In a Feb. 10 ceremony held at the start of a nine-day joint combat drill in Miyagi Prefecture between the Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Army, Col. Takeshi Nakazawa, commander of the 44th Infantry Regiment of the GSDF’s Sixth Division, said, “(The Japan-U.S.) alliance cannot be maintained by diplomacy or flowery political words, much less by only a phrase such as ‘Trust me.’ ”

After his remarks were reported, the Ground Staff Office’s public information section said that Col. Nakazawa’s words were not meant as a reference to or criticism of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. In November, Mr. Hatoyama reportedly said “Trust me” to U.S. President Barack Obama, in reference to the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island.

Whatever might have been in the colonel’s mind, it is not far-fetched to suspect that he meant to ridicule and disparage Mr. Hatoyama, who is commander-in-chief of the Self-Defense Forces. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Feb. 12 expressed his intention to discipline the colonel under the civilian control principles of the SDF, and the Defense Ministry on the same day admonished the colonel in writing. In taking the punitive action, the ministry said that the remarks could be interpreted as being judgmental of the prime minister and making light of politics and diplomacy.

Responses to the affair have varied. Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai, a former GSDF officer, supported the colonel’s remarks as “a general view” and said that if he had been the defense chief, he would not have disciplined the colonel.

Given the current political context, it is not unreasonable to interpret the colonel’s remarks as a criticism of Mr. Hatoyama and his administration. The explanation by the Ground Staff Office’s public information section appears to be an attempt to protect the colonel.

The Defense Ministry should remind SDF members of the importance of refraining from meddling in politics. Doing so is the only way the SDF can maintain the people’s trust. At the same time, the ministry should do its utmost to stay in touch with SDF members’ attitudes in order to prevent undesirable developments.

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