Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

John Feffer

John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies

February 16th, 2012 10:28 AM

Letter from Okinawa

There is perhaps more common ground between Okinawans and Marines than either Washington or Tokyo imagines.

Dear Mom:

I haven’t written much from Okinawa. I’m sorry about that. I guess maybe you were expecting lots of exciting war stories from your son the Marine. But honestly, the most exciting thing we’ve done is put in a sea wall over by the Torii Beach shoreline and then take it down again when it wasn’t doing its job of controlling erosion.

I’m not really sure why we’re over here in Japan, all 17,000 of us in the III Marine Expeditionary Force. Everyone talks about the Chinese threat. But I’m reading in the newspaper that the next Chinese leader is right now over there in America talking with President Obama and going to a Lakers game. He’s even supposed to show up in Iowa, in Muscatine it says, right near us in West Liberty.

If I’m supposed to defend my homeland from China, maybe I should be sitting on our front porch with a .50-caliber Browning machine gun in case this fellow and his delegation come over to steal our land. But that’s just craziness, I know. He doesn’t want our land. Heck, we tried to sell the farm to the Crawfords last year and even they didn’t want it. This Chinese fellow, he just wants to sell us more of his flat-screen TVs. And buy up more of our government’s debt.

I enlisted to fight the bad guys. That’s my job. Saddam Hussein. Al-Qaeda. It’s just my luck to arrive out here when we’re already out of Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan. So it looks like I’ll spend my whole rotation here in Okinawa, halfway around the world from where the action is. You don’t have to worry about me getting hurt. Except for that wicked sunburn I got first time we hung out at the beach.

I secretly thought we’d get a hero’s welcome when we arrived three months ago. But it turns out that they don’t really like us over here, these Okinawans, though they’re polite and all. I figured they’d be happy we were here to defend them against, I don’t know, the Chinese maybe. But all the Okinawans want to do is buy those same flat-screen TVs.

Can’t say I blame them much. I mean, this place is like paradise, all the beaches and the nice weather and the great food. We call our base Club Futenma! But here’s the thing. U.S. bases occupy almost 20 percent of the island. And my base, Futenma, is located right smack in the middle of a big city. It’s crazy! Imagine a huge military base in the middle of New York City. Remember when we went to Central Park when I was a kid? That’s what it’s like to fly into Futenma. Take a left at the Empire State Building, coast over Rockefeller Center, and drown out all the sound on the city streets. They tell me that a helicopter crashed into an elementary school just next to the base a few years back. It didn’t kill anyone, but still.

There are other reasons why folks here are not big on the Marines. It’s mostly guys here, young guys who aren’t married. Like me, they joined the Marines to fight and because there weren’t any other jobs around. But there’s no one to fight here except each other. We’re all revved up with nowhere to go. There’s a lot to do on the base, I mean they even have a bowling alley, but a lot of us we want to go out on the town, see something new. There’s a lot of drinking, fist fights, car accidents. Even some rapes. That’s not what being a Marine is all about. We enlisted to do a job. It’s not right to put us through all that training on Parris Island and then stick us somewhere with nothing to do.

If you’ve been reading the newspapers, maybe you know about the controversy going on right now about this base. Everyone agrees that Futenma is old and dangerous. So we’re supposed to be shutting it down, sending half of us over to Guam, and keeping half behind in a new base up north where there aren’t so many people. But it turns out that the Okinawans up north don’t want us any more than the people around here do. And it costs way too much money to expand the bases on Guam for 8,000 Marines. So, instead, they’re going to send only a couple thousand of us to Guam and rotate another couple thousand around the Pacific, in the Philippines or Australia, places like that. And the rest of us will stay here, in funky old Futenma.

Honestly I don’t understand why they don’t just down close down this place and send us home. Suck it up and drive on. But I guess Marines, once we set up in a place, we don’t like to leave even if there’s no good reason to be here. What happens if that Chinese fellow, he decides that he doesn’t need to sell us any more TVs and what he really wants is Taiwan? A couple thousand Marines aren’t going to make any difference if a big war breaks out. And if those crazy North Koreans decide they want to march down south, the South Koreans don’t need us. I mean, the only difference I think we could make is if the government collapses up there in North Korea and we need to find their nukes and lock them down. That’s the kind of assignment I’d like to have. But they’d be better off asking the South Koreans to do that job. I don’t speak a word of Korean, and I got lost last time we were driving around Ginowan City.

Everybody here is talking about something called the “Pacific pivot.” President Obama is saying that we have to pull ourselves away from the Middle East and pay more attention to Asia. Maybe so. I just don’t see much for us Marines to do here. Like most of the guys in our squadron, I don’t want to do jobs I’m not trained to do. I’m an ordnance tech. I inspect, repair, and load aviation ordnance. I’m good at my job. If there’s an earthquake or something, sure I’ll help out, just like I volunteered to help out with that sea wall. But I’m guessing that there are organizations that can do a better job than we can. People talk about a dispute over some islands south of here in the South China Sea. But that’s for the State Department and the diplomats to work out. I’m all for this Pacific pivot. Just send me somewhere else to do the job of a Marine.

They tell me that everyone back home is talking about the economy. No different from when I left, I guess. Seems like they might get around to trimming a little bit from the military this time around. I hear that the Marines are supposed to cut 12-20,000 as part of the belt-tightening. Well, that’s just about the size of our group here in Futenma. I guess it would make sense just to close us down, send us home. It would make the Okinawans and the bean-counters in Washington both happy. It’s like that sea wall we built. If it’s not doing its job, you just have to go out there and tear it down and use those stones for something else.

But here’s the thing, Mom. I bet there’s still no jobs in West Liberty or Muscatine or anywhere else in Iowa. Sure, I’ll go home if they ask me to. But there sure better be something back home for me to do. Until then, I’m staying put.

Say hello to everyone in the family for me. And if you happen to run into that Chinese fellow, say hello to him too. Who knows, maybe he’ll invest some money in Muscatine and build a factory. So that I can have a job when I get home.

Okinawa on the Hill

Last week, Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) and the Network for Okinawa sponsored a briefing on the Hill courtesy of the office of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). The keynote speakers were Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago City where the Futenma replacement facility has been slated to go, and Denny Tamaki, a Diet member from Okinawa. The room was packed, and the press was out in force. The Japanese press, that is. The U.S. media has been singularly uninterested in the viewpoints of Okinawans toward the much-vaunted Pacific pivot announced by the Obama administration. Here’s an ad that the anti-base movement in Okinawa placed on The Washington Post website, which does a good job of summarizing the Okinawan position.

I was struck at the briefing by a question from an audience member and former Marine who couldn’t quite understand why the Marine Corps wasn’t just shutting down Futenma and bringing home the Marines.

Even more striking is this website put together by a former Marine officer who spent a year on Okinawa. His proposal goes beyond even some Okinawan demands. “The Marines must relent and promptly close Futenma and Kinser, and close nearby Camp Foster as well,” he writes. “Marine units could easily move to other U.S. military bases overseas and to larger bases in the less crowded northern half of Okinawa. These changes would increase the relevance of the U.S. Marine Corps while eliminating the major diplomatic conflict with the Japanese. This would remove half the 15,000 Marines from Okinawa, and could be accomplished within four years with no new construction or additional funding.”

These inputs from former Marines prompted me to compose the above letter from an imaginary Marine on Okinawa. There is perhaps more common ground between Okinawans and Marines than either Washington or Tokyo imagines.

Creative Commons License This content is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles