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By Yoichi Clark Pacific News Service
Tuesday February 20, 2001

YOKOSUKA, JAPAN – The uproar over the sinking of a Japanese fishing trawler by a U.S. nuclear submarine has overlooked the question of whether anyone could have survived inside the sunken vessel.  

This has been haunting the relatives of the four high schoolers and five men who were trapped below deck when the Ehime Maru went down. 

Certainly, the U.S. Navy did not act as quickly as the Russians did last year after an explosion scuttled the Russian submarine Kursk in Arctic waters.  

The international media and U.S. defense experts excoriated the Russian Navy and President Vladimir Putin for presuming that no one could have survived the blast. 

In fact, there were survivors inside the Kursk, but help came too late.  

It took a full day for the Russian Navy to send a submersible vessel to search for lost crewmen. 

Moscow's failure to act immediately was seen as proof of official arrogance and bureaucratic ineptitude – yet it took the U.S. Navy six times as long to dispatch a submersible to search for the Ehime Maru.  

Six days is a long time, considering the collision site is in warm waters and close to the huge base at Pearl Harbor.  

However unlikely it is that anyone could have held out in an air pocket at a depth of 1,500 feet, an expeditious probe would have been the only way to know for certain.  

Any slower effort was tantamount to a death sentence. 

Such negligence is permanently hardening Japanese attitudes toward the U.S. Navy and its Commander in Chief.  

The American naval establishment, for all its technical gadgetry, has shown itself no less evasive and self-serving than the officers of the Russian fleet. 

To make matters worse, the Ehime Maru sinking directly adds to a pile of grievances over sexual assaults against Okinawan women by American serviceman.  

Retired admiral Richard Macke runs the USS Missouri fund-raising campaign that invited the civilians who were at the controls aboard the Greenville.  

The admiral is all-too-familiar to the Japanese. 

After three Marines gang-raped an underaged girl in 1995, Macke insulted Okinawans further by saying that the sex offenders should have hired prostitutes instead of renting a car to kidnap the girl. 

The sinking of the Ehime Maru is casting a sharp light on a long-simmering issue for the Japanese public – their country's multibillion-dollar financial support for the U.S. naval bases in Japan.  

Consuming the lion's share of base funding, the Seventh Fleet's homeport in Yokosuka is mainly used to protect American interests in the Persian Gulf rather than to defend Japan. 

Simple economic logic shows that a recession-stuck Japan has better uses for taxpayers' money – prime real estate by the crystalline waters of Yokosuka Bay could be profitably developed for civilian purposes. 

This point is brought home at the bars here, many with signs reading “No Foreigners.”  

Of course, “foreigners” is a euphemism for U.S. servicemen. 

The seizure of nearby environmentally precious woodlands to build U.S. naval officers quarters a decade ago rankled middle-class opinion.  

Older residents remember how American sailors profited from the black market during the Occupation, and stories circulate blaming U.S. sailors for a about a spate of unsolved murders. 

At times, it seems that the only defense needed by Japan is against the outrages of a reckless U.S. military. 

Ambassador Tim Foley was quick to say that the Ehime Maru sinking will not affect the U.S.-Japan relationship – easy enough for a lame-duck political appointee to say. 

Assurances about maintaining the U.S.-Japan relationship are also coming from the creaky government of Prime Minister Yoshio Mori, whose popularity plummeted to new lows over his handling of the submarine crisis.  

The sinking of the Ehime Maru is just the sort of incident that can eventually lead to a strategic reassessment and a defense policy based on democratic sovereignty rather than humiliating dependency. 

The U.S.-Japan security alliance is not a happy marriage between a geisha and the barbarian, it has been one of the most dragged-out divorce cases in recent memory.  

The only question that remains is alimony, and in the Ehime Maru case, that means massive financial compensation for the unfortunate victims and surviving kin. 



PNS commentator Yoichi Clark Shimatsu is  

former editor of The Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo.