the Dayton reporters were able to consult their data base and discovered that since 1988, Navy and Marine Corps bases in Japan had held the highest number (169) of courts-martial for sexual assaults. This was 66% more cases than the number two location, San Diego, with 102 cases but more than twice the personnel.

An Orlando, Florida, attorney who has defended military personnel in Japan gave several possible reasons for these numbers. "Okinawa is one of the biggest staging areas for Marines in the early part of their careers," he said. "That means you have a large population of 18- to 22-year-old kids there--many of them away from home for the first time, feeling their oats, trained to think they're hot stuff just because they're Marines."(1)

A former Marine Captain who has served in Okinawa has privately told JPRI that Okinawa is simply not a very good training facility and that the young Marines are bored and have too much time on their hands. Despite this, the Marine Corps Commandant, General Charles C. Krulak visited Okinawa during the first week of August and announced that there were no plans to reduce significantly the number of Marines based on Okinawa. "To reduce our forces now would be a great mistake," he said. "I think we're doing a heck of a good job. But like anything else, bad news gets the headlines when the tremendously good news very rarely gets the headlines."

Whatever the final outcome, it is clear that the Okinawan rape of a year ago has already become the most serious incident in the U.S.-Japan security relationship since the 'Ampo' riots of the early 1960s. They caused, among other things, the cancellation of President Eisenhower's state visit to Japan and the resignation of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi after he had forced the Security Treaty revisions through the Diet.

At the present time, the U.S. government and the establishment in Tokyo are colluding in the dangerous pretense that everything is and will be fine. In this charade, Okinawa is like a rape victim who has been turned out on the streets by a pimp, with the U.S. being the rapist and the Japanese government playing the role of pimp. But Okinawans may decide not play the role of victim much longer. And that could spell some major changes for both Tokyo and Washington, to say nothing of the rest of Asia.

1. Russell Carollo and Jeff Nesmith, "Ugly American: Japan Bases Have High Rate of Sex Cases," Dayton Daily News, October 8, 1995, p. 4A. [1]

Military Locations with the Most Sexual Assault Cases
Below are the locations where military courst charged the most personnel in rape, child molestation and other sexual assault cases since 1988.

Navy/Marine Corps Sites**



Total Military Personnel

No. of Defendants






San Diego, CA




Norfolk, VA




Camp Lejeune, NC




Camp Pendleton, CA



Air Force Bases



Total Military Personnel

No. of Defendants


Nellis AFB, NV




Kadena AB, Okinawa




Keesler AFB, MS




Ramstein AB, Germany




Eglin AFB, FL




Wright-Patterson, OH



* A single location may include more than on installation.
** Navy/Marine Corps numbers include only defendents tried.
NOTE: This does not include the recently obtained Army computerized records.
Source: Dayton Daily News computer analysis of court-martials held by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. The complete series of Dayton Daily News articles can be obtained from Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., 138 Neff Annex, Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia, MO 65211. Ask for document #12570. The cost of reproduction and mailing is $19.65.

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