Life-threatening U.S. bases must go -- Akahata editorial, September 3

Three weeks have passed since the crash of a CH-53D transport helicopter based at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station. Okinawans are increasingly angry at the U.S. forces for resuming flights without determining the cause of the accident. Their anger is also directed at the Japanese government which is submissive and accepts all that the U.S. military says or does. It is in this context that Ginowan City, led by Mayor Iha Yoichi, has called a rally at Okinawa International University, the crash site, to protest the crash incident and call for an early return of the Futenma base site. This initiative was supported by many public organizations.

Military flights over populated areas

The Japanese and U.S. governments reportedly have agreed to set up a new consultative body this week to discuss how to improve the implementation of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). However, the crash of the helicopter deployed at Futenma base is not something that can be resolved by better applications of SOFA.

The U.S. Futenma Air Station occupies a vast central area of Ginowan City where 800,000 people live, causing lots of problems for the city and its people. "It is just like a human body with the lungs and stomach gutted out," said Tobaru Seiken, Ginowan Mayor at the time, in December 1955 to a Japanese Communist Party Dietmembers' team investigating the damage from U.S. military bases in Okinawa. He was referring to the fact that Ginowan citizens are compelled to live on the fringes of the city.

While forcing Okinawans to endure these living conditions, the U.S. forces are enjoying the freedom to fly CH-53 transport helicopters over the city. Unlike cargo aircraft with fixed wings, helicopters can approach the airfield from any direction and turn round at a low altitude over residential areas. The noise is deafening.

Given their flight methods and frequent use, no one can say for sure when helicopters and other military aircraft will crash. While forcing Okinawans to endure the burdens of U.S. bases, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after viewing Ginowan City from a helicopter last November reportedly said that it would be strange if no accident occurs under such base conditions.

Although the U.S. forces promised to take safety measures each time they caused an aircraft accident, such accidents have never been eliminated. After the latest chopper crash, the Japanese government stated that it will make arrangements with the U.S. forces to get rid of the danger of accidents and establish safety measures. What an evasive statement that is! The need now is to take drastic measures to eliminate accident risks. To defend Okinawans' lives and properties, the government must demand that the U.S. forces halt flights over populated areas and remove the Futenma base.

In an effort to restore its normalcy, Okinawa International University is demanding that U.S. forces suspend all flights from the Futenma base and immediately return the base site. That is the what Ginowan and Okinawa residents want to see happen.

U.S. force reorganization increases accident risks

As part of a global reorganization of its military forces, the U.S. is trying to strengthen U.S. bases in Japan as strongholds for its global projection of forces and enhance their mobility and operations. The role of the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa as a strike force will be strengthened and flight activities in the Futenma base be intensified, as CH-53D helicopters were dispatched to Iraq from the base before the cause of the crash was investigated. The danger of aircraft accidents will increase. Suspension of flights to and from the Futenma base and an immediate removal of the base is a matter of life or death for Okinawans.

Throughout Japan, we must raise voices calling for the removal of U.S. bases. (end)

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