A month after Germany surrendered in May 1945, America’s eyes turned to the Far East, where the bloodiest battle of the Pacific war was joined on the island of Okinawa.
Twelve thousand U.S. soldiers and Marines would die — twice as many dead in 82 days of fighting as have died in all the years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Within weeks of the battle’s end came Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three weeks later, Gen. MacArthur took the Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri.
That was 65 years ago, as far away in time from today as the Marines’ arrival at Da Nang was from Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill.
Yet the Marines are still on Okinawa. But, in 2006, the United States negotiated a $26 billion deal to move 8,000 to Guam and the other Marines from the Futenma air base in the south to the more isolated town of Nago on the northern tip. Okinawans have long protested the crime, noise and pollution at Futenma.
The problem arose last year when the Liberal Democratic Party that negotiated the deal was ousted and the Democratic Party of Japan elected on a promise to pursue a policy more balanced between Beijing and Washington.
The new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, indicated his unease with the Futenma deal, and promised to review it and decide by May. Voters in Nago just elected a mayor committed to keeping the new base out.
This weekend, thousands demonstrated in Tokyo against moving the Marine air station to Nago. Some demanded removal of all U.S. forces from Japan. After 65 years, they want us out. And Prime Minister Hatoyama has been feeding the sentiment. In January, he terminated Japan’s eight-year mission refueling U.S. ships aiding in the Afghan war effort.
All of which raises a question. If Tokyo does not want Marines on Okinawa, why stay? And if Japanese regard Marines as a public nuisance, rather than a protective force, why not remove the irritant and bring them home?
Indeed, why are we still defending Japan? She is no longer the ruined nation of 1945, but the second-largest economy on earth and among the most technologically advanced.
The Sino-Soviet bloc against which we defended her in the Cold War dissolved decades ago. The Soviet Union no longer exists. China is today a major trading partner of Japan. Russia and India have long borders with China, but neither needs U.S. troops to defend them.
Should a clash come between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, why should that involve us?
Comes the retort: American troops are in Japan to defend South Korea and Taiwan. But South Korea has a population twice that of the North, an economy 40 times as large, access to the most advanced weapons in the U.S. arsenal and a U.S. commitment to come to her defense by air and sea in any second Korean War.
And if there is a second Korean War, why should the 28,000 U.S. troops still in Korea, many on the DMZ, or Marines from Futenma have to fight and die? Is South Korea lacking for soldiers? Seoul, too, has been the site of anti-American demonstrations demanding we get out.
Why do we Americans seem more desperate to defend these countries than their people are to have us defend them? Is letting go of the world we grew up in so difficult?
Consider Taiwan. On his historic trip to Beijing in 1972, Richard Nixon agreed Taiwan was part of China. Jimmy Carter recognized Beijing as the sole legitimate government. Ronald Reagan committed us to cut back arms sales to Taiwan.
Yet, last week, we announced a $6.4 billion weapons sale to an island we agree is a province of China. Beijing, whose power is a product of the trade deficits we have run, is enraged that we are arming the lost province she is trying to bring back to the motherland.
Is it worth a clash with China to prevent Taiwan from assuming the same relationship to Beijing the British acceded to with Hong Kong? In tourism, trade, travel and investment, Taiwan is herself deepening her relationship with the mainland. Is it not time for us to cut the cord?
With the exception of the Soviet Union, few nations in history have suffered such a relative decline in power and influence as the United States in the last decade. We are tied down in two wars, are universally disliked and are running back-to-back deficits of 10 percent of gross domestic product, as our debt is surging to 100 percent of GDP.
A strategic retreat from Eurasia to our own continent and country is inevitable. Let it begin by graciously acceding to Japan’s request we remove our Marines from Okinawa and politely inquiring if they wish us to withdraw U.S. forces from the Home Islands, as well.