Dr. Robert D. Eldridge was given an honorable mention in the “8th True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest for his paper titled The Recklessness of the Okinawan Media and Danger It Presents to Japan. Dr. Eldridge was dismissed from his position in the U.S. Marine Corps because he released video from a surveillance camera in order to uphold the truth not reported in the media when he was the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff of Government and External Affairs. In this talk, he was asked about the background to this incident and problems in the media.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.
Eldridge Thank you for having me.
Motoya I also had the pleasure of meeting you at the “Japan: Country Worthy of Pride VIII” commemorative party for the winning papers in the “8th True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest on December 8. Your paper was given an honorable mention in this year’s “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest and so we invited you onto Big Talk, but I have wanted to meet you since a while back.
Eldridge It is an honor.
Motoya This dialog between us will be published in the 300th issue of Apple Town. We have continued to publish this magazine for 25 years and have now reached this number of issues. I wonder if maybe we can get into the Guinness Book of Records as a magazine that has continued to be published with the same editor-in-chief for so long!
Motoya I don’t know whether it is a result of the views I have expressed in Apple Town, but the climate of the world has gradually changed. There was a big stir seven years ago when Mr. Tamogami Toshio – the active Chief of Staff of the JASDF – won the top award at the “1st True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest. His essay (Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?) is no longer seen as having any issues, but it was a big problem at that time. The background to that was the move to the left in Japanese society. The Liberal Democratic Party moved to the left little by little as a result of a series of compromises. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, previously thought of as neutral, moved toward the side of China with the business community’s increasing dependence on the Chinese economy. Similarly, NHK, which tends to be seen as neutral, moved to the left. I was left-wing in my former union, so I always intend to take a neutral position, but many people say I am on the right because the axis of the world has moved to the left. It is the media that are most at fault for this movement to the left. However, the most harmful effects of this are being felt in Okinawa where both the Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times continue to report in a biased manner. All ideas should be respected, but the media in Okinawa are steeped to think in only one way. This is a problem. Your paper, The Recklessness of the Okinawan Media and the Danger It Presents to Japan, puts this under the spotlight. How many years have you lived in Okinawa?
Eldridge I have lived in Okinawa since I joined the Marine Corps in September 2009, so it has been over six years. I still live in Okinawa now, even after being dismissed.
Motoya Learning of your dismissal from newspaper reports, I recalled Mr. Masaharu Isshiki – the former Japan Coast Guard Officer who won the top award in the “5th True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest with his paper titled The Beginning of the Conflict between Japan and China Regarding the Senkaku Islands. What was the background to the incident in your case?
Eldridge The local leader of the anti-base movement and an agitator from outside Okinawa Prefecture were detained and arrested for entering Camp Schwab on February 22, 2015. The local media, who were at the scene, politicians, activists, and university professors continued to report and assert that this was an unfair arrest because the two leaders had not crossed over the line indicating the boundary of the base. However, this was not true. I released surveillance camera video that clearly shows that these two activists crossed the line and instigated a brawl with our Japanese security guards. I was then removed from my position by the Marine Corps for having released the video without asking our chief of staff.
Motoya The newspaper reporters were also at that location when those two activists were detained. This means they continued to report something different to the truth even though they knew the real situation. Your actions in alerting people to this were extremely courageous. The media in Okinawa have expanded the base relocation opposition movement through their biased reporting and this incident is just the tip of the iceberg. Their irresponsible reporting was exposed with the release of that video by you, but I wonder if the Okinawan media truly regret this.
Eldridge Rather than regretting their lies, they switched their reporting to the question of who “leaked” the video and eventually went after me. I have not formally asked for an apology from the media in Okinawa, but I want them to be aware that reporting information different from the truth is fatal to democracy. I am not an activist and my way of thinking tends to be middle of the road. Therefore, I cannot help but think that the media in Okinawa is irresponsible. Originally, I was probably even on the left a little, but the anti-base activists provide nothing constructive or realistic in the way of dialogue and tend to be extremist so I began to gradually realize from about 15 years ago that this is not the way forward. This has led to my way of thinking gradually becoming more moderate, perhaps even center-right. The mission of the media is to actually convey the truth. The failure to do this will result in voters and politicians making the wrong decisions.
Motoya I have heard that none of the national newspapers are delivered in the morning in Okinawa.
Eldridge Yes. That is correct. The national newspapers are delivered half a day late.
Motoya People read newspapers because they are delivered first thing in the morning. Of course, if this does not happen, people are more likely to read the local newspapers of the Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo. It would probably not be efficient for one firm to do this, but I wonder whether it would be possible to deliver the national newspapers earlier by a number of them setting up a printing press together. I think it would be possible to improve this situation in which the media only has the same voice by doing this.
