Monday, March 2, 2009

Democracy, it Ain't Cheap!

From JPG Magazine website 15 June 2008.

At least once a week my friend Mike and I get 1 day pass from our wives to go out and do what we like to do best. That is to get out and about the beautiful island paradise of Okinawa, Japan that we now call home. But there once was a time for both of us that the uniform of the day consisted of items other than Aloha shirts, shorts, flip-flops and in my case, a ball cap to protect my brain housing group from getting fried by the sun.

Mike spent just a tad under 30 years in the Marine Corps and I barely survived a scant distance past twenty in the Navy. These days, though we patrol distant lands by choice, we are armed only with our cameras, tripods and enough Yen for gas, lunch and to feed our politically incorrect addiction to tobacco products. Anything to support the American Farmer!

Usually we spend the day along the beach taking pictures of migratory waterfowl and whatever interesting critters that washes up on the beach. Occasionally we will take a trip to some of the more exotic places to see on this little strip of coral and limestone in the far western pacific. There are quite a few interesting places to see as well as photograph here. As a matter of fact, that was our intent this particular morning but fate seemed to say otherwise.

Our intent that morning was to drive south to one of the salt marshes where the local news reports had spotted a scoop beaked heron that had fishing line tangled around its beak and was in danger of starving. The drive south would have taken us at least an hour and we both needed to stop by the ATM machine on the nearby Marine base for a little walking around money.

As we approached the gate we began to hear the sounds of chanting on loudspeakers and we knew immediately that one of the local groups was protesting the presence of the U.S. military here. With our cameras at the ready we walked around the corner of the entertainment district right outside the main gate to see them in all their glory.

There were a dozen or more people standing outside the main gate holding their signs and chanting slogans. Though many of the signs were in both Japanese and English, all of the chanting was in Japanese so most of the Marines and Sailors inside the fence line knew nothing of what they were saying. It was 0800 and most of them were busy at work doing what they do best, defending freedom and democracy around the globe.

Mike and I quickly fixed our lenses in their general direction as our shutters snapped greedily away. To their credit, protests here are for the most part very peaceful and last only a few minutes. Molotov cocktails, rocks, insults, spit and other bodily excretions hurled at authority figures are almost exclusively reserved for students at American Universities.

Perhaps more than most peoples around the globe, the Okinawan's have a right to dislike the military. Sixty three years ago during the World War Two battle that claims this islands name, over a quarter of a million souls met their maker during the three month long battle known locally as the "Typhoon of Steel." More than two thirds of that number was civilians. Compare that to the number of years our forces have been in Iraq, and though no number of lives lost is insignificant, it pales by comparison.

And mind you, they weren't just protesting our presence there, they have a disdain for all military. They chanted for the Japanese military or JSDF to leave just as loudly as they chanted for our "Yankees to Go Home!" My heart went out to them. Not necessarily because I agreed with them in this instance. You must remember that I wore a uniform, I know the costs of freedom and better men than I lost their lives defending their right to be there.

That was perhaps the thing about the whole episode that was most amusing to me. What those men and women outside the gates protesting with their signs and chants failed to realize is that the men and women in uniform inside those gates would gladly lay down their lives to defend their right to protest. To me, that is democracy. It isn't free and it's worth defending!

Edited to add, Many of the protests held here like anywhere else are questionable if not outright bogus. Since the original posting on the JPG magazine website, these good people were given a legitimate reason to be concerned about. It's alleged that a stray round from a range on this very base was to have landed in a residential area just to the south. The ranges face away from the populated areas and thus a round landing in an opposite direction from where the targets are located is puzzling. Stay tuned for more information by checking out my Expatriate Games Blog as the event unfolds.

Regardless, I think all sides could use a little "Latitude" adjustment!

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