Untold ties of friendship exist between Okinawa and the U.S.

by Hisahiko Okazaki

The baseball team from Konan High School, Okinawa, emerged from the dramatic final game as the winner of the annual National High School Baseball Championship for spring 2010. There is an untold story behind this victory.

When, much to the dismay of the players, the team’s scheduled flight for Ishigaki Island for a match was canceled because of foul weather, U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa offered to transport the players on a military helicopter. I wish to let not only Japanese but also Americans know of this episode, which has not been reported by the Japanese media. Particularly, I would like our American friends to know that relations of friendship and trust, as exemplified by this incident, exist between our two peoples.

No one can predict how the current friction between Japan and the United States over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in Ginowan City, Okinawa, is going to be settled. Everybody seems nonplussed and to be simply waiting to see what will happen.

I have given up making proposals to solve this issue. Rather, I have kept pleading for Americans to have patience, stressing the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which is a common asset for our two countries that is too valuable to be harmed.

In this connection, I have made particular reference to the case of U.S. patience toward South Korea. The U.S. government put up with the Roh Moo Hyun government for up to five years while it spewed anti-U.S. rhetoric. But today, with the Lee Myung Bak regime comprising more legitimate intellectuals who had been scattered for five years, South Korea has become the most reliable ally for the U.S.

I trust that the United States will show similar patience toward Japan during the next few years. I am most concerned about the aftereffects of the current friction between our two countries.

Recently, I am told that there are U.S. Marines who say: “I would rather be in Iraq or Afghanistan where people want us, than in Japan. Japanese people clearly want us out.”

In South Korea, the Roh regime proposed the abolition of the U.S.’s wartime unified command. The abolition is scheduled to be happen in 2012. Some U.S. military experts, however, denounce this arrangement as the rash reaction of a short-tempered Donald Rumsfeld, the then secretary of defense, to President Roh’s anti-U.S. language. According to these experts, the abolition of the wartime unified command is premature, given the situation on the Korean Peninsula. In their opinion, the abolition should be withdrawn.

It is unlikely that Americans would ask for the revocation of this decision. Remembering that the South Korean military once rejected remaining under the U.S. command, many U.S. soldiers find it humiliating for the U.S. to beg Koreans to allow it to take the command again. They are now of the view that Koreans should command as they wish.

A more extreme case was seen in the Philippines. As soon as the Philippine Senate adopted a resolution against U.S. military bases on its soil, American troops packed up two big bases in Camp Clark and the Subic Bay, never to come back. This action greatly damaged the security situation of Southeast Asia. It is no use crying over spilled milk.

I am convinced that the current friction between Japan and the U.S. will not go that far. There is no need to emphasize the crucial importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which the current Democratic Party of Japan government also declares to be the cornerstone of Japan’s security.

It should be remembered, however, that in Okinawa, once a radical argument gains temporary popularity, it tends to suppress more moderate views, particularly when the government caters to and even stirs up such an argument.

In the assembly of Nago City, where the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab is located, those who oppose accepting the transfer of Futenma’s functions to Henoko in Nago are now in the majority, albeit by a small margin. The Hatoyama administration declares that it respects the local will of Okinawa, and if the DPJ-dominated Lower House adopts a resolution reflecting the voice of Okinawa, what happened in the Philippines could be repeated here.

I cannot stress enough that people in Okinawa do not hate Americans. The episode concerning the Konan High School baseball team is proof that people in Okinawa are prepared to accept such help from the U.S. troops without hesitation. Naturally, Okinawan people are grateful for the help even though they may not show it outwardly.

One U.S. military commander willed his organs to Japanese people after his death and his will was actually administered. Another U.S. officer offered an organ of his deceased child to a Japanese. It is simply unthinkable that people in Okinawa and Japan as a whole are not grateful for these offers.

Thus, although unsung by mass media, the foundation of the U.S.-Japan friendship has been firmly established. I am told that employment at U.S. bases is quite popular among the youth in Okinawa and there are even cram schools to prepare for the employment exams. These would be unthinkable phenomena if people in Okinawa disliked Americans.

In conclusion, I wish to stress to our American friends that relations of mutual trust definitely exist between our two countries. It should be obvious from the trend of the past 15 years that the U.S.-Japan alliance has steadily strengthened. What we see today is just temporary confusion and an interruption in this trend. Opinion polls have shown that no other nation in the world is more pro-American than Japan and Taiwan.

I therefore urge the American government and people to patiently maintain their confidence in Japan and the Japanese.

This is an English translation of an article that appeared in the April 21 Seiron column of the Sankei Shimbun. Hisahiko Okazaki is a former Japanese ambassador to Thailand.