There has been a lot of news recently coming out of Japan regarding the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma. All of the news articles share the same theme and major details. . . a base is in the city, the people want it gone, the governments do not. Add in a lot of overly used buzz words and the options of people who have obviously never been to Okinawa and you've got yourself an article for The New York Times.
Naturally as a person who lives here in Okinawa, in the shadow of MCAS Futenma no less, I have my own thoughts on the situation. As I have done in past blog posts I thought that this would be an interesting topic for me to discuss. So let's get right into it.
Very VERY Brief Background
For those of you who are reading this and have never heard about MCAS Futenma before here's a tiny nugget of information so that the rest of this post makes some sense. During the Battle of Okinawa an airfield was built and unlike other airfields around the island it was not decommissioned. It was then turned into what we now know as MCAS Futenma. There are a few things which are problematic with the base. The first is it's location. After the war many people returned to their "homes" (land and so on) to find it was now part of the area covered by the base. The result was many people building around the base therefore making Ginowan a crowded place to be. The second problem is the type of training which is conducted at MCAS Futenma. The base is known for conducting low altitude training which ultimately has the helicopters and other jets flying not far above homes, schools and businesses. The complaints have come in many forms. In some cases residents complain about noise as drills are known for being conducted into the late hours of the evening. In other cases residents worry about the safety of the jets and helicopters flying so low. This concern was made a reality when a helicopter crashed into a local university.
Over the years there have been many plans to move MCAS Futenma to another part of the island in the 1996 timeframe however the people of Okinawa, already having 30 something odd US military bases on the island, rejected the plans wanting the base to be moved outside of Okinawa altogether. The governments of Okinawa, Japan and the US have basically been going at it ever since.
Moving The Base Up North
The main focus of this entire debate, all other things aside is that the base is to be moved to a location in northern Okinawa. The plan is to fill in a coral reef and create an off shore runway. Now naturally there are a lot of people, especially those who are concerned about nature and wildlife, who are not happy with this. I imagine that I don't have to explain why so I won't. Of course playing devil's advocate over here there were a number of environmental reports which evaluated the situation in terms that those of us without lab coats probably don't fully understand. There have been a number of people who have been protesting the movement of the base simply for this reason which I think is great because I always support having your voice heard but all of these protests and petitions made me wonder. . . . . Did the people of Okinawa have the same reaction to when the coast was filled in creating what is now Hamby Town and American Village? I do know that Hamby Town was once part of the Marine Corps Base which is now Camp Foster (not sure about American Village). I am also curious to know whether or not there was significant impact on that area or was there no one keeping track back then?
One thing I did want to mention about the article that I read in The New York Times was the statement that referred to the northern part of Okinawa as "the island's jungle-covered northern end". For me this statement is a bit misleading. I have spent a lot of time in this part of the island and this statement makes it seem as though it's a part of the island which is uninhabitable and therefore a perfect location. . . . not entirely true. It should be mentioned that up in this part of the island is a lot of tourism, wild life reserves, mountains and a bulk of military training areas to include something called JWTC or Jungle Warfare Training Camp. There are people who work and live up there. To be clear I am not saying this as a platform to discuss whether or not the base should be moved up there I just think that people should have the proper image painted in their heads.
My Very Brief Opinion
To be completely honest I am not entirely sure how I feel about moving MCAS Futenma to another part of Okinawa. Part of me feels that it would be a good idea because there is a huge need for some more space in the Ginowan area and truthfully I do not believe that the flying of aircraft as low as they do (which would not be permitted in the US) is unsafe. At the same time I am curious to know how the flight paths (which never quite end up being what the governments agree on) would effect the lifestyle which is happening in the northern parts of Okinawa. Personally I feel that there are a lot of questions which have gone unanswered and I also feel that there is a lot of misunderstandings about the US Military which makes it a very complicated situation.