Issues | THE FOREIGN ELEMENT

U.S. Marines briefing links crimes to ‘gaijin power’; for Okinawans, ‘it pays to complain’

by Jon Mitchell

Internal U.S. Marine Corps documents reveal that lectures supposed to improve marines’ understanding of Okinawa instead downplay military crimes and disparage local residents.

Obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the scripts and slides, titled “Okinawa Cultural Awareness Training,” form the basis of mandatory lectures for new arrivals to the island.

Using a Japanese word for “foreigner,” one section from a February 2014 talk headed “Incidents and Accidents” states, “We get carried-away with our sudden ‘gaijin power’ (Charisma man effect) and tend to go over-board by doing things that is not acceptable to the majority in society.”

The same script says many Okinawans “do not feel safe if they are alone at night and hear footsteps behind them and see one or more American GIs.” Blaming the reaction on “too many past liberty-related incidents,” it states how U.S. Marines “see ourselves as the good guys.”

Dated February 2016, another lecture describes how public opinion on the island tends to be “self-serving” and characterized by “double standards.” For Okinawans, according to the talk’s accompanying slides, “It pays to complain. Anywhere offense can be taken it will be used.” The released documents originate from the Okinawa USMC Joint Reception Center at Camp Butler and Marine Corps Community Services.

Awareness training within the U.S. military is currently under intense scrutiny following the alleged rape of a Japanese tourist by a U.S. sailor in March and last month’s apparent murder of a 20-year old office worker by a former U.S. Marine.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, head of the U.S. Marines in Japan, promised to make efforts to prevent such crimes from occurring in the future. This week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to ask U.S. President Barack Obama to take further countermeasures to reduce military crimes.

However, Okinawa residents say they have heard such assurances in the past but offenses by U.S. troops continue.

“These orientation documents prove previous promises of better training have been empty,” says Manabu Sato, political science professor at Okinawa International University. “New marines arrive on Okinawa knowing little about the island, so they rely on lectures by their superior officers for information. These lectures teach marines two things: They are above the law and they can look down on Okinawans.”

Sato suggested the government of Japan ought to demand full transparency about what the U.S. military’s future countermeasures actually entail.

In an email, John Severns, deputy director of U.S. Forces Japan Public Affairs, wrote: “Any implication that these briefings might contribute to misbehavior is absurd. Our Marines and other servicemembers set the highest standards for personal conduct, and when our people fail to live up to those standards they are held accountable for their actions. We are committed to being good neighbors and friends to the Japanese people.” He declined to comment on the lectures’ derogatory statements about Okinawans or how they might influence marines’ interactions with local residents.

The documents also contain a number of misleading statements on the impact of military crime in Okinawa. Referring to the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. service members, lecture notes attribute the ensuing protests to “the handling of (the crime) by the Japanese government.” Not mentioned is the public anger sparked by Adm. Richard C. Macke, the commander of U.S. Forces in the Pacific, who suggested that hiring a prostitute would have been cheaper than renting the car the service members used to abduct the girl. Macke was forced to resign over the statement.

Additionally, the documents contain inaccurate data regarding military crimes, which, they say, “account for less than 1 percent of the crime and traffic incidents on Okinawa.” This statistic omits crimes occurring within bases, which are handled by military courts or by returning suspects to the U.S. for trial.

For example, in 2012 an airman stationed at Kadena Air Base was sentenced to life in prison by a military court for murdering a fellow service member, while last July a Kadena worker was sentenced by a court in Minnesota to five years for sexually assaulting a minor at the base.

Last year, The Associated Press reported there were hundreds of alleged sex crimes involving U.S. military personnel in Japan between 2005 and 2013. It is not known how many of these took place in Okinawa, which is home to the majority of U.S. service members in the country.

Jon Mitchell received the inaugural Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan Freedom of the Press Award for Lifetime Achievement for his investigations into U.S. military contamination on Okinawa and other base-related problems. Your comments and ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp