JPRI Occasional Paper No. 23 (September 2001)
Of Sex, Okinawa, and American Foreign Policy
by Sheila K. Johnson

In the early morning hours of June 29, 2001, a U.S. military man was accused of raping an Okinawan woman in a parking lot near Kadena Air Base. He was subsequently identified as Air Force Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland and, after a week during which the Okinawan police questioned him and gathered evidence, he was turned over to the Japanese authorities. On July 19 he was indicted. His trial is scheduled to begin on September 11 before a panel of judges, not a jury, and on July 26 he was denied bail because the court ruled that he was likely to return to his base and suborn witnesses to the incident.

On July 8, I published a brief op-ed commentary in the Los Angeles Times about the case (appended in full at the end of this paper) that produced a spate of hate e-mail on my computer and, on June 22, a rejoinder in the Los Angeles Times from none other than the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James L. Jones. Meanwhile, my piece was reprinted in a number of other newspapers, although one of them, the Honolulu Advertiser, did so only after excising the concluding four paragraphs. What is going on here? Do the U.S. armed forces feel so vulnerable in Okinawa that they must counter the slightest piece of bad publicity with a barrage of propaganda? And what can be deduced from the messages I received?

Lying with Statistics

In my op-ed, I offered the statistic that between 1972 and 2000, U.S. servicemen on Okinawa committed 5,006 documented crimes, which averages out to roughly one every other day. These figures were cited in the July 3, 2001 Mainichi Shimbun as having been compiled by the Base Measures Office (Kichi Taisaku-shitsu) of Okinawa Prefecture. Of these crimes, 527 were heinous crimes such as murder and arson, and 949 were violent crimes involving injuries. If one distrusts the Japanese documentation, one can turn to the investigation Russell Carollo conducted for the Dayton Daily News using computer databases of Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard courts-martial, civilian court records, and FBI criminal records. Carollo found that between 1988 and 1995, bases in Japan (most of which are located in Okinawa) with a total of 41,008 personnel held 169 courts martial for sexual assaults. This was 66 percent more cases than the Number 2 location, San Diego, which had 102 cases for 93,792 personnel (Dayton Daily News, October 8, 1995). The Carollo figures for sexual assaults works out to one every two months.

General James L. Jones counters these statistics by saying that "Americans, approximately 4% of the population of Okinawa, account for less than 1% of crimes" and that in San Diego "36 crimes are committed per 1,000 people, while on Okinawa, one crime is committed per 1,000 U.S. citizens" (Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2001). The fallacy here is that in his figure of 4% General Jones is counting not only armed services personnel but also their wives and dependents, who are not likely to be rapists, arsonists, or drunk drivers, and that in his figure for San Diego he is counting the entire, disparate population of a county, not a supposedly elite group of military men and women.

Statistics for rape are notoriously slippery because many women do not report rape, knowing that the humiliation for them will likely outweigh any punishment for the perpetrator. This is particularly true in Japan, where women are routinely questioned about their sexual past and whether they might have been "leading on" the suspect. The infamous 1995 gang-rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three American servicemen was prosecuted in part because no such slurs could be used against her. Even then, Japanese authorities were at first reluctant to prosecute because, they said, they wanted to protect the girl. It was Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, a group formed at that time, who both protected the girl's identity and insisted the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Is It Just About Sex?

It is the contention of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence that military training itself instills in soldiers an approved propensity to act violently and that rape is often part of this. In Bosnia, for example, Serbian troops routinely raped Moslem women and girls in order to defile them. There is ample evidence of this frame of mind in the letters written in response to my article. One man wrote:

The benevolent Okinawans who's [sic] ass you kiss so enthusiastically, are trying to build a case on bubblegum and a shoestring. And the testimony of a few fall-down drunk GIs and a miniskirt-wearing little "yellow-cab" who couldn't remember what her name was. If you're tuned to Okinawa, you'll know what a yellow cab is. Most of these little trashy tramps can't think far enough ahead to order fries with their Big Mac. You give them far too much credit.

