Japanese ex-marine strives to debunk deterrence ‘myth’

Activist vet hits U.S. forces as racists, Tokyo as 'sugar daddy' Shinsaku Yokota

by Shinsaku Yokota

Kyodo News

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — A Japanese man with the unusual background of having served in the U.S. Marine Corps is using his experience to vigorously campaign against the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

Kimitoshi Takanashi, 38, joined the marines in his 20s and once served in Okinawa during his four-year career in the U.S. military.

The sharp-eyed man, sporting a Mohawk hairdo, has a muscular build that hardly looks like the body of a man nearing 40. On his right arm are tattooed the words, “KILL ‘EM ALL.”

After he began publicly speaking on the issue of U.S. forces in Okinawa, the fearless ex-marine gained a following among activists and members of university faculties in the prefecture. At their request, he is giving talks about what he perceives to be the injustices of keeping U.S. military installations in Okinawa.

He delivered his first speech as a former marine at Okinawa University in Naha on May 23, the very day then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama paid a visit to the prefecture.

Hatoyama traveled to Okinawa to report on his decision to strike a deal with the United States by agreeing to move the Futenma air base from the residential area of Ginowan to the Henoko coast at U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, also in the prefecture.

Okinawa residents were predictably outraged, due to Hatoyama having initially promised to move the Futenma facility out of the prefecture, which houses about 75 percent of the land area used for U.S. military facilities in Japan and half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. service members in the country, including well over 10,000 marines.

After failing to find any other prefectures that were willing to host a replacement facility for Futenma and bowing to pressure from the United States, Hatoyama gave up and chose Henoko as the relocation site, as demanded by Washington.

In defending his decision, Hatoyama argued Japan had to host the U.S. military as a deterrent against military threats from outside.

When he spoke at Okinawa University during Hatoyama’s visit, Takanashi compared a deterrent to a police officer guarding a safe to prevent possible theft.

“U.S. Marines are stationed all over the world and they are fighting at this very moment,” said Takanashi. “There would be no conflicts if the marines were serving as an effective deterrent.” Takanashi argues that the word “deterrent” is a fictitious mantra the government uses to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

When asked whether the world would face any difficulty if the marines were not in Okinawa, he said the marines can operate effectively in any place in East Asia, meaning their presence in Okinawa is not indispensable.

“The Marine Corps is still in Okinawa because the United States built its military bases here after Japan’s defeat in World War II and the situation has gone unchanged ever since,” Takanashi said.

Takanashi grew up in the city of Hiroshima, where his great-grandparents died from the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945. As a child, he often saw off-duty U.S. soldiers come to his city from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

He grew resentful of the Americans who visited the city to have fun, even though it was a site of intense suffering during the final days of the war. He also felt that Caucasians looked down on Asians.

After serving in the Ground Self-Defense Force for two years, he obtained his U.S. green card and joined the Marine Corps at age 23, partly to prove he could do as well at work as any white American.

Still, he commends the U.S. military, saying, “Compared with the thorough training at a Marine Corps boot camp, what the Japanese SDF recruits go through is like boy scouts’ assignments.”

He was shipped out to some of the world’s hot spots, including Africa and the Korean Peninsula. “The good thing about the marines is that they can be dispatched to their destination from anywhere.”

He was posted to Camp Schwab in June 1995. Three months later three U.S. servicemen gang-raped a 12-year-old local girl and Okinawa exploded in fury.

The gravity of the matter prompted Tokyo and Washington to agree the following year on the return of the Futenma base to Japan on condition that Tokyo provides a replacement facility elsewhere.

Amid the vigorous protests by the enraged Okinawans, the U.S. service members in general, according to Takanashi, were apathetic. Marines around him were annoyed by the incident because they were afraid they might get banned from going out when they were off duty, he said.

Okinawans began calling for a full revision of the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States, which pertains to the handling of U.S. service members who commit crimes in Japan. Of particular concern for both countries was defining the specific circumstances under which U.S. military suspects should be handed over to Japanese law enforcement authorities.

No major progress has been made on the overhaul of the accord while the planned relocation of the Futenma base went nowhere.

“U.S. soldiers tend to think they won’t face criminal charges whatever they do here and also know that it is unfair,” Takanashi said. “They don’t talk about this because the inequities (inherent in the SOFA) are advantageous for them.”

Takanashi argues that their attitude reflects their disregard for human rights and racism. “Japan is like a colony of the United States and the most important issue facing Okinawa is neither military nor political but ethnic,” he added.

He is also critical of the way Japan pays money for the U.S. armed forces as host-nation support is squandered.

“Facilities where no one works are air-conditioned to excess and almost nobody goes to movie theaters the Japanese government has built,” he said. “Japan should stop playing the role of a sugar daddy.”