Sunday, May 24, 2009

Impact on Okinawan Citizens

Violent Crimes
Resentment among Okinawans primarily focuses on social problems affiliated with the military bases: accidents that injure Japanese citizens and property, noise pollution from aircraft, environmental contamination, and violent crimes perpetrated by American soldiers (Karan, 2005).

Since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972, there have been 4,716 reported criminal cases, including sexual crimes and murders, involving U.S. soldiers. More than 110 women have reported sexual assault since 1990, and sexual assault is
generally highly underreported (Karan, 2005). Cases of rape were especially prevalent during the Vietnam War, when three or four women were strangled to death yearly. The young age of many Marines and the seclusion offered on the bases lead to common occurrences of date rape, and fear of retaliation and public humiliation often results in the victims’ silence. So, while the Status of Forces Agreement assures the safety of U.S. servicemen on and off the bases, citizens of Okinawa have been the targets of violence since the bases were established (Takazato, 2004).

Accidents and Noise
Between 1972 and the end of 2001, 157 aircraft-related accidents have occurred, threatening the lives a
nd property of the people of Okinawa (Military Base Affairs Division, Okinawa Prefecture, 2008). Regulations established by the U.S. military regarding protocol for aircrafts, which have been enforced following civilian complaints in San Diego and elsewhere, has been regularly ignored in Okinawa (Makishi, personal communication; Okinawa Prefecture, 2008).

The Okinawa Prefectural government is concerned about the health impact of the frequent noise pollution, in addition to the hazards posed by aircraft crashes, petroleum oil and lubricant leaks, red silt outfl
ow from construction, and mountain forest fires sparked by live-fire exercises. Aircraft noise has been found to exceed levels set by the Environment Agency in many spots near Kadena Air Base and Futenma Air Station, with school classes in the area often being interrupted by the sound of low-flying military aircraft (Military Base Affairs Division, Okinawa Prefecture, 2008).

Environmental Concerns

The land and marine environments of Okinawa are continually threatened by active bases and development to accommodate base expansion. Construction on undeveloped land has destroyed huge swaths of Okinawa’s forests and mountains, threatening several endangered species and the overall biodiversity of the islands. The Status of Forces Agreement includes no environmental protection clauses, and the Japanese government does not have the right to inspect U.S. military bases or land. Instead, the agreement frees the U.S. military of any obligation for cleanup of environmental contaminants (Sunagawa, 2004).

Military training activities harm the environment through destruction of land during bombing exercises, possible radioactive pollution from depleted uranium weapons, and unexploded ordnance. Training exercises at Camp Hansen have causes frequent forest fires, leaving the surrounding mountains bare and contributing to soil erosion and species loss (Military Base Affairs Division, Okinawa Prefecture, 2008). Upkeep of facilities, aircrafts, and vehicles results in leaked petroleum products, heavy metals, solvents, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), and other harmful chemicals. These pollutants contaminate the soil, air, and water table (Sunagawa, 2004). Sites that have been returned to Okinawa, including Onna Communication Site, have been found to be polluted with PCB and other toxic industrial chemicals (Military Base Affairs Division, Okinawa Prefecture, 2008).

Aircraft noise also raises environmental concerns because several studies have found that noise affects animals’ reproductive systems and behaviors (Karan, 2005). This effect, coupled with the devastating impact of development on land and building reclaimed land atop coral reefs, presents a serious environmental crisis. The Nago City heliport project and other base expansion projects threaten birds such as the unique and endangered yanbarukuina, several species of insect, and plants including the gajyamaru (banyan) (Environmental Assessment Watch Group for the Dugongs in Okinawa, 2004). Other expansion projects such as the development of Henoko, which build out onto the barrier reefs surrounding the island, pose a threat to the endangered dugongs (an herbivorous, manatee-like sea mammal that lives only in the area of Southeast Asia from Okinawa to Australia) and the coral itself (Environmental Assessment Watch Group for the Dugongs in Okinawa, 2004). It is estimated that upwards of 90 percent of Okinawa’s coral reefs have died since the military bases have been established (Karan, 2005).

Environmental Assessment Watch Group for the Dugons in Okinawa (Japanese)
Makishi, Y. (2001). Okinawaha Moudamasarenai. Tokyo: Koubunken. (His website is in Japanese)

Karan, P, P., (2005). Japan in The 21st Century: Environment, Economy, and Society: Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.
Okinawa Prefecture Government of Military Base Affairs Division
Sunagawa, K. (2004). Environmental Problems Caused by U.S. Military Bases. U.S. military Bases in Japan, 14-15. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
Takazato, S. (2004). Violence Against Women Under Long-Term U.S. Military Station in Okinawa. U.S. Military Bases in Japan, 11-13. Retrieved April 7, 2009.

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