No grog for Navy in Japan

Royal Navy ships in the 18th century carried barrels of watery rum for their crews as a matter of policy and necessity. Today’s U.S. Navy has banned the consumption of alcohol in Japan, at least for now.  The ban stays in effect even when sailors and marines are at home. This after a sailor, allegedly smashed out of her mind, injured two Okinawa locals in a car crash. Japanese reaction to this and several other incidents elevated them to a foreign policy crisis.

No one condones bad or criminal behavior by troops. But restricting travel and banning even at-home alcohol consumption seems like punishing the innocent.

Stars and Stripes reports an accompanying off-base travel ban is likely to be lifted sooner than the alcohol ban, which covers both on-base and off-base. The article describes a long list of misbehavior by U.S. sailors in Japan — sexual assaults, DUI arrests, fistfights in a massage parlor (unhappy ending indeed) and, of course, the murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman by an American contractor. That last one precipitated the curfew.

So the 7th Fleet commander, vice admiral Richard Aucoin, says he wants to make sure everyone gets face-to-face training.

The U.S. has a big footprint in Japan — 50,000 troops plus dependents and civilians. Maybe 100,000 people. Crimes have been in reality rare, but they create an understandable sensation from time to time, prompting some Japanese — both citizens and politicians — to call for pushing U.S. military bases out altogether. Half the troops are in Okinawa, where relations between locals and U.S. troops has long been sketchy.

The highly publicized alcohol ban, dutifully reported by every outlet in the world, even the Russian propaganda outlet RT, strikes me as theatrical. Or at least it has an element of theater. I’m not a big one for collective punishment for acts of a few to begin with.

For Navy brass though, the small but regular string of incidents causes an out-of-proportion requirement to deal with them. Given the travails of the 7th fleet over its Singapore contracting scandal, this is the last thing the leadership needs. Given our age in which an invisible Greek chorus demands organizational self-flagellation even for acts of individuals, the Navy really had no choice but to make a show.

The drunken driver is in Japanese custody, where a confession will surely be extracted. If she is jailed in Japan for the reported maximum of 15 years, it will be a more difficult experience than in a U.S. military prison.

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