U.S.-Japan Alliance Remains Strong
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan, Aug. 5, 1996 Before and since American service members raped an Okinawan girl last year, U.S. military leaders here have worked hard to maintain good relations with their Japanese hosts.
"When President Clinton met with Prime Minister Hashimoto in April, they signed an agreement that reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan security alliance," said Air Force Col. Tom Boyd. "This relationship is as strong as ever, and we see that working every day."
Although the rape incident drew a lot of attention, dealing with it straightforwardly controlled the damage, said Boyd, senior spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan. Following the incident, the command formed the Special Action Committee on Okinawa. In April, the committee announced 11 initiatives to reduce the impact of U.S. military operations on Okinawa. For example, the United States agreed to close Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, moving operations from there to nearby Kadena Air Base.
"It's important to realize, however, that this isn't the first time U.S. Forces Japan took action to reduce our impact [on Okinawa]," Boyd said. "For example, we already had agreed to return the Naha port facility and move live-fire artillery training from the island."
To reduce aircraft noise throughout Japan, the Air Force limits flying hours, Boyd added. "For example, at Yokota, we fulfill operational requirements but limit nighttime flying. And at Kadena, pilots minimize the amount of time they spend flying over the island."
In addition, Air Force pilots don't fly on days when Japanese schoolchildren take their compulsory exams or on many Japanese holidays.
After the rape, Marines and airmen on Okinawa took a day off from work for reflection, Boyd said. In addition, American officials reviewed orientation programs to see if newcomers to Japan were getting important cultural indoctrination.
"We found that our indoctrination programs are good," the colonel said. "We did crank up the volume to make sure we were getting through to everybody, but the areas we covered were generally on the money."
If anything, Boyd said, the rape incident heightened Japanese awareness of why the United States has a military presence here. "After the initial negative reporting in the press," he said, "more balanced, in-depth coverage of the U.S.-Japan alliance began to appear in Tokyo newspapers." What they learned, he said, is how important the United States' presence here is.
"Our presence contributes to peace and stability for the entire Pacific region," Boyd said. "This benefits the United States because we trade with Japan more than any other country except Canada, and we have a significant amount of trade with the region."
Japan realizes the U.S. military's value in its homeland, Boyd said, and reciprocates, paying out some $5 billion a year in host nation support. As evidence, housing and other building projects are prevalent on every U.S. base here.
"We're good neighbors," the colonel said, "and our relations are strong."