Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Children of U.S. military arrested for attempted murder in Japan
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Children of U.S. military arrested for attempted murder in Japan

Graphic from the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, showing how the victim was forced off her motorbike by a rope strung across the road.

I should just shake my head and mutter, “Kids these days, what were they thinking.” But I have deeper feelings than that, and I’m terribly saddened by the ongoing news coverage out of Japan, where four teen-aged dependents of U.S. military personnel were arrested over the weekend for attempted murder.

The three boys and a girl, aged 15 to 18, are charged with an August attack in Tokyo, when a woman was knocked off her motorbike when she ran into a rope that had been tied across the road, and fractured her skull and broke her neck, leaving her hospitalized for three months.

The rope was moved from its position across the driveway entrance to a business, and re-tied to a post across the road. The graphic above from the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s huge national daily newspapers, illustrates what happened.

After the woman crashed, one of the assailants reportedly flagged down a passing motorist and asked the person to call for an ambulance, then the attackers fled the scene.Police questioned the teens after viewing footage from a nearby security camera. The arrests came Saturday, aftr negotiating with U.S. officials. Two of the teens live on Yokota Air Base, an American Air Force facility, close by in Tokyo; the other two live off-base with their families.

This attack, or prank, or stupid act, whatever it turns out to be, if it was committed by teenagers, would make the news in the U.S., but it’s especially grabbing attention in Japan because there’s an ongoing debate within that country about the need for, and level of, U.S. military presence there.

Japan has issues with foreigners anyway. There are businesses that cater to “Japanese Only,” as if it were the American South in the 1950s, keeping out blacks. But some Japanese feel even stronger about foreigners when they’re soldiers from another country.

According to Wikipedia, as of 2007, there are 33,453 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, and another 5,500 American civilians employed there by the United States Department of Defense. The United States Seventh Fleet is based in Yokosuka. The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) is based in Okinawa. 130 USAF fighters are stationed in the Misawa Air Base and Kadena Air Base.

And unfortunately, there have been a long string of incidents over the years — usually committed by military personnel, not their dependents — such as rapes of Japanese women, that have inflamed the debate. In Okinawa, where there is a huge concentration of U.S. soldiers, pilots and sailors, there’s a constant protest to move the military off the island.

When the kids of U.S. military commit crimes, the sentiment against our armed forces sours even more.

The United States and Japan are about to mark 50 years since both countries signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, which established the presence of our military there. Even back in 1960, there was strong position to the treaty, and to the ongoing presence of U.S. military. President Eisenhower canceled a trip to Japan because of anti-American protests, and a Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi was forced to resign because of his support for the treaty, but in the end the parliament (which is called the Diet) passed the treaty by simply not voting to stop it, and letting it become law.

I know Japan is important to the U.S. for its strategic location in Asia, so I’m not one to say the military should go. I was a military brat in Japan for eight years, after all.

I was born in Tokyo in a U.S. Army hospital, and my family lived in Tokyo and went to American schools on U.S. bases, and later, Iwakuni in southern Japan, near a major Marine base, before we moved stateside in 1966. I was 8 years old when we came to America.

My dad was in the U.S. Army when I was born, and I remember life as a military family. I wrote about my childhood memories in an early Nikkei View column:

My youngest recollections as an infant include lots of snappy khaki pleats and olive accents, shiny black shoes and always the American flag — waving, being raised or lowered, the sound of its flapping and the clinking of its rope against the flagpole a daily part of my noontime lullaby. We lived and attended schools in places with names such as “Grant Heights” or “Green Park,” and we socialized in places with names such as Tachikawa Air Base or Atsugi, the former Imperial air field where MacArthur’s Occupation forces first landed weeks after the surrender.

We also lived for a brief time in southern Japan, in Iwakuni outside of Hiroshima. We lived off-base from the U.S. Marine facility at Iwakuni, but as usual, my American friends and I were bussed into school on-base, where I attended Matthew C. Perry Elementary School. I have fond recollections of having hamburgers at the greasy spoon hut set up outside our school, next to the baseball field, then after school riding bikes around town with Japanese and American friends, stopping for Japanese snacks like frozen pineapple rings while we played in our blissfully mixed-race world. It never occurred to me, for instance, when I visited the Hiroshima Peace Park as a boy, that my father’s friends and co-workers are part of the military might that dropped the bomb on such a beautiful city. As a child, those deeper questions were beyond my ken.

When I was still very young, my dad quit the military but stayed in his job working for the Army Corps of Engineers as a civilian. He gave up his military status because my grandfather — his father — came to live with us while he was dying from cancer. A Japanese citizen couldn’t live on base with a military family, so my dad quit the Army and we moved to a house in the Tokyo suburbs. We always lived off-base after that, and my brother and I took buses to school on military bases.

Back then, the U.S, military was still a common site throughout Japan, and we felt welcomed everywhere. I thought so at the time, anyway. I never paid attention to the controversy over any treaties that allowed for the U.S. to have a military foothold in Japan. Maybe my dad did, but I didn’t. Instead, I led a blissful, bilingual, bi-cultural life with days spent with American friends in school, and afternoons and evenings spent with Japanese friends at home.

Back then, incidents like crimes committed by soldiers (and especially not their their families!) didn’t make the news in Japan. Or at least, they didn’t break through my young consciousness. I suppose crimes by Americans in Japan have always happened. But the repercussions seem so much more alarming today.

The random viciousness of this crime — striking a woman in the neck with a rope strung across the road — is something that might come from a low-budget horror movie. I’m not one to believe that pop culture causes behavior (I believe pop culture reflects society), but this attack has me wondering.

I just hope that these kids don’t become pawns in a high-stakes game by people who oppose the U.S. military presence in Japan. I bet they’re sorry enough as it is. I hope they are, anyway….

And, I hope this incident doesn’t end up adding unnecessarily to the backlash against the U.S. military in Japan.

Here’s a report from Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, about the case.

And here’s a Japanese TV news report showing the teens being taken into custody: