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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Have your say

Readers respond to last month's SOFA article

The Community Page received a number of responses to Michael Hassett's article "U.S. military crime: SOFA so good?" which appeared in the Zeit Gist spot on Feb. 26 (Feb. 27 in some areas). Following are some examples.


I just left Okinawa after three years of working at the U.S. Naval Hospital. While I was there I had the opportunity to lecture at Okinawa International University for their Social Welfare program on the topics of domestic violence and child abuse trends in the US and Japan.

From the research, there seems to be no difference in rates of child abuse or domestic violence between our two countries, which is counter to the "perceptions" out there. The difference is in the area of reporting. This makes me think that the rates Michael Hassett quoted are even more skewed considering the failure to report these crimes and instead "take care of it within the family."

Lt. Jim Condon
Regional Clinical Social Worker, Commander Navy Region Europe (CNRE) Fleet & Family Support Program,
Naples, Italy

Military crime wave myth

I was pleased to read Michael Hassett's recent article on the U.S. military and crime in Japan. Crime is a concern for everyone and statistics can sometimes blur the fact that real people are victims of violent acts. Living in Japan for nearly three years in the 1980s, I was always impressed with the overall lack of crime.

In 2006, Japan had about 1,948 rapes. If Japan had the same incidence rate as the U.S., this number would be nearly 40,000. From the data I have seen, in Okinawa between 1996 and 2006 the incidence rate for U.S. military forces was nearly four times less than the expected rate for the general male population on Okinawa.

There is a danger in working with very small numbers in statistics and this is the case in this example. As I mention above, one rape is too many. But the notion that there is a U.S. military crime wave on Okinawa is not supported by the data.

Dr. Ron McNinch-Su, Chair of Public Administration and Legal Studies, University of Guam

Offering a rewrite

I would just like to make a couple of points about Michael Hassett's article.

First, the amount of time that soldiers spend on base, and the amount of time they spend in Japanese cities, should be considered. If, for example, they spend half their time on base then your case is only half as compelling. The writer does allow for this towards the end of the article, mentioning crimes on base, but perhaps time spent on base is more knowable and thus more useful to consider.

Also, it's a little unfair to compare free citizens with soldiers who live with many restrictions and pressures. With the stakes as high as they are for the U.S. and soldiers, one could logically predict the rate would be lower for soldiers.

Finally, I'd guess for most Japanese who protest the stats don't matter: They want the bases closed regardless of the circumstances. The last paragraph could as fairly be rewritten:

"Many believe the Japanese government has the right to force citizens in Okinawa to bear the brunt of their focus on militarism whether they like it or not, but as long as locals feel they should have a voice about who they host to live in their communities, voices of protest will be raised against violent crimes committed by soldiers regardless of statistics.

"Which all raises the question: Is it hypocritical of governments to force communities — especially communities that suffered so profoundly during World War II — to host military bases without giving them a choice?"

John Spiri, Tokyo

Parallels with Cyprus case

As a non-American, I can very much appreciate the U.S. military's resentment at being the scapegoat in the media. I can also understand Japanese society's broad, if relatively mild, antipathy towards U.S. Forces Japan (I live under the occasional U.S. Navy jet flight path).

I also find it interesting, as an ex-British armed forces member, that there was a recent case in Cyprus which received a similar degree of attention (as the alleged rape in Okinawa). Seven British soldiers were involved in a bar brawl, and the bar was damaged. This is hardly unusual in Cyprus or any Mediterranean resort area where young British (and German, Dutch, etc.) men go to drink and frolic in the sun, but the matter was blown up as indicating some special problem or pattern, simply because the men involved were soldiers.

Under British law, military personnel are liable to double punishment: civil court action followed by military disciplinary measures. Thus British personnel are far less likely to get caught in the the act of committing a crime than those in practically any other occupation.

Garren Mulloy, Fujisawa, Kanagawa Pref.

SDF not ready for U.S. exit

For once, someone has injected some calm, unemotional sanity into this otherwise nonissue. With all the persistent misreporting by the mainstream Japanese media, who would've ever guessed that the U.S. military only commit crimes at a rate about half that of other Okinawans and the Japanese populace in general?

And now we hear that the teenage Okinawan girl has dropped charges against the marine sergeant. Why? Because there was no rape. Duh.

As a longtime resident of Japan, which I love dearly, it always amazes me to see how quickly many Japanese people get all worked up after these temporary strains in Japan-U.S. relations, and yet suddenly become noticeably silent whenever there is some legitimate security breach, like North Korea firing a missile over the Japanese archipelago, Chinese warships purposely encroaching on sovereign Japanese waters or Russian fighter jets violating Japanese airspace.

I personally would love to see Japan defend herself, as it would save U.S. taxpayers a hell of a lot of money to deal with more pressing social issues, but if the recent fiasco regarding the Aegis-equipped Atago destroyer is any indicator, the Self-Defense Forces are obviously not ready for prime time.

Gary J. Wolff, Ichikawa, Chiba Pref.

Ambassadors of integrity

From a U.S. Navy officer, who spent about nine years in Sasebo, Nagasaki Pref., thank you for your honest reporting.

While I find the behavior of a very small number of my fellow service members abhorrent, your statistics show that approximately 99.76 percent of them (compared to 99.63 percent of the total population of Japan) are at least law-abiding.

I believe the majority of them to be the ambassadors of integrity and honor that we in the military spend so much time and effort training them to be. You have my appreciation and respect.

Joe M. Emmert, Lt. Cmdr., U.S. Navy

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