Saturday, April 05, 2008

More US Military Personnel Needed to Make Our Streets Safer?

The latest rape case in Okinawa and the protests that it touched off made the national headlines for days on end. Memories of the 1995 gang rape of a 12-year old school girl were invoked*, while a second rape case appeared to add fuel to the fire. However, when the alleged 14-year old victim and her legal guardians decided not to push charges**, the national media dropped the matter; the alleged victim in the remaining case was a Philippine national and an adult, making it just another statistic on gaijin-on-gaijin crime. However, I did have enough interest in the matter to do a very rough estimate and figured that, if the crime per capita figures matched those of the overall Japanese population, there should be reports of somewhere around one rape case a year with US military personnel (not including their family members in Japan) as the suspect. So, one (or just possibly two) rape per thirteen years is pretty low. Am I missing something? Were there lots of other rapes in Okinawa that went unreported by the national media between 1995 and 2008? Well, someone else not only did some wondering, he (she?) actually went and looked for the data. The blogger could only come up with broader crime figures, but was able to make rough estimates that the crime rate of US military personnel was approximately half that of the Japanese population as a whole. The blogger uses official statistics and the arithmetic appears to be not unreasonable***.

The best way to make Japan safer, apparently, is to have more US military personnel and fewer Japanese walking the streets.

This is not that surprising when you really think about it. Although the US military recently lowered its recruiting standards substantially as the war in Iraq takes its toll, compared to the US population in general, the all-voluntary military still draws its men and women from a relatively crime-free, disciplined group of US citizens (and green card holders) and places them in a relatively regimented, rule-oriented environment.

So, unless someone comes up with more specific statistics, I have to assume that the media have been dancing around anecdotal evidence and making a big fuss and moving on when the anecdote no longer excites the public. More to the point, the latest US military crime wave is likely the 2008 equivalent of the 2001 shark attack wave - a media concoction. Keep that in mind when the media have their way with the latest robbery-with-physical injury case in Okinawa and the tabloids and weeklies splatter its pages with speculation about the future of the US military presence in Japan.

Speaking of the US military presence, there are some good reasons why the issue does not blow up the way it does in South Korea. Remind me to blog it one of these days.

* The men convicted in the 1995 case received 6 1/2 to 7 years in hard labor. Japanese courts appear to hand out much lower sentences for sexual crimes compared to their US counterparts. Remember, the last US soldier tried by court-martial and executed was convicted of a single case of rape.

** I wondered then if the facts of that case as reported might only be able to sustain a lesser charge under prefectural law. I refrained from going any further since news reports (and suspects/convicts and their advocates for that matter) are notoriously one-sided and are not to be trusted without due corroboration. Now we’ll never be able to make even an educated guess, unless there is a report on the outcome of court-martial (assuming there is going to be one).

*** Also in favor o f the blogger is the fact that he/she has a public interest advertising banner that alternates between such worthy institutions as Peace Wind and UNICEF. UNICEF happens to be one of the few UN institutions that I support. UNESCO? That’s another animal altogether.


Sophie said...

Here is the reminder :
Although France was liberated by an international effort led by the USofA, there is here now a strong anti-US sentiment and the idea of having US military bases in the country would certainly be greeted with street protests and shouts of "yankee go home".

On the other side, Japan was defeated by the USofA, and, seen from outside, the US presence on Japanese soil seems an occupation or punitive effort on a defeated country.

Can you give foreigners an explanation about how the Japanese view these forces, why an occupied country would be less anti-US than a liberated one?

Is it all the fault of De Gaulle? ;)
Or is my perspective distorted by the tone of the Truman speech about Hiroshima I've just read in the book "Slaughterhouse five" by Kurt Vonnegut?

Jun Okumura said...

Okay, so you've reminded me. I'll take a crack at it, but I've got to get some sleep.


Jun Okumura said...


Although there has always been a noisy minority that believes that Japan fought a just war and fought it nobly (you can see it articulated quite artfully in the English-language text of the Yūshūkan exhibits (Yūshūkan being a public interest affiliate of the Yasukuni Shrine), a healthy majority has been of the view that Japan did not, particularly with regard to its war on Asia. Moreover, there was a strong sense of victimhood among the general public, that the military and the political elite conspired to lead Japan into an undesirable war and continued to fight on and cause great suffering long after the war had been lost. In the minds of this greatly relieved public, the US was both occupier and liberator. It also helped that the US Occupation was far more benign than expected, as well as politically tactful. It was the perfect match of a good winner and a good loser.

