US Overseas Military Bases Losing Local Support

Protesters hold placards with a slogan that reads: "No to Henoko new base" during a rally in Tokyo as they show their strong support to Okinawans after the Japanese government took the local government in Okinawa to court in mid-November, launching a legal battle in their longstanding dispute over the planned relocation of a U.S. military air base on the southern island.

Protesters hold placards with a slogan that reads: “No to Henoko new base” over the planned relocation of a U.S. military air base on the southern island.

Recent scandals involving US military personnel have been widely covered by the international media. Instead of being the “bulwark of American democracy” and the “defenders of peace and security” American bases and their occupants are rapidly becoming a symbol of lawlessness and crime, as evident by the vocal criticism that has been voiced by various members of the international community in various countries around the world and numerous protests local residents have held in a desperate bid to have these bases removed.

Less than a week ago a new wave of protests swept the US embassy in Japan, after the arrest of yet another American soldier who was driving a car while drunk on Okinawa.

It should be remembered  that it’s been only a short while since US military commanders introduced prohibition on military bases on Okinawa after a US soldier injured two local residents in a car accident. Okinawans have been demanding the closure of US military bases on the island for years. The latest string of incidents resulted in the largest anti-American protest of the last two decades. The demonstration was attended by tens of thousands of people that demanded the military bases be shifted to a deserted part of the island to avoid the continuation of numerous criminal deeds committed by US servicemen. Similar demands are being voiced by the residents of pretty much all the islands of Japan.

Okinawa witnessed the bloodiest skirmishes between American and Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, and has been forced to live under total US occupation until 1972. Beginning in the 1950s the so-called “red threat” was used as a pretext for the continued occupation, though nowadays there’s no certainty from whom the US is trying to protect Okinawa, all while victimizing its citizens.

However, today on the island of Okinawa, about 75% of all the US military facilities in Japan are stationed there, along with 50,000 Americans, including 30,000 soldiers.

Ever since 1972, when the US “handed over” Okinawa to Japan, American troops have committed almost 6,000 crimes on this island, 571 of which may be categorized as grave offenses. However, the agreement signed by the US and Japan in 1960 was specially designed to excuse American citizens from any forms of civil or criminal prosecution, providing them with an equivalent of diplomatic immunity. For this reason, Japanese prosecutors cannot press charges against those who serve the US military, so offenders are leaving Japan freely without any form of justice being brought upon them.

Under the influence of the Japanese public, while being reluctant to put up with continued criminal lawlessness, Japanese authorities have decided to begin negotiations with Washington on the revision of the protection US servicemen enjoy in Japan. It’s been announced by the Japanese media that a certain agreement was reached on June 4 in Singapore, by Japan’s Defense Minister Nakatani and his American counterpart, Ashton Carter. However, two incidents involving drunken American soldiers that occurred shortly after this round of negotiations clearly shows that neither Japan nor the US have actually taken steps to stop the criminal activities of the American servicemen.

In this connection one cannot help but recall a similar chain of events that took place in 2011 in South Korea, when local residents became outraged by the actions of two American soldiers who accused of raping Korean schoolgirls. In response to this situation, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a “call center” that was receiving complaints by outraged local citizens on a daily basis regarding offenses committed by US troops. In response, Americans staged a mass brawl in the center of Seoul, injuring a policeman, and then assaulting two more law enforcement officers who received numerous stab wounds. Back then South Korean authorities started negotiations to revise previous agreements regarding the status of US troops in South Korea.

Of course, numerous examples of illegal activities committed by US military personnel can be found in other nations where US bases are stationed. It is therefore not surprising that the concern about the presence of American troops abroad is growing worldwide. This global trend can be exemplified by the discontent of Latvian women who requested local authorities to sign an agreement with the United States, requiring US troops to pay child support for those children they leave behind. As activists say, such an agreement should be concluded before NATO troops even arrive to Latvia. They underline the fact that Americans are known for “using” the local population while serving in the military. But when soldiers leave, women are left raising children alone.

As for the Americans, they seem to be ignorant of the reactions they have provoked, failing to realize the full extent of the problem, living in the world described by Fulbright: “We have created a society that is occupied with violence – it is the most important product in our country. “

Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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