Another wrote:

You as a woman may have very conservative ways, but I have met many, and I mean many Japanese girls who are just the opposite. Just because you may not have sex with a man on the hood of a car doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't. As a matter of fact, every Japanese girl, in which I have dated or know as a friend, has expressed their openness to me and has stated that they are intrigued by having sex in public. I am not say that this woman is that way, but it is very wrong of you to assume that they sex wasn't consensual and that the man who is charged is "guilty until proven innocent." Who's to say the woman didn't enjoyed [sic] the sex and then realized that maybe her friends would think bad about her, and then she had a change of heart and decided to run and hide behind the police? I am married to a Japanese woman and she has been to Okinawa many times. She has told me about the night life there and what goes on there. Not only has she seen couples having sex in public, but she has told me about the way the women are there and the way they dress every night. It's no where close to being conservative. Not every woman in Okinawa is this way, but a majority of the "Night Owls" are this way.

Still another man wrote:

I don't know what your contact with the rest of the world is like, but there are women with loose morals. There are many women in society that commit such depraved acts as having sex with a man on the hood of a car while his friends watched. I'm sure you find it hard to believe, but there are women out there who conduct themselves just as inappropriately as some of the men. When I was in Okinawa several years ago to inspect our unit there, I read an article in the paper that put these types of incidents in a whole new perspective. In this article the chief of police was being interviewed. When the question of sex crimes came up he made the statement that local Okinawans were involved in as many if not more sex related crimes then [sic] U.S. servicemen stationed there. Only because they were U.S. military did their crimes rate the front pages and leading news stories. Crimes by locals were so common they were basically buried in the local papers and may not be on the TV news.

Aside from the generally demeaning attitude expressed toward women, these responses also reveal a tendency to blame the victim and to use as an "excuse" the fact that Okinawan men also rape women. It occurred to me as I read them that if they are even partly accurate perhaps the true cost of the 56-year American occupation of Okinawa is not so much the rapes themselves as it is the despoiling of the moral as well as physical environment.

I was aware at the time of writing my July 8 article that Sergeant Woodland had already declared he was innocent and that the sex was consensual. I wrote that it seemed to me unlikely that sex on the hood of a car, surrounded by a group of men, was consensual, but that it was possible the trial could turn into a "he said/she said" affair. However, one of my respondents, an older retired military man who has chosen to remain in Okinawa, provided a good deal more information about the incident itself than has ever been published in American newspapers. There were, actually, two groups of servicemen present. One group of three air force men, presumably Sergeant Woodland's buddies, watched the rape and then spirited him away in the car on which the rape was committed. Two others, marines as it happens, took down the license plate of the car and later reported the incident to base authorities.

In musing about the nature of the incident, I also wondered whether the air force men might not argue entrapment. Even if the sex was not strictly speaking consensual, perhaps the young woman, who had evidently been drinking with the men, had "led them on." This is, of course, a common argument in all sorts of sexual misunderstandings, including date rape. It then occurred to me that the possibility of entrapment might actually be made to serve the very useful purpose of dampening male ardor. So I wrote, "I wish every Okinawan woman dating an American military man would implant in his brain the thought or fear that she might send him to jail."

This remark occasioned the greatest number of horrified and rude responses. I was called crazy, irresponsible, biased, and worse. In short, I was convinced that I must have hit a very tender nerve, much as the Greek play by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, did when it suggested that women should deny men sex until men stopped making war.

The Real Crime

In actual fact, however, I believe we are making too much of rapes in Okinawa. Although sexist responses that the Okinawan women are "asking for it" disturb me, I am equally disturbed by macho, over-the-top responses that refer to the rapists as "animals" and call for dusk-to-dawn curfews. One older serviceman responded sensitively:

Many of us who serve in Japan or Okinawa do so with reluctance. We are obvious foreigners and face racial prejudice which, for many of us, may be the first time in our lives. We are away from loved ones for months or years at a time, and from our home soil. We experience a new culture that is very different from our own. While many of us venture out and try to learn and adapt, it is difficult. The average service member is young, a high school graduate, and away from home for basically the first time. The salary our young members are paid is no fortune and extensive travel and other entertainment is beyond their means. We more senior folks try to keep them entertained, but it is difficult. They want what most young people all over the world want, to meet other young people, drink and party and have fun. Recipe for disaster! You know the statistics better than I.

