Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary of Defense William Perry are expected to announce today a new agreement with Japan increasing the amount of money the Japanese government will pay to support 47,000 American troops based on its islands.
Earlier this month, three American servicemen allegedly kidnaped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl as she was walking home from shopping, bound and gagged her with adhesive tape and took her to an isolated beach, where they raped her. Japanese are incensed not only over the incident but by the fact that the three men are still in U.S. military custody instead of promptly being turned over to local authorities.
Meanwhile, Eric Gower, a friend who works in Tokyo, has written me about an experience he recently had that throws an eerie light on these contemporary news items. "A few nights ago," he writes, "a friend who produces nightclub acts invited me to see his show at the New Sanno Hotel. The hotel, well-known to American soldiers since the U.S. occupation of Japan, is still run exclusively for U.S. military personnel and their associates.
"Once I had cleared security, I walked into a large ballroom and felt as if I had entered a time warp. If this were 1955, I could have been in Okinawa; if it were 1965, I could have been in Saigon; if it were 1975, I might have been at Subic or Clark. If this were 1985, it could even have been Seoul. But 1995, in Tokyo?
"Inside the ballroom was a massive buffet. A small Filipino man--the first non-Japanese staff I've ever seen in a Tokyo hotel--was carving a side of beef the circumference of a medium-sized oak stump. A Filipino band was flawlessly playing numbers like 'Hurt So Good' and 'My Sharona.' The upper-middle-agers, virtually all American officers, were doing their duck-and-move-the-shoulders two-step, the same one they've done a million times at bases long forgotten.
"Many of the enlisted men were there with dates. The girls (most of them looked no older than 19) were virtually all non-Japanese but Asian, sporting big, wild hair-dos, micro miniskirts and heavy reddish make-up brushed back around the eyes, Kabuki-style.
"But mostly I was struck by the incongruities compared to daily life in Tokyo: the food, from buttered noodles with beef to Duncan Hines-inspired Rocky Road pie; the raffish jokes at tables around me; the crowd's preference for synthetic fibers; the exaggerated sexuality of the women; the Filipino staff using the words sir and ma'am like punctuation.
"The New Sanno Hotel is located in Hiroo, perhaps Tokyo's trendiest area. At the nearby National Azabu supermarket, the wives of diplomats drop $500 for a small basket of groceries. Ultra-elegant young Japanese women fill the tables of the ubiquitous trattorias. Leggy foreign models ascend in cliques from Hiroo station. Teen-age Japanese boys dressed as gansta-rappers take over a busy corner. None of these people can so much as order a Perrier at the New Sanno.
"Meanwhile, inside the New Sanno, it's very easy to forget that the dollar now trades at about 98 yen. Here, American military personnel pay less than $1 for a draft beer and $25 for a show and buffet. Back in the real world of Tokyo, a comparable evening at the nearby Westin Hotel would probably run well over $300. At the cafe down the street, the hip and ultra-trendy clientele fork over $13 for a small cup of coffee and a sliver of cake. An unsubsidized New Sanno, open to the well-heeled Japanese public, could probably bring in the equivalent of the GNP of one of the smaller EU countries."
My friend's letter led me to conclude that keeping American troops in Asia is an anachronism in every way. Japan is now so rich and expensive that our bases must be subsidized by the Japanese, and hotels like the New Sanno kept in American hands so that our soldiers can afford an evening out. This breeds arrogance and resentment on both sides. When some of these same soldiers commit crimes, and the American military shields them from local authorities, the Japanese are properly outraged.
In South Korea many of these same problems exist. Large portions of downtown Seoul remain under the control of the American military and are off-limits to the Koreans themselves.
In the Philippines, American military brass maintained they could never do without Subic Bay and Clark Field, despite Filipino protests against the bases, until the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo made the bases unusable and too expensive to repair.
Are we waiting for a similar explosion to convince the U.S. military that, even if it wants to continue guaranteeing the security of Japan and South Korea, our troops should no longer be stationed there? And what if this Mt. Pinatubo proves to be not an act of God but the ugly rape of a 12-year-old girl?