Morale: Be Cool

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March 27, 2010: American commanders on Okinawa have ordered all their troops to undergo "behavioral training." The goal is to reduce the incidents of troop misbehavior that affects the locals. These embarrassing incidents are used by local politicians to put pressure on the Japanese government to remove all foreign troops. For many Okinawans, this means Japanese troops as well. Until the 17th century, Okinawa (and the surrounding islands) was an independent kingdom. For over two centuries, the islands were dominated by Japanese warlords, and in the 19th century, was made part of Japan. The Okinawans never forgot. Making the American marines and sailors behave extremely well is meant to persuade the Okinawans to pursue their dispute with the Japanese without involving U.S. troops.

This is not the first time a "good behavior" program has been implemented. Two years ago, American marines and sailors on Okinawa were offered incentives for good behavior. Those that don't get in trouble while off base, get gold liberty (naval term for going off the ship or base) cards, which allows them to leave their base whenever they want, and be able to stay out all night (but no drinking booze after 2 AM). Those who have had some problems, or are new and young, get a red card. This requires that they leave base with a "liberty buddy," and the two are responsible for keeping each other out of trouble.

All this is because some sailors and marines have misbehaved off base, and have been doing so for a long time. While the crime rate for the marines and sailors is much lower than that of the local civilians, and Japanese in general, many Okinawans don't want U.S. troops on their island. Many Okinawans don't want to part of Japan, either, but that is kept in the background. It's easier to complain about the foreigners from the United States.

Okinawa has been host to U.S. military forces since late in World War II. That's over 60 years. Until 1972, when Japan regained control, the U.S. ran the island. The Okinawan population is 1.3 million, plus 40,000 U.S. troops. American military bases occupy 18 percent of the island. Despite the large number of jobs these bases bring to the island, it's crowded. Military commanders are under a lot of pressure to have zero trouble between the troops and the locals. Zero is impossible, but those who get closest are more likely to get promoted.

 


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