Military Relief Efforts in Japan May Mend Tensions

The quick and massive U.S. response to aid Japan could remove a historic stigma about the strong U.S. military presence across the country.

Vexation toward the close to 90 U.S. military bases in Japan has been the focus of heated political debate and unkept promises. After failing to relocate the U.S. Futenma airbase, Japan’s last Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama gave a public apology in May 2010 before resigning in shame.

The debate carried into the subsequent elections, yet has faded from the political agenda as tensions between Japan and China intensify. Although political interest will likely keep the bases untouched, this has done little to change the perception of the U.S. military in the eyes of Japanese residents. Current events, however, could change this.

Almost immediately, U.S. forces across Japan were deployed to aid in relief efforts. In addition to the close to 50,000 U.S. military personnel in the country, the United States is sending additional troops to Japan to help.

“Because of the longstanding and close working relationship between the U.S. military and its Japanese counterparts on a daily basis, the United States military has humanitarian assistance capabilities positioned in the affected regions that are ready to support emergency relief efforts and minimize human suffering,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos said March 12 in Tokyo, according to America.gov, a Department of State media service.

Nonmilitary efforts are also underway. American nuclear experts were appointed to assist Japan amid a nuclear crisis caused by the disaster, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo gave an initial $100,000 in relief assistance, and two Urban Search and Rescue Teams are helping search for survivors, among additional efforts.

A Change of Opinion

Japanese residents have typically had a negative opinion of the U.S. military presence in the country, which has intensified over the years.

Particularly in Okinawa, the Futenma Marine airbase is not looked on well. The area was home to the last major battle between U.S. and Japanese forces. The Battle of Okinawa killed more people than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, according to a Japan Policy Institute report.

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Image: Map of the Sendai Earthquake 2011 and earthquakes until 2011-03-12 11:20. (Wikimedia Commons)