The Absurd US Bases in Japan

Anticipating a return to power after Republicans win in 2012, the neocons are now in a delaying game to stop any serious cuts in the U.S. military budget, including in the global network of bases, even in countries like Japan where as Robert Higgs notes  the national security rationale has long since disappeared.

By Robert Higgs

After the Japanese government surrendered to the Americans and their allies in 1945, the U.S. military occupied the Japanese home islands and ruled the nation for several years. In due course, however, Japan’s situation was normalized, and, moreover, in 1946 the Japanese adopted a new constitution that renounced war as an instrument of national policy.

The constitution read: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

At that point, Japan no longer represented a threat, or even a potential threat, to the United States, apart from the threat that developed later that the Japanese would sell American consumers superior automobiles and consumer electronics, among other things.

Yet the Yankees never left Japan. Their military installations remain there today, 66 years after Japan’s surrender. These bases are staffed by some 36,000 U.S. military personnel and more than 5,000 American civilians employed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

About three-quarters of the U.S. military bases in Japan are located on the islands of Okinawa, where the fiercest battle of the Pacific war occurred in the spring of 1945, causing horrendous losses on both sides, including many thousands of civilian deaths, and the destruction of about 90 percent of the islands’ buildings.

As if the wartime devastation were not enough, the American military personnel on Okinawa since 1945 have made themselves a chronic nuisance to the local populace, perpetrating crimes that range from automobile-related incidents, such as hit and run, to assaults and rapes. U.S. aircraft sometimes crash into civilian areas. 

Most Okinawans devoutly desire that these unwelcome, seemingly permanent American occupiers would get out. And well they should; indeed, they should have done so a long time ago.

Yet, many well-placed U.S. officials and public-opinion molders have insisted, and continue to insist, that even if Japan does not threaten the United States, maintenance of U.S. forces in Japan serves to protect Americans from other threats, such as that posed by China.

However, the idea that the Chinese, who rely on Americans to purchase a large share of their exports and who currently own more than $1 trillion of U.S. Treasury securities, would wish to attack the United States militarily seems more preposterous by the day.

This far-fetched tale is, however, the sort of story that neocons enjoy telling their children at bedtime, when the little tykes have tired of the one about the impending Iranian nuclear strike.

Keeping U.S. military forces in Japan, like keeping them nearly everywhere else they are kept around the world, serves primarily to preserve the global empire of bases that gives U.S. generals and admirals plush commands and U.S. policymakers at the Pentagon and the State Department something to toy with when they are running out of ideas about how to make the world poorer and more dangerous.

At the same time, though, the U.S. government, which must borrow 40 percent of the dollars it spends and whose once-riskless securities have begun the descent toward junk status, must expend hundreds of billions every year to maintain its imperial forces abroad.

Even if these foreign bases had a genuine rationale, which for the most part they do not, the simple fact is that the government can no longer afford to maintain them.

The solution ought to be obvious: Yankee, go home!

Robert Higgs is a Senior Fellow in Political Economy for The Independent Institute. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He is the author of many books, including Depression, War, and Cold War.

12 comments for “The Absurd US Bases in Japan

  1. ed
    September 12, 2011 at 18:13

    I agree with your reasons and conclusions as far as they go, but perhaps you also might be advised to extend your examination and analysis to look at our U.S.-China policy in the East China and South China Seas, as it relates to the maritime claims and actions of the PRC and the other ASEAN nations with regard to the Spratley, Paracel, and Daiyu (or Sendaku) Islands- and as that relates to issues of sovereignty, resource development, environmental protection, naval and nuclear weapons buildup, etc. All of these issues have an important bearing on the issue of bases in Japan, and, while 20 years ago, the Japanese may have wanted the U.S to leave, it may be that many more now prefer that the U.S. remain to ensure that there is some countervailing balance of power to prevent any egregious overreaching in the region. Of course, our opposition to Chinese expansion in the East and South China Seas may seem inconsistent with our unilateral invocation of the Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere, but that may relate to the fact that some feel it is our right and obligation to be the only hegemonistic power in the world.

  2. lradne
    September 11, 2011 at 20:10

    Yes, we should leave Japan too

  3. J. B. Gregorovich
    September 10, 2011 at 17:45

    Necessity, the plummeting economy is a geat lord. (Adapted from Ukrainian folk lore).

  4. Bill Jones
    September 8, 2011 at 19:30

    I was not at all surprised when the Japanese, first making noises about the Okinawa bases, suddenly found Toyota were the target of baseless coordinated scares here in the US. Funny how that went away overnight.

  5. rosemerry
    September 8, 2011 at 16:02

    Thanks Joshua for your thoughtful posts. My reply on the link was lost.

  6. September 8, 2011 at 11:21
    • rosemerry
      September 8, 2011 at 15:47

      and Germany, and preferably all the other 735 bases around the world, plus NATO.

  7. September 8, 2011 at 07:08

    Are you absolutely, positively certain that the Japanese pay for every fart and belch of their american occupiers. Totally 300% sure that the American taxpayer incurs absolutely ZERO cost for these scars? Do the Japanese pay for their women to be raped? Do the Japanese pay for their environment to be destroyed? NCase you missed it, Captain America almost overthrew the government of Japan back in 2008 when the majority of the country voted to deep six the obscenity. Since then the Japanese have unhappily kow-towed to the gaijins who will never leave no matter how y’all try to corkskrew international relations. Enjoy your rich fantasy life, whatever it may indicate.

    • rosemerry
      September 8, 2011 at 15:45

      Read any of Chalmers Johnson’s books. Not only do the Yanks ruin the enviroment and destroy the lives of Okanawans, and want to extend their pernicious influence into even more environmentally sensitive parts of the island, but Japan DOES pay for the privilege of being “defended” by the mighty USA. Hillary Clinton threatened the former Japanese PM and it seems impossible to eject them from Japan, where they are not wanted and certainly not needed.

  8. Jim
    September 8, 2011 at 03:02

    Your ignorance is amazing, your forgot mention Japan pays for the operation of the bases. Telling the truth would obviously not suit your leftist aganda.

    • bobzz
      September 8, 2011 at 17:41

      I wonder just what Japan pays; are the soldiers on the Japanese pay roll? The Contractors? I truly do not know; just asking. But whatever it is that they pay, it must be out of the goodness of their heart and of their own free will. OK, so that last is a bit of irony. If they were covering expenses of their own free will, how long do you think Americans would stay…I mean given the fact that our servicemen and women are so popular there?

  9. Larrry
    September 7, 2011 at 19:02

    I ablsolutely agree. The BRAC did start closing american bases starting in 1988. But the overseas bases need adjusting. If we drilled more here we would not need as much from overseas. And it seems we spend alot on protecting oil.

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