Of course the Communist and Socialist Parties (the latter being absolute pacifists) had always opposed the US military presence, and on occasion could even be the source of violent protest, but they were never able to muster a political majority. Thus, political power has always resided with a pro-US center-right majority. With the disintegration of the Socialist Party and the rise of the ecumenical DPJ in its place as the new opposition, there is no longer any politically consequential force that openly advocates the removal of the US military bases in their entirety.

So there’s a very rough outline of an answer to your question. I’d like to write more, but I’d have to do a lot of reading to make sure that I don’t make errors of fact or judgment. In particular, I am aware that I need to do a lot more reading and thinking on Okinawa, which has a history and geography of isolation from the four main islands of the Japanese archipelago, to confirm/discard my hunch that the status quo is, for better or worse, quite stable, there, and in the rest of Japan.

Anonymous said...

The current situation is something of an influence too - France does not have any threatening neighbors like Japan does with North Korea or even China.

Also remember that the other two Axis powers have US military bases as well. In fact I think, in terms of military cooperation with the US, France (i.e. with its nonintegration with NATO) is more of an outlier than Japan.

Jun Okumura said...

Right you are, Christopher. Germany has an even bigger reason than Japan does to be grateful to the US. I don’t know the situation in Italy too well, but could the huge Italian presence in the US also have something to do with it?

I didn’t mention the North Korean and Chinese threat because South Korea faces a much greater threat from North Korea (and latent territorial concerns and history issues with regard to China), yet anti-US sentiments there are also far more prevalent and deep-seated than ours. I don’t have the means right now to explain this to my satisfaction in a consistent and credible narrative.

Jun Okumura said...

France’s issues with the US reaches back deep into the Cold War Era. My guess is, it’s actually an Anglo-French rivalry thing. You know, William the Conqueror, Prince Hal, Winnie and Chuck…

Sophie said...

"France does not have any threatening neighbors like Japan does".
Well Germany had very close threatening neighbours until the 1980s. The USSR certainly was (or meant to be) a threat to all western European countries then.
Maybe the difference also lies in the building of Europe, uniting the previous foes and getting rid of old hatreds in a surprisingly quick way. I think hatreds linger on in Asia. (the word is too strong maybe, but, well not for North Korea).
In this very recent report from BBC (, page 6), the US are viewed more positively by French people (51% mainly negative) than by Germans (72% mainly negative). Japan shows mixed views towards the US at 38% mainly negative. But theses figures are general, not related to sentiment about US presence in the country.

Germany scores the highest of all countries, France showing for example 74% positive views.
Japan scores very well too, except in China, South Korea, India.

As for the old Anglo-French thing, well GB scores 54% mainly positive in France. As far as I know or feel, anglophobia is regional in France, and there are also anglophile areas. Born in North-Western France, I've always been quite an anglophile. Remembering the good old times, I guess ^_^.
Talking with English people who live in the area (lots of them do), they were quite surprised by the lack of negative reaction about the strong English presence in the area since the 1990s.

Jun Okumura said...

That's interesting. And more French people can (and are willing to) speak English now, right?

Sophie said...

Well, tourism being quite a big industry in France, all people involved in it have a smattering of English. The level is not that high, but it works. I know there are lots of complaints about how the French are unpleasant with tourists, but friends who visited recently found people really friendly. Again, your mileage may vary, and regions are different.
Some companies heavily rely on 'business english' in their internal works too.

Jun Okumura said...

I recall that when I was doing climate change negotiations between1989-91, scientists and engineers in the French delegation tended to have difficulties communicating in English. Intellectuals in nations that can conduct all of its higher education in their native languages tend to do poorly in foreign languages. Not anymore. Today, you are at a serious disadvantage if you cannot interact with the global English language-based online community and database.

Incidentally, I never had an unpleasant experience in French restaurants. So they’re not all smiles and don’t make you call them by their first names and won’t come around every ten minutes to ask, “Is everything okay”? If you have a problem with that, then you won’t like France. Otherwise, no problem.