This is also the point made by Robert Hamilton, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer who was stationed on Okinawa between 1986 and 1988. Hamilton has lamented in print (see Marine Corps Gazette, Vol. 83, No. 4 [April 1999] and JPRI Occasional Paper No. 11 [February 1998] ) that curfews and the idea for a new air base to be built on pontoons in the bay near Henoko that would keep servicemen caged like the animals are profoundly demoralizing to the troops. Hamilton is a loyal ex-marine who believes American troops would be better trained, have better morale, and be just as easily transported into combat from stateside bases such as Camp Pendleton or Hawaii.

On July 11 the Honolulu Advertiser reprinted my op-ed and elicited a new spate of ill-tempered letters. But when a friend sent me a copy, I realized that the article was, in fact, devoted totally to the rape incident and omitted the final four paragraphs calling for Lieutenant General Hailston's dismissal instead of promotion. I cannot help but think that such an omission was made for ideological reasons rather than because of space limitations, and that it accurately reflects the head-in-the-sand attitude of the American military establishment.

The real crime of the American bases on Okinawa consists of far more than the rapes and other ugly incidents committed by a few servicemen. The real crime is that these bases occupy one-fifth of the island, often polluting it with dangerous chemicals and preventing sensible urban planning. The real crime is that the Okinawans have repeatedly tried to get the bases reduced or moved elsewhere in Japan and that they have been stonewalled by both the Tokyo and U.S. governments. On July 23, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "I don't think it is possible to remove our presence from Okinawa." He forgets that U.S. troops are there on the sufferance of the Japanese. If the Japanese asked the U.S. to leave, much as the Philippines did in 1992, the U.S. would have no choice but to comply. But the Japanese government is not likely to do so, since this would doubtless rupture the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and that in turn would involve the Japanese government in reassessing its own role in the world and possibly revising Article 9 of the Constitution. The Bush administration, which is currently pushing the Japanese government to revise their constitution, has certainly not thought through what the end result might be in terms of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

Several of my correspondents made similar points, arguing that if the U.S. gave up its bases on Okinawa the Japanese would simply move in. This is undoubtedly true. Huge air fields such as Kadena are never likely to revert to rice fields. But it is not inconceivable that the extensive housing facilities might revert to Okinawan civilians and the lavish golf courses, playing fields, cinemas, and other base developments be used to enhance Okinawa's tourist industry.

Even if General Powell is correct and the Okinawan bases remain in U.S. hands, the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, unrevised since 1960, ought to be renegotiated. It is this agreement that permitted the U.S. military to delay one week in handing over Sergeant Woodland to the Okinawan police. The current agreement states that an American suspect need not be surrendered until he or she has been indicted. Under the status of forces agreement between Germany and the United States, which was revised in 1993, American troops and bases basically come under Germany's laws. This means not only that the German police can arrest any American suspected of a crime, but German authorities have access to U.S. bases without having to ask for permission or an escort. In Okinawa, local authorities cannot enter U.S. bases to check for pollution or chemical spills without obtaining prior approval.

The Future

Okinawans are deeply frustrated and demoralized because they have seen almost no improvement in the base situation despite their petitions, protest marches, and votes on the subject. The Americans negotiate over their heads with the Tokyo government, both of them claiming that the bases are a national and not a local issue. The Okinawan situation is somewhat comparable to Vieques Island, where it has taken the intervention of national figures such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Al Sharpton to bring about some improvement. The question thus becomes what will it take for the Japanese mainland public and national government to take up the cause of the Okinawans?

Sad to say, it will probably take another tragedy. On June 30, 1956, a U.S. jet crashed into an elementary school in Okinawa killing 11 children and injuring 121 others. Part of the school and 25 adjacent houses burned to the ground. Given the proximity of schools and housing to the bases, a repeat of such an incident is almost a foregone conclusion. Another, even more chilling prospect-- although one even more likely to arouse the Japanese public-- is a civil aviation accident. The air space above and surrounding Okinawa is under the control of American military flight controllers. It is said that their equipment is antiquated and their training insufficient to deal with the numerous commercial flights as well as military air traffic. It is not too difficult to imagine a foul-up that would send an American military jet into the flight path of a JAL plane full of Japanese tourists. I don't believe American apologies, no matter how fulsome, would suffice to assuage Japanese outrage.

