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Thousands Call on Marine Commandant to Retract False Statement about Futenma

SNA (Seattle) – Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller upset many Okinawans last year when he falsified the history of the contentious Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa.

On May 2, 2018, General Neller, referring to Futenma airbase, claimed that “when it was built, there were no people living within several kilometers. Now the cities around Futenma are right up to the fence.”

With this claim, he sought to blame problems associated with Futenma-based aircraft, such as noise, aircraft accidents, and incidents such as a window falling from a helicopter onto a school playground, on Okinawans who have supposedly encroached onto a previously deserted base perimeter.

General Neller’s statement was false. As the Asahi Shinbun noted, “the Futenma airbase was built on land seized by the US military from local residents. A local government building, a school and private residences used to stand on the land.” They added, “The graves of local residents’ ancestors can still be seen within the base compound.”

The Ginowan City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring that Neller’s assertion reflected “a lack of understanding about the history of Okinawa,” and called on him to retract it. Even then-Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera repudiated Neller’s statement.

This is more than an issue for Okinawa and Japan. Shirking responsibility for safety lapses, which endanger US military personnel as well as locals, is not conducive to preventing further lapses; nor does distorting the truth set a good example for those serving under General Neller.

And as the controversy over the construction of a “Futenma Replacement Facility” at Henoko shows, it can be risky for the United States to ignore Okinawan public opinion, which has not forgotten the very mixed history of US involvement with their homeland.

For these reasons and more, nearly 2,500 people have signed a petition, which I originated, urging General Neller to retract his misstatement. Many of them hope that Neller will do the right thing. At the very least, he should be asked to publicly defend the statement.

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