By Ann Wright,
Remarks at Women Against Military Violence Symposium, Naha, Okinawa
As a 29 year veteran of the US Army, I first want to deeply apologize for the horrific criminal actions in the past two months on Okinawa by the perpetrators of a murder, two rapes and injuries caused by drunken driving by US military personnel assigned in Okinawa.
While these criminal acts to do NOT reflect the attitudes of 99.9% of the US military in Okinawa, the fact that 70 years after the end of World War II, there are huge US military bases with tens of thousands of young US military personnel living in Okinawa makes for a dangerous situation.
The mission of the military is to resolve international conflict with violence. Military personnel are trained to react to situations with violent actions. These violent actions can be used in personal life as military personnel attempt to resolve personal problems within the family, friends or strangers with violence. Violence is used to resolve anger, dislike, hate, feeling of superiority toward others.
Not only are communities around US military bases affected by this violence as we have seen erupt in the past two months in Okinawa, but violence occurs on military bases between members of the military community and families. Domestic violence within military families that are living on and off military bases is high.
Sexual assault and rape of military personnel by other military personnel is extraordinarily high. Estimates are that one in three women in the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped during the short time of six years that she is in the US military. The Department of Defense estimates that over 20,000 military are sexually assaulted each year, women and men. Rates of prosecution for these crimes are very low, with only 7 percent of the cases reported resulting in prosecution of the perpetrator.
Yesterday, Suzuyo Takazato of Okinawan Women Against Military Violence, an organization that has been documenting the violence of US military in Okinawa since World War II -now 28 pages long– took us to pay our respects to the memory of 20 year old Rina Shimabukuro. We travelled to the area near Camp Hansen where her body was located by the admission of the perpetrator of her rape, assault and murder, a US military contractor and a former US Marine assigned in Okinawa. By his own admission to the Japanese police, he said that he had driven for several hours looking for a victim.
Photo of memorial to Rina Shimaburkuro (photo by Ann Wright)
Flowers for Rina Shimabukuro at isolated area near Camp Hansen where her was was identified by the perpetrator
As we know from many other rapes, usually the rapist has raped many women-and I suspect this perpetrator is not only a serial rapist but perhaps a serial killer. I urge Japanese police to check their reports of missing women in Okinawa during his Marine assignment here and I also urge US military and civilian police to check for missing women around the military bases in the United States where he was assigned.
These criminal acts rightfully put a strain on US-Japan relations. During his recent visit to Japan the President of the United States Obama expressed his “deep regrets” for the rape and murder of a young girl only three years older than his oldest daughter.
Yet President Obama did not express regrets for the continued US occupation of 20 percent of the land of Okinawa 70 years after World War II, nor for the environmental destruction of lands used by US military are evidenced by the recent release of 8500 pages of reports of pollution, chemical spills and environmental damage on US military bases most of which was never reported to the Japanese government. “During the 1998-2015 period, leaks totaled almost 40,000 liters of jet fuel, 13,000 liters of diesel and 480,000 liters of sewage. Of the 206 incidents noted between 2010 and 2014, 51 were blamed on accidents or human error; only 23 were reported to the Japanese authorities. The year 2014 saw the highest number of accidents: 59 – only two of which were reported to Tokyo.” http://apjjf.org/2016/09/Mitchell.html
The very unbalanced, unequal Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) allows the U.S. military to pollute Okinawan lands and not be required to report the pollution to local authorities nor be required to clean up the damage. The SOFA does not require the US military to report criminal acts committed on US military bases thereby hiding the numbers of violent acts perpetrated there.
Now is the perfect time for the government of Japan to demand to have the SOFA renegotiated to force the US government to accept its responsibilities for damages done by the US military to its people and its lands.
The citizens of Okinawa and the elected leaders of Okinawa have accomplished an unprecedented event-the suspension, and hopefully, the end of construction of the runways at Henoko. What you have done to challenge both your national government and the US government’s attempt to build another military base in the beautiful waters of Ora Bay is remarkable.
I have just visited activists on Jeju Island, South Korea where their 8 year campaign to prevent the construction of a naval base in their pristine waters was not successful. Their efforts were NOT supported by the prefecture government and now 116 of them and 5 village organizations are being sued for damages from costs incurred by the slow down of contraction by daily protests that closed the entrance gates to construction trucks.
Again, I want to express my deepest apologies for the actions of a few individuals in the US military for the criminal acts that have occurred, but more importantly tell you that many of us in the United States will continue our struggle to end the 800 US military bases the US has around the world. When compared to only 30 military bases that all the other nations of the world have in lands not their own, the US desire to use the lands of other peoples for its war machine must be stopped and we commit ourselves to continue to work toward that goal.