Tell the truth about Futenma airbase

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On May 2, 2018, Commandant of the Marine Corps Robert Neller made a statement so blatantly false that it must not be allowed to stand. Speaking about a Marine base in Okinawa, Japan, he said: “Futenma airbase is very old. It goes back to World War II, and if you look at pictures, Futenma, when it was built, there were no people living within several kilometers. Now the cities around Futenma are right up to the fence.” ( at 40:30)

While it’s extremely rare for the Japanese government to contradict the United States on security matters, Defense Minister Onodera repudiated Neller’s statement. In June, the city council of Ginowan, where Futenma is located, unanimously passed a resolution declaring that Neller’s assertion reflected “a lack of understanding about the history of Okinawa” and calling on him to retract it.

For as the Asahi Shimbun newspaper notes, “the Futenma air base was built on land seized by the U.S. military from local residents. A local government building, a school and private residences used to stand on the land…. The graves of local residents’ ancestors can still be seen within the base compound.” (

The photographs Neller saw must have been taken after the U.S. military had already bulldozed the area, while holding residents in internment camps. Other photos, the Asahi notes, “show American solders felling a row of pine trees that were the pride and joy of the village”.

We live in an era inundated with falsehoods. Why does this one matter? As an Okinawan journalist puts it, “trying to snatch away the memories and history of the people who lived there is sacrilege.”

Neller’s statement was in response to a question about the safety of the Futenma base. He suggests that the people of Ginowan are to blame for incidents involving Futenma-based aircraft – including crashes and a window falling on a school playground - because their homes, schools, and workplaces are “right up to the fence.” Shirking responsibility for safety lapses does not bode well for preventing them.

Shortly after misrepresenting Futenma’s origins, Neller extols the relationship between the Marines and local residents: “we’re good friends and we’ll continue to do our very best to be good neighbors throughout Japan.” Is it being a good neighbor to erase people from their own history?

Finally, a web page intended for new Marines states that honor “is the bedrock of our character. It is the quality that empowers Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other.” If the Commandant wishes to set an example for those serving under him, he must own up to his misstatement.