"Tomodachi?" Friends? To many Japanese living near U.S. military bases, the bilateral “friendship” has seemed more like a prolonged occupation. Will Operation Tomodachi make friends of them, and turn their sullen resistance into gratitude?
It’s the biggest ever U.S. humanitarian mission in Japan – 20,000 troops, 113 aircraft and 12 ships thrown into the battle against chaos in the wake of Japan’s greatest postwar crisis, the earthquake-tsunami-radiation nightmare.
Thankfulness is indeed the dominant mode. Shortly after Operation Tomodachi was launched in March, a survivor told the Associated Press, “I’m really thankful. They are working really hard. I never imagined they could help us so much.”
The Japanese media have played it up as proof of Japan’s importance to its closest ally. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, in a Washington Post op-ed piece, wrote, “The attitude that Americans have demonstrated during this operation has deeply touched the hearts and minds of the Japanese.”
Humbug! cries Shukan Post (April 29). The whole vast operation is purely for show, it says – and who will be paying the bill, it demands, when the hearts and minds have been won? You guessed it – Japan.
Exhibit A in Shukan Post’s case is the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, Operation Tomodachi’s most visible symbol. No sooner did a hydrogen explosion rock the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 14 than the Ronald Reagan fled 160 km away to the northeast, American military officials claiming the crew was exposed to low-level radiation. The result, Shukan Post claims, was the damaging global perception that Japan was “awash in radiation.”
Exhibit B is the U.S. Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), 150 of whose members landed in Japan in early April and on April 9 staged training routines at the Yokota air base. The exercises were open to the press. Japan’s media treated them as “saviors,” notes Shukan Post sardonically.
They were nothing of the kind, it argues. “CBIRF was deployed following a strong request from the American government, to which Japan yielded,” the magazine quotes an unnamed defense ministry official as saying. “The plan was not for them to enter the fray, just to train in public view. All they accomplished was to create the impression that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in Fukushima in their protective gear dealing with the catastrophe were not to be depended on.” They were not called up to Fukushima at all.
Exhibit C: Between April 1 and April 3, 78 bodies were found along the Iwate Prefecture coast, supposedly by Japanese and American rescuers working cooperatively. On the 4th, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa spoke of how moved he was at this evidence of “the deepening alliance” between the two countries.
In fact, an unnamed Maritime Self-Defense Force member tells Shukan Post, “All the U.S. side did was send planes and helicopters into the air. The searching was done by Maritime SDF, Japan Coast Guard and Japanese police divers.”
Friendship doesn’t come cheap, Shukan Post notes. Operation Tomodachi, it says, is an $80 million undertaking, the cost to be covered through supplements to Japan’s financial commitment to support American troops stationed in Japan.© Japan Today