Okinawa’s Academics, Failing to Check the Media

Robert D. Eldridge, Ph.D.

Until now, over the course of several essays, we have examined the media in Okinawa in great detail, such as the structural problems in Okinawa that make the local media so powerful (“The Media Situation in Okinawa”), the abuse of that power and the dangers to democracy (“What the Hyakuta Incident Taught Us”), and the need to improve the situation (“Reforming the Media”).

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In this essay, I will discuss the first of a handful of elements that that enable the local media in Okinawa to perform so badly and get away with improper and biased reporting. The first of these elements is the local academic situation here in Okinawa, namely the role of the universities and the professors, who for the most part are beholden to the anti-base agenda that the media promotes.

There are approximately seven universities or colleges here in Okinawa, not including trade or other specialty schools. When one walks on to some of the campuses, particularly the University of the Ryukyus and Okinawa International University, it feels almost as if you are transported into the center of the anti-base camp. Posters and large placards stating anti-government, anti-Osprey, anti-Japan-U.S. alliance, anti-base, anti-Self-Defense Force, and anti-security bills agendas abound.
These signs shout at the passerby. It can be an uncomfortable environment for someone who is a-political, or who wishes to reach their own conclusions, in their own way, in their own time.

In contrast, the schools have very little interaction with the bases. There is an occasional request by a faculty member or a student group to visit the base, but these are all too rare. Contacts by the bases to the schools for lectures or seminar visits tend to be ignored, as are offers of internships for their students.
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This is not surprising, as the faculty, most of who are from Okinawa and themselves attended the same schools, tend to be to the Left, and in some cases, to the extreme Left. None of the professors has served in the military (or even in the national government, as far as I am aware). As such, they cannot discuss international security or national policy with any level of expertise or confidence, and instead only have opinions based on books by those whom they identify ideologically (who also have no military or policy expertise) or local newspapers, or subjective experiences. There are even some “professors” and “lecturers” who moved over into their positions from the media and lack higher degrees.With no competing narrative, the biases of the faculty become those of the students.

It is also no surprise that some of the students from these schools choose a career in the local media. The newspapers aggressively recruit students, particularly from the schools and seminars they attended, and with the assistance and advice of their former professors. Upon becoming a reporter, they then rely on their former professors for insights and introductions, and regularly introduce these professors in their stories or request their services as a commentator in a column.
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We see this phenomenon quite often following an event that the local media portrays as significant. For example, after comments attributed to U.S. Marine Corps officials (myself included) about the true nature of the sometimes violent anti-base “peace” movement and hate speech practiced by a dozen or two protesters at Futenma, the local media had a field day criticizing the remarks as “insensitive,” etc., when they were only the truth, and substantiated by many other sources then and subsequently. Comments to the effect that the U.S. military does not care about local civilians by local, beholden professors were requested, and they willingly obliged, without any knowledge of what was actually said, why, or how.

Academics must be the voice of calm and reason, based on careful analysis and quiet reflection. They cannot and should not lend their name and fame to sensationalist media attacks. Unfortunately, in Okinawa, this is all too prevalent. Daily, academics comment on issues they do not always know the details of, and in some cases, allow the newspapers to write up their remarks along the editorial lines of the newspaper and not the academic standards of the professor in question.

Professors who do not go along with the political correctness in Okinawa face abuse within the universities. I personally know of half-a-dozen professors here who faced intense criticism for expressing views or even having relationships with people of different political viewpoints. I was contacted by one of them in late March this year and asked to disassociate myself from his institute because he was getting criticized as a result of his being my sponsor at the school. Several of them have since left Okinawa, due to the “oppressive” nature of the academic atmosphere here. Of course, the local media encourages this effort to weed out independent thinkers for the sake of an “All Okinawa” agenda.

Discussing the problems in Okinawan universities would require an entire book, but what I wanted to point out in this essay is that the local media and the local academic community have an uncomfortably close relationship that is unhealthy, and does not help either community. The media needs to be checked, and the academics need to be independent. Instead, today, academics in Okinawa are afraid of the media and beholden to it, and is unable to be the check on the media that civil society desires it to be.

Eldridge was born in New Jersey, U.S.A., in 1968, and graduated from the Department of International Relations, Lynchburg College, Virginia. He earned his doctorate from Kobe University Graduate School of Law in 1999. From 2001-2009, he was a tenured associate professor at Osaka University’s Graduate School, and from 2009-2015, served as the deputy assistant chief of staff, G-7 (Government and External Relations), Marine Corps Installations Pacific in Okinawa. During this time, he was one of the proposers of Operation Tomodachi at the time of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. He is the author of numerous works including The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem (2003) and The Origins of U.S. Policy in the East China Sea Islands Dispute (2014).