Japanese protest training center
June 8, 2009
SAGAMIHARA, Japan — Hundreds gathered Saturday to protest the U.S. Army’s construction of its Battle Command Training Center at Sagami General Depot.
Those who gathered said they are against the construction because they believe the training center will be used to gear up Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force for war.
“Self-Defense Forces are integrated into the military strategy of the United States,” said Tatsumi Hibana, deputy leader of one of the peace groups that organized the protest.
Japan’s pacifist constitution allows its military to only defend its country or engage in humanitarian missions.
“[The center] is directly linked with the battlefield,” Hibana said.
However, U.S. Army and Japanese officials dispute that claim.
“We don’t have any formal agreement (with the JGSDF) and we have never discussed them using it,” said U.S. Army Japan spokesman Maj. James Crawford.
“It’s our job to be prepared for any contingency,” Crawford said, adding that the center can be used for a variety of training simulations ranging from humanitarian relief, disaster response and the defense of Japan.
Despite USARJ’s stated position, Hibana maintained that the training center will be used to train Japanese forces.
“Even though things are agreed behind the scenes, they have officially denied it,” he said.
Tied via computer connections into a central training system located in the States, the center will allow USARJ soldiers to train for a variety of missions in one permanent location, Crawford said.
“We can do any scenario that we think we need to train on,” he said.
The center will have a dedicated staff and a dramatically lower impact on the environment because soldiers will not have to move to a location, set up a temporary training site and then tear it down once the exercise is complete he said.
Some also expressed concerns that the depot’s increased role will cause unwanted attention to the community.
“It could become a target by the enemies,” said Hiroshi Shimomura, of Sagamihara.
Crawford said the protesters have a right to voice their opposition and USARJ has nothing to hide.
“We have the same goal which is peace,” he said. “We just have different perspectives on how to reach that goal and how to keep it.”