Marco Werman: Our next story is one we've heard before. Two US servicemen allegedly raped a young woman on the island of Okinawa earlier this week. The incident has ignited a storm of protests across Japan, and in Tokyo, the American ambassador was summoned by Japan's foreign ministry yesterday for a diplomatic dressing down. Ayako Mie is covering the story for the Japan Times.
Ayako Mie: What happened is that two US servicemen based in Ft. Worth, Texas were visiting Kadena Air Base for a couple days, and then they got drunk and they stopped this woman but she ignored them. So they just like took her to the parking lot and they raped her.
Werman: How have the community and the Japanese government responded?
Mie: Well, the community is pretty angry. They protested in front of the base. And also the government has lodged the protest with the US embassy.
Werman: Tell me something, Ayako. What is it about Okinawa and US servicemen? I feel like I don't hear these kinds of episodes from other US bases around the world.
Mie: Well, I think okinawan people feel the US military servicemen think Okinawa as an inferior people, so that's why they can do anything. I don't know why.
Werman: Why would they think that though?
Mie: Because there are so many similar case happening. Since the reversion there are 5,000 criminal conduct by the US service members in Japan.
Werman: Five thousand?
Mie: Right. And 600 are felony, like rape or murders and stuff like that. But that's only the cases that are reported. Many goes unreported
Werman: I mean 5,000 is still a very big number, even for 40 years, it seems to me.
Werman: Now the anger over this rape coincides with growing concern over deployment of a new type of aircraft with the Marines there in Okinawa. It's called the Osprey. What is that concern about?
Mie: Well, this year the Osprey suffered two very severe accidents, one in Morocco and Florida. And then the Okinawans are very, very concerned about the safety record. Even though United States says it's safe, I think still for Okinawans it's been worrisome because the Osprey is going to fly over densely populated area.
Werman: So aerial hardware and a new charge of rape. It seems to be reaching some kind of crisis point, it feels like. What does it feel like there?
Mie: As the Okinawan governor put it, this is like insane, and it could not come at the worse time. Okinawans are very angry and then I don't think they will never forget US military for this.
Werman: So, Ayako, final question to help me understand this. Why are these bases there in Okinawa in the first place and why are the Japanese willing to keep them?
Mie: Well, you know, with the rise of China, I think for Japan and the United States it's important to keep the Okinawa base there because of the close proximity to East China Sea and all that kind of stuff. At the same time, we have to remember that Okinawa sentiment in not monolithic either. Okinawa suffers from the highest unemployment rate across Japan and the US forces provide lots of jobs. So people have a very ambivalent feeling. In a way they want to keep the US military because that provides job, but on the other hand if something like this really heinous crime happens, they just want the US military to go away.
Werman: That certainly puts Okinawa in a difficult position. Ayako Mie in Tokyo, thank you.
Mie: Thank you.
Werman: Also in Okinawa last year The World's Sonia Narang. She covered the protests surrounding the US military presence there. You can see her video from that visit at TheWorld.org.
Do you enjoy our audio? Please help support it with a donation.