The top U.S. Marine in Japan apologized to his government hosts today after admitting he called them "nuts and a bunch of wimps."
Lt. Gen. Earl Haliston, chief of the U.S. forces based on Okinawa, used the offending phrase in an Jan. 23 internal e-mail to personnel on the island, according to the Kyodo news agency.
He had been referring to government officials acting in response to a string of crimes committed by Marines on the island.
In reaction to the Jan. 9 arrest of a 21-year-old marine who lifted a 16-year-old girl's skirt and took a picture, the local assembly passed a resolution calling for a reduction in the number of U.S. troops based on Okinawa.
It was the first time the assembly specifically demanded a reduction in the Marines' presence.
The Japanese-based Kyodo news agency quoted Hailston's message to staff members as saying the military initially had the support of government officials but that changed when the local assembly pushed for a reduced Marine presence.
Referring to the officials, Hailston reportedly said: "I think they are all nuts and a bunch of wimps."
More than half of the 48,000 U.S. military personnel based in Japan are stationed on the island. The Marine in the latest arrest was fined for his conduct.
Apology Not Accepted
Hailston said in a written statement that he was sorry if his private comments were misunderstood.
"I wish to make it perfectly clear that I have the greatest admiration and respect for the governor, the vice governors, Mayor Yoshida and the members of the Diet [parliament]. If my remarks in the e-mail are construed as suggesting anything else, then I am deeply sorry and apologize for the misunderstanding," the message said.
Hailston defended the message as "an attempt, in a very emotional manner, to gain the strict attention of my commanders" and tighten discipline over their troops.
Gov. Keiichi Inamine said he was nevertheless insulted. "Although it is a personal e-mail of the lieutenant general, I feel intense discomfort," Kyodo quoted him as saying.
Inamine called Hailston's criticism of local officials irrelevant. "Even though [Japan and the U.S.] are both democratic countries, [Hailston] does not seem to understand [Japan's] legislative and administrative systems."
But Defense Agency chief Toshitsugu Saito sought to play down the issue. In Tokyo, he told a news conference, "It is regrettable, although it was an expression in a personal letter and he has already expressed an apology."
At today's Pentagon press briefing, Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Hailston would not be punished.
"I think he has expressed his regrets for his comments in the e-mail that was shared publicly. There is wide support for the efforts and the hard work he has put into his position over the last year or so since he has been assigned to that position," he said.
The relationship between the U.S. military on Okinawa and the Japanese government has often been tense.
Residents on the islands, 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, point out that they have less than 1 percent of Japan's land area, but are asked to play host to the bulk of U.S. troops in Japan.
Tensions reached their highest point so far in 1995, when a 12-year-old girl was raped by three U.S. servicemen.