Whereas my correspondents and General Powell argue that American troops must remain in Okinawa, I ask "why?" The answers usually sound as if they had come from some recruiting tape: "We are now, and will continue to be, good neighbors and custodians for peace in the region" (General James L. Jones); "In defense white papers published by Malaysia and many other Southeast Asian countries, the U.S. presence in Japan is seen as a form of containment which prevents Japan from repeating its past bad behavior in Asia;" "Hailston had it right: They're [the Okinawans] a bunch of nuts and wimps;" and "It is clear you are not a fan of the military, and you are so very entitled to that opinion. Just try to remember our existence guarantees you the freedom to express that opinion and any other you may have. . . . Try to understand the nearly untenable position we have been placed in. Also remember the great majority of us would be happy to leave tomorrow and never look back. We were sent here by our government to be instruments of policy, and have not found it to be a paradise."

How sad are the burdens of empire. I agree with my last correspondent that it would be wonderful if we could drop some of them and never look back. I think the Okinawans and Japanese would also be relieved. And the Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Thai, and others in Asia are so busy trying to keep their heads above water (both literally and figuratively, given the economic pressures and global warming) that I doubt they'd even notice our absence.

"Another Okinawa Outrage," Los Angeles Time, July 8, 2001

In the early morning hours of Friday, June 29, just as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was heading for his first meeting with President Bush at Camp David, yet another U.S. military man was accused of raping yet another Okinawan woman.

So, what's newsworthy about that, you may ask: such rapes have been occurring on Okinawa ever since U.S. forces occupied the island in 1945. The number of rapes and other crimes committed by U.S. servicemen on Okinawa between 1972 and 2000 was 5,006, or roughly one every other day.

This rape, however, may become the outrage that will finally cause the Japanese government to get off its knees and demand the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces on its soil. The Japanese officials have been their usual obsequious selves. Although the Okinawan police knew almost instantly who their suspect was, they managed to stretch out their interrogations of him until Koizumi had safely left the U.S.

Only then did they issue an arrest warrant and ask the U.S. military to turn the man over to the Japanese authorities. (In NATO countries, U.S. military personnel suspected of a crime can be taken into custody by local authorities before such a request is made.) The Okinawan police asked for the suspect on Monday, July 2. However, the U.S. military did not comply until Friday because it feared the suspect's rights would not be fully respected. The fact that the suspect is black will likely work in his favor since Japanese authorities usually bend over backwards not to appear racist.

Various U.S. newspapers are suggesting that it's a case of "he-said/she-said" and that the sex was consensual. The Okinawan woman, age 20, is said to have been out drinking with the man who she now claims raped her.

As a woman, I find it highly unlikely that had it been consensual sex, it would have taken place on the hood of a car with several other men looking on. It is not clear from the stories released so far whether the men were shielding the couple from view, cheering him on or, as some claim, coming to her aid. Several of them were witnesses and none has been implicated in the crime itself.

Another possibility the U.S. military may be considering is that the Okinawan woman entrapped the man. To this I say, "More power to her!" I wish every Okinawan woman dating an American military man would implant in his brain the thought or fear that she might send him to jail.

Marine Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, who is currently the highest-ranking military officer on Okinawa, ought to be dismissed for his inability to maintain discipline among his troops. However, where his sympathies lie is obvious.

Earlier this year, in an e-mail to his fellow officers, he called Okinawan legislators "nuts and a bunch of wimps" for asking that U.S. troop strength on Okinawa be reduced after the last such incident.

Instead of being reprimanded, on June 26, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld nominated Hailston to become commander of all U.S. Marines in the Pacific.

This certainly ought to show the Japanese, Okinawans, and Koreans what the U.S. thinks of them and their hospitality.

SHEILA K. JOHNSON is author of The Japanese Through American Eyes (Stanford University Press) and editor of the Japan Policy Research Institute.

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