Following the suspected involvement of a former U.S. Marine in the murder case of an Okinawan woman, anti-base sentiment has been stirred up again among the people of Okinawa. Their anger is directed not only at the U.S. military, but also at the Japanese government, which is trying to proceed with the relocation of the controversial Futenma Air Station within the prefecture. To understand what is going on in Okinawa today, the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed former Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, 90.
Question: How do you feel about this latest incident (involving the former Marine)?
Ota: When I heard the news I immediately thought, "Not again." I remembered the case of U.S. soldiers raping a young girl in 1995 (when I was governor.) Speaking at a rally then, where 85,000 people gathered, I spoke without looking at the paper prepared for me by my secretariat and said, "I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for not being able to protect the dignity of a young girl, the person who we should be protecting the most."
Right now, anger is spreading throughout Okinawa. People are protesting out of their own will. I am worried that at this rate, there will be an incident that draws blood, like the Koza Riot (riots in 1970 stemming from a U.S. military member running over an Okinawan, which led to people burning U.S. military vehicles.)
Q: There continue to be terrible crimes committed by people affiliated with the U.S. military. Why does this happen?
Ota: As long as there are the bases, there is no way to prevent crimes. We should remove the bases and revise the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). I have called on the Japanese and U.S. governments to do this many times. The current SOFA is absurd for a sovereign nation. The Japanese government doesn't do anything about it, and says that it can handle the problems by "improving management" under the current agreement, but even after Okinawa's return to Japan, over 500 malicious crimes (by U.S. military affiliates) have occurred. If we don't change the SOFA, we will not solve the root of the problem.
Q: I hear people say that the pain of Okinawa is not understood on the Japanese mainland. What do you think?
Ota: That's exactly right. Dissatisfaction is building up, and Okinawa is quickly distancing itself from the rest of Japan. I suspect that the national government is not taking these new movements of Okinawa seriously. I don't think it would respond this way if these kinds of crimes were being repeated somewhere else in the country. There is a possibility that anti-American and anti-base struggles will all flare up at once.
The Japanese government is only looking at Okinawa as the front line of its military strategy, as a disposable pawn. These people do not look at us as their countrymen. That way of thinking is unchanged since the Meiji era. (Interview by Tadashi Sano, News Department, Kyushu Head Office)