Downplaying U.S. Military Crime in Okinawa

Defenders of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa are fond of claiming that U.S. personnel covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Japan commit crimes at a lower rate than Okinawans themselves. The newspaper Stars and Stripes, for example, noting that an Okinawa Prefectural Assembly resolution stated that “SOFA-status personnel had committed 5,896 crimes since 1972”, objected that “government figures show the rest of Okinawa’s populace has a crime rate more than twice as high over the same period — 69.7 crimes per 10,000 people, compared with 27.4 by SOFA members.”

This statistic is valid, but it’s preposterous to present it as definitive. The first problem is that Okinawa police statistics cover only crimes committed off base, where military personnel spend far less of their time than do Okinawans, vastly reducing the opportunity to commit crimes there. Furthermore, such personnel are paid regularly (if not necessarily well) and are therefore unlikely to engage in criminal activity linked to poverty. That in spite of these factors service members and contractors commit as many crimes as they do is nothing to brag about.

But when you look at the figures for heinous crimes, it’s much worse. As Jon Mitchell reports: “According to Okinawa Prefectural Police, between 2006 and 2015, members of the US military, their dependents and military employees committed serious offences (murder, robbery, arson and rape) at a rate 2.3 times that of the local population. On a longer chronological scale, the rate of military-related serious crimes is 3.5 times that of the local population in the 44 years since Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control in 1972.”

Citing an overall rate of military-related crime less than half that of Okinawans, while omitting a rate of heinous military-related crime more than double that of Okinawans, is a kind of half-truth, more dangerous than an outright lie. While the statistics on heinous crimes first appeared on June 11, 2016, after the Stars and Stripes story, the paper was downplaying military crimes again on June 16, and as of August 6 has yet to correct the record.


This is #5 in a series of “Futenma Falsehoods, Henoko Hanky-panky”. See more here.

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