Okinawans Protest Deployment Of U.S. Osprey Opponents say the vertical takeoff Osprey has a poor safety record and poses a danger to inhabitants of the densely populated Japanese island. Its arrival has sparked protests and reignited Okinawans' long-simmering resentment of America's military presence there.
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Okinawans Protest Deployment Of U.S. Osprey

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Okinawans Protest Deployment Of U.S. Osprey

Okinawans Protest Deployment Of U.S. Osprey

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The loud whir of helicopters has stirred up long simmering resentments by residents of Okinawa. That's the Japanese island that's been dominated by American military bases since the end of World War II. This time, the anger was set off by deployment of the Osprey hybrid aircraft. Lucy Craft reports.

LUCY CRAFT, BYLINE: Imagine the population of Rhode Island crammed into a space only half as large. Now, take away another 20 percent of real estate, including some of the choicest property for military use. Such is the predicament of Okinawa's nearly one million residents.


CRAFT: The roar of rotor blades can be so deafening at Futenma Number 2 elementary school, classes can't be held without keeping heavily reinforced windows shut.

The school sits just 200 yards from the Futenma Marine Air Station. Surrounded by the densely populated city of Ginowan, Futenma has been dubbed, here, the world's most dangerous base. School principal Kazuhisa Kawamura worries constantly about an accident.

KAZUHISA KAWAMURA: (Through translator) The aircraft fly right over our school, every day. It's frightening.

CRAFT: In fact, one of those helicopters did crash nearby, in 2004.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

CRAFT: Protesters blocked an entrance to the Futenma base, as anti-base sentiment boiled over with the deployment, this week, of the Osprey hybrid aircraft. After accidents in training flights overseas, the Osprey is considered dangerous here. One of the protesters, 39-year-old Masaaki Tomichi, says residents have had enough.

MASAAKI TOMICHI: The helicopters, you know, flying around above my head, my kids' head, my family's head, you know, that's just, you know, crazy.

CRAFT: Washington and Tokyo agreed years ago to move the marine base further north, but islanders, chafing at the burden of hosting 74 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan, have blocked the plan which remains in limbo. Once a vital source of jobs and revenue, the U.S. military now accounts for only five percent of the Okinawan economy, far exceeded by tourism.

Surveys this year by local newspapers found Okinawans favor downsizing or eliminating the U.S. bases by a margin of nearly nine to one. The past, as much as the future, animates the anti-base movement here. One-third of the island's population, along with 12,000 American soldiers, died during the bloody Battle of Okinawa, in 1945.


CRAFT: In one of the most notorious episodes, dramatized in this Japanese movie, the Imperial Army conscripted about 200 school girls as nurses and then, when defeat was imminent, abandoned them to their fate. Nearly all of the so-called Himeyuri nurses perished.



CRAFT: Okinawans feel they're still being sacrificed for the military, says anti-base activist and scholar Kosozu Abe.

KOSOZU ABE: (Through translator) Without Okinawa's history, our opposition to the Osprey wouldn't have materialized. This forced deployment is symbolic of what we have experienced in the past.

CRAFT: A number of American politicians and scholars argue that the U.S. could save billions of dollars, and better meet its strategic objectives, by moving most of the Marines back to the mainland U.S. The troops could be surged into Okinawa at times of crisis. But that seems unlikely, with tensions rising over territorial issues in the Asia-Pacific.

For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft in Tokyo.


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