Treat Okinawans with respect

The alleged rape on Oct. 16 of an Okinawan woman by two U.S. servicemen outside her apartment building in the city of Okinawa has stoked great anger among the prefecture’s residents. Adding insult to injury, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and Vice Foreign Minister Shuji Kira made insensitive remarks about the case that have deepened Okinawan resentment and animosity toward the central government.

The use of the word “accident” by both Mr. Morimoto and Mr. Kira to refer to the alleged rape has reinforced a sentiment all too common among Okinawans that the central government has long had a discriminatory attitude toward Okinawa and that it doesn’t take seriously the heavy burden that Okinawans are forced to shoulder due to the large U.S. military presence in the prefecture.

Asked on Oct. 17 by reporters about his view of the alleged rape, Defense Minister Morimoto said, “It is an extremely serious and grave accident.” In a separate occasion on Oct. 19 — after he asked U.S. Ambassador John V. Roos to take measures to prevent the occurrence of similar crimes by U.S. servicemen — Mr. Morimoto used the word “accident” four times, including a remark that Japan and the U.S. will closely cooperate to eradicate this kind of “accident,” according to the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper. On Oct. 18, Vice Foreign Minister Kira said, “The accident this time is something that should never happen.”

On Oct. 23, Mr. Morimoto tried to excuse his insensitive choice of words by saying that if he was misunderstood, then his use of language was improper. But it must be said that something is seriously wrong with the attitude of people like Mr. Morimoto and Mr. Kira if they think it’s appropriate to call an alleged act of rape by U.S. military personnel an “accident.” Their remarks show that they are not paying attention to the suffering of the woman and do not care about her dignity. They seem oblivious to the fact that their “accident” remarks have inflicted further pain upon her.

Their remarks are also callous in view of the fact that the Okinawan police reported 127 rape and attempted rape cases involving U.S. servicemen from Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972 to the end of 2011, and that U.S. servicemen committed 5,747 crimes in the same period.

When Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima met with Mr. Morimoto on Oct. 17 to protest against the alleged rape, the defense minister said that this kind of crime is caused by visiting U.S. servicemen who are not stationed in Okinawa, referring to the fact that the two sailors suspected of committing the alleged crime are based at Naval Air Station Fort Worth in Texas. It sounds as if he was trying to weaken the impact of the alleged crime.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that the remarks by Mr. Morimoto and Mr. Kira reflect the prevailing attitude in the Defense and Foreign ministries. The alleged rape took place at a time when Okinawans are already upset about the government’s decision to allow the deployment of Opsrey tiltrotor aircraft in Okinawa over the objections of residents. Tokyo and Washington should take seriously the fact that a resolution adopted by the Okinawa prefectural assembly on Oct. 22 notes in part that the alleged rape following on the heels of the Osprey deployment has led some Okinawans to call for the complete withdrawal of U.S. military facilities from their prefecture.

The government must stop treating Okinawans like a people under military occupation and address their concerns in a sincere and fair manner.