A month after Germany surrendered in May 1945, America’s eyes turned to the Far East, where the bloodiest battle of the Pacific war was joined on the island of Okinawa.
Twelve thousand U.S. soldiers and Marines would die – twice as many dead in 82 days of fighting as have died in all the years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Within weeks of the battle’s end came Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three weeks later, Gen. MacArthur took the Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri.
That was 65 years ago, as far away in time from today as the Marines’ arrival at Da Nang was from Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill.
Yet the Marines are still on Okinawa. But, in 2006, the United States negotiated a $26 billion deal to move 8,000 to Guam and the other Marines from the Futenma air base in the south to the more isolated town of Nago on the northern tip. Okinawans have long protested the crime, noise and pollution at Futenma.
The problem arose last year when the Liberal Democratic Party that negotiated the deal was ousted and the Democratic Party of Japan elected on a promise to pursue a policy more balanced between Beijing and Washington.
The new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, indicated his unease with the Futenma deal, and promised to review it and decide by May. Voters in Nago just elected a mayor committed to keeping the new base out.
This weekend, thousands demonstrated in Tokyo against moving the Marine air station to Nago. Some demanded removal of all U.S. forces from Japan. After 65 years, they want us out. And Prime Minister Hatoyama has been feeding the sentiment. In January, he terminated Japan’s eight-year mission refueling U.S. ships aiding in the Afghan war effort.
All of which raises a question. If Tokyo does not want Marines on Okinawa, why stay? And if Japanese regard Marines as a public nuisance, rather than a protective force, why not remove the irritant and bring them home?
Indeed, why are we still defending Japan? She is no longer the ruined nation of 1945, but the second-largest economy on earth and among the most technologically advanced.
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