William Twaddell’s May 19 letter, “Okinawa issue and aid don’t mix,” criticizes my May 8 letter (“Better use of the U.S. Marines”), saying that the issue of where to locate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa Prefecture, should not be conflated with the marines’ relief operations after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku-Pacific region.
But who is really guilty of this? During the Cold War era, the United States never ran short of excuses for maintaining its large military presence in Japan, Okinawa in particular. With the Cold War long over, the Pentagon has been forced to find reasons to keep the status quo intact.
Disaster relief operations have been added as an important function of U.S. forces in Japan, as evidenced by the Okinawa-based marines’ public relations organ. In late March, as reported in The Japan Times, this organ ballyhooed “Operation Tomodachi,” carried out in the disaster-stricken Tohoku region, for highlighting “a vital U.S. military function.” A high ranking military officer even said the success of the relief operations would ease the way for Futenma’s relocation to Henoko within Okinawa Prefecture. It would seem, then, that it is the U.S. government that is mixing apples and oranges, despite the relief efforts of individual military personnel who demonstrated deep compassion for disaster victims.
Let’s face up to some hard facts. Did “some 18,000 U.S. military personnel” (mentioned by Twaddell) participate in actual cleanup work—shoveling mud and muck off disaster-hit areas? According to an April 13 New York Times report (“U.S. Airmen Quietly Reopen Wrecked Airport in Japan”), there were only 260 Okinawa-based marines and 24 soldiers from Kadena Air Base’s 353rd Special Operations Group who were cleaning up debris on the day that the reporter visited the Sendai Airport and vicinity.
Not all mobilized U.S. soldiers engaged in cleanup operations on a daily basis. The majority were crew members of 20 warships and 160 aircraft plus a considerable number of Air Force ground personnel. The U.S. government notified Tokyo that the expenditures for Operation Tomodachi totaled $80 million.
Meanwhile, on March 31, the Japanese Lower House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved a bill to appropriate an annual ¥188.1 billion from fiscal 2011 (five-year total of ¥940.5 billion) for the upkeep of the American bases in Japan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not touch on this topic during her visit to Japan on April 17, much less decline Japan’s “sympathy budget” paid into U.S. coffers—which could have been better used for reconstructing the disaster-stricken areas.
Can’t Twaddell see something wrong here?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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