The alleged rape of a 14-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl by a U.S. marine on Feb. 10 has sparked new tensions between the U.S. military and local communities in the prefecture. Comparisons have been made to the 1995 incident when three U.S. servicemen raped a young schoolgirl in the prefecture, setting off a storm of public protests that shook the foundations of the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Although the heinous nature of these incidents is similar, the circumstances are now significantly different from 1995. While due justice should be served for this crime and every effort should be made to allay the safety concerns of the Okinawa people, Japan’s overall security interests should be considered before this incident reaches the explosive point that occurred 13 years ago.
At least three key factors led to the powder keg of emotions that erupted after the rape incident in 1995. First, was the prevailing attitude across Japan that the U.S. military presence was obsolete and a clear burden rather than a benefit to Japanese society. This mood was partly the result of the post-Cold War security environment, in which few concrete security threats appeared on the horizon. Japanese and U.S. officials were hard pressed to justify not just the number of U.S. troops in Japan, but also the very existence of the bilateral alliance itself.