Whenever a U.S. military member is accused of a serious crime in Japan, it's guaranteed to be a big story. The alleged killing of a Tokyo taxi driver by an American military deserter has received extensive media play throughout the country, and there was similar coverage for an earlier case, involving the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl by a Marine on Okinawa.
Local press coverage of these events often emphasizes the brutal nature of the crime, suggesting that American service members are nothing more than marauding criminals, preying on innocent Japanese civilians. And while these events are isolated, they often have international repercussions; after almost every incident, you can find Japanese or American politicians who believe it’s time to review our military commitment to Japan.
That begs a rather obvious question, in our view. Just how many serious crimes are actually committed by American military personnel serving in Japan? Apparently, the commander of U.S. forces in that country, Lieutenant General Edward Rice, wondered the same thing, and had someone do a little number-crunching.
The results are rather revealing. At a recent press conference, General Rice reported that the “off-base” serious crime rate for U.S. military members is “approximately half that” of the Japanese civilian population.
In other words, the number of serious crimes committed off-post by American military personnel in Japan is 50% below that of the local population—in a country that has one of the lowest violent crime rates on earth.
General Rice’s figures affirm what most of us have long known: the vast majority of our military members serving in Japan conduct themselves with honor, dignity and respect. Unfortunately, their actions are often overshadowed by the few who commit serious crimes, and receive the punishment they deserve.
Unfortunately, the crime statistics provided by General Rice will do nothing to quiet the media frenzy that accompanies any major crime involving a U.S. military member in Japan. That’s because the coverage is influenced by other agendas, ranging from anti-Americanism and regional politics, to real estate speculation. Some Japanese don’t like the idea of footing the bill for our military presence and other would like access to the prime land now occupied by our bases.
As with any contentious issue, it’s always helpful to follow the money. While violent crimes by U.S. military personnel in Japan should never be tolerated, it's worth remembering that the coverage of those tragic events is often sensationalized, and for rather obvious reasons.