Eldridge The time at which the national newspapers are delivered is a problem, but the question of to what extent they cover the news in Okinawa is also important. Local readers want to know which local teams have won in regional high school baseball competitions and detailed news of their community. Obituaries are also very important. The local newspapers in Okinawa are bought primarily for these reasons, not because of the anti-base reporting. However, without competition, readers are stuck with these clearly biased newspapers.
Motoya I see. I can understand that. My father liked newspapers. This influence led to me enjoying reading newspapers from when I was in elementary school. I read three newspapers: A metropolitan newspaper, a regional newspaper and an economic newspaper. However, my father said that regional newspapers were circulars that let you know about a region. In addition, when I read a newspaper, I was taught not to simply accept what was written in the articles but to read between the lines. I looked up words I didn’t understand that I came across in the newspaper in the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words. If I was young now, I guess I would look up words on the Internet. My thirst for knowledge increased rapidly and I finally read the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words to the last page. Furthermore, in order to acquire true wisdom by putting into practice my knowledge, I traveled around Japan and then overseas; I have now visited 81 countries.
Eldridge That is amazing. That is more than twice the number of countries I have visited.
Motoya I have gone overseas to speak with important people in various countries, but they all say that Japan is a great nation. Nevertheless, when I return to Japan, the media uniformly calls Japan a bad country. I have heard that many Japanese people who go overseas come to love Japan.
Eldridge I agree with that. I always preach the importance of studying abroad. Coming into contact with cultures in other countries is an opportunity to view your own specialties from new angles, to stimulate new creation and to deepen international understanding. This also leads to the development of an awareness that you are one of many people and allows you to return to your home country with pride. I studied abroad in France, but that was the first time I was strongly aware of myself as an American.
Motoya I don’t particularly feel anything when I look at the Japanese flag in Japan, but I have been impressed when I see it overseas. In addition, you also get a sense of solidarity between Japanese people who are in countries overseas. Nevertheless, if you express that Japan is a great nation with a feeling of unity while in this country, you are said to be right-wing. Japan has been completely brainwashed by the media, such as the television and newspapers.
Eldridge Patriotism is said to be a bad thing in Japan, but that is ridiculous. Patriotism is a wonderful thing. It is intolerance, extremism, and a feeling of being better than anyone else, in other words, nationalism, that is not good. Patriotism is beautiful.
Motoya I agree.
Motoya Two Americans were honored at this year’s “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest – Mr. Kent Gilbert took the top prize and you received an honorable mention. Japanese people have a habit of being liable to believe the assertions of Westerners. If a Japanese person says something, they are simply labelled “right-wing.” However, when Mr. Kent Gilbert or you say the same thing, people will listen to you. I believe that this essay contest has a good influence on Japan from this perspective. If I look back over the eight previous “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contests, I can see that we have received entries from those in vogue each time. Many people became aware of conservatism with the great uproar concerning the win of Mr. Tamogami at the first contest. My analysis is that this led to the return of Prime Minister Abe.
Eldridge I think you may well be right.
Motoya The press code enacted by the occupation forces is in the background to the uproar over the win of Mr. Tamogami. The temporary restrictions that were applied to the media in Japan by the United States were probably unavoidable for the occupation. Nevertheless, I find it strange that the media has continued to protect the press code voluntarily even after the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect and independence was restored to Japan. Ms. Mio Sugita, who took the top award with her paper titled The Comfort Women and Abnormal Reporting That Underlies This Issue at the “7th True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest, was the first to question the press code in the history of the National Diet. There are many invisible regulations like the press code in Japan. The failure of the Japan Coast Guard to release the video leaked by Mr. Masaharu Isshiki was the result of excessively taking into account the feelings of China. Is this the reason behind the Marine Corps’ failure to release their surveillance video?
Eldridge I think their aim, if they had one, was less about concealment and more about not wishing to stir up a big fuss. The commanding general and chief of staff in the Marine Corps who made this decision did not fully recognize the situation in which Japan and Okinawa are placed. The leadership has since changed, but the commanding officer at that time was an autocratic person and his decision-making lacked transparency and apparently committed several indiscretions including at least one that I acted as a whistleblower. There were four leaders with him at the center, whom I now view as the “Gang of Four. ”I rarely saw them make a correct decision. Similarly, these were the same people at the center of the decision to dismiss me. The dismissal is said to have been an act of retaliation.
Motoya I see.
Eldridge I had wide-ranging discretion with respect to the public diplomacy of how to share information with the people of Japan as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff of Government and External Affairs. I released the video for three main reasons. It was possible to see after watching the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives on March 3, 2015 that the government was not able to properly answer questions from an Okinawan parliamