General gets earful from Okinawa governor
August 13, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — Gov. Keiichi Inamine wasted no time Monday telling the new top U.S. Marine in Japan where to go: somewhere other than Okinawa.
During a 20-minute courtesy call to Inamine’s Naha office, his first since becoming 3 Marine Expeditionary Force commander, Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman found Inamine had little time for small talk.
“I feel bad that I have to bring up nothing but harsh and unpleasant issues to you for your first visit,” Inamine said as the media cameras clicked and whirred.
“The ultimate desire of Okinawan people is to reduce the presence of the military, not only the base land but also the number of troops stationed on the island,” Inamine said. “We also hope that training conducted on the island will be minimized, and, if possible, held outside Okinawa — or outside Japan.
“I ask you to give consideration to these wishes,” the governor said.
“I understand that it is a very important and emotional issue with the people of Okinawa,” Blackman responded. “And I understand that many Okinawans do share a concern with regard to the U.S. forces here. But, frankly, that has to take place on a government-to-government level.”
U.S. bases cover about one-fifth of Okinawa’s main island. U.S. and Japanese officials are in the middle of a process to return about 21 percent of that property.
Reducing the troop level is not planned.
“I have been repeating and pressing the same points to successive area coordinators ... about the sentiment of Okinawan people toward the military,” Inamine said, acknowledging that Marine commanders have “given consideration to this sentiment.”
“However, as a reality, many problems still do exist,” he said. “I am sure you are familiar with the problems of Okinawa as you have been here before.”
Blackman served on Okinawa in the 1980s.
“The people here want the presence of the military be reduced,” Inamine stressed. “Yet, the presence remains significant.”
He said every time a servicemember commits a crime or is involved in an accident, the resentment to the presence of the troops grows.
“I often refer to this situation as a dot and line,” he said. “For instance, when an accident involving a servicemember occurs, it is an isolated accident” which U.S. commanders may consider “as a dot. But, for people of Okinawa, it is one of many accidents that have happened in the past 58 years, and all these accidents are connected in a long emotional line.”
U.S. troops have been on Okinawa since a bloody 84-day battle in 1945. The island prefecture was returned to Japan in 1972.
“I am committed to doing everything that we can to reduce the accidents and incidents,” Blackman said. “Those who fail to conduct themselves as they should ... we will deal with them and hold them accountable.”
He said he understood Inamine’s concern and praised Okinawans’ hospitality.
“Despite these feelings, the people are very kind and gracious and friendly,” he said. “That means a great deal to me and the U.S. forces.”
He said the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty is “integral to preserving the security and, frankly, prosperity, of this region of the world.”
“We will smooth out the relationship wherever and whenever we can,” he said.
Blackman replaced Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson on July 16. He also wears the hats of Marine Corps Force Japan commander and, as the island’s ranking U.S. general, of Okinawa area coordinator.
He commands 26,000 Marines and sailors stationed in Japan, some 17,500 of them on Okinawa.