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U.S. nuclear arms in Japan: a firsthand account

Dear Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama,

In the fall of 1980 I was assigned as a civilian university professor to provide Japanese language instruction to the officers and men of the USS Knox (FF-1052), a destroyer home-ported in Yokosuka. Sharing quarters with the ship’s nuclear weapons officer, I soon became aware that the Knox was outfitted with an ASROC antisubmarine missile system including nuclear depth bombs.

I say this because: 1) The operations manual for these nuclear weapons lay in plain sight on the floor beneath the officer’s desk; 2) receipts for the nuclear weapons first loaded on the ship in Guam were on his desk; and 3) an armed marine stood guard 24 hours a day in front of a door on the ship marked with a radiation hazard sign.

I immediately realized that the presence of nuclear weapons in Japanese territorial waters violated Japan’s three nonnuclear principles. Yet even then I suspected this violation could not have occurred without the Japanese government’s consent. Recent revelations regarding related “oral agreements” between then Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira and U.S. Ambassador Edwin Reishauer have proven my suspicions correct.

In 1995 I returned to Japan, this time as U.S. Army intelligence specialist assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Forces, Japan, located at Yokota Air Force Base. There I participated in command and control exercises premised on the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula.

Once, in response to the commanding general’s query, my fellow intelligence analysts insisted that U.S. military bases in Japan would not be subject to antiwar demonstrations in the event of a second Korean war. Why? Because North Korean missiles aimed at U.S. bases in Japan were so inaccurate they would miss their targets and, instead, kill Japanese civilians in neighboring areas. This would so anger the Japanese people that they would forget that the reason for the missiles raining down on them in the first place was the presence of U.S. bases.

Significantly, there was never any discussion of how to prevent innocent Japanese civilians from being killed, only how to take advantage of their deaths to ensure the Japanese people’s support for the U.S. war effort.

In 1997 I was reassigned to the U.S. Army-run military port in Naha, Okinawa. This was at a time when the U.S. had agreed to an Okinawan request to relocate the military port to a site further north on the main island. However, I soon discovered that while the U.S. military authorities had publicly pledged that, in the event of relocation, there would be no expansion of the port’s facilities, there was nevertheless a secret plan to build a new hovercraft port to speed up the dispatch of marines to the Korean Peninsula in the event of war.

Prime minister, the conclusion I draw from my personal experiences is that neither the U.S. military nor previous Liberal Democratic Party governments can be trusted to tell the truth to the Japanese people. In light of the recent collision between a Japanese naval destroyer and a container ship in the narrow Kanmon Straits, who can guarantee that the same will not happen to one or another of the nuclear-armed U.S. Navy ships home-ported in Yokosuka, with the possible loss (or worse) of one or more nuclear weapons on board?

Further, is it right for the lives of Japanese civilians near U.S. military bases to be held hostage to U.S. military activities on the Korean Peninsula? Prime minister, I trust you will agree that the Japanese people should not become the unwitting and unwilling victims of yet another war.

Dedicated to the welfare of the people of Japan as I believe you and the Democratic Party of Japan are, I pray you will not allow the U.S. military to further betray and endanger this nation as it has done so often in the past. As you have rightly pointed out, it is highly unnatural to have foreign military bases located in one’s country for more than half a century. Isn’t it time, beginning with Okinawa, to work toward dismantling these bases even as you strive to build a new East Asian economic and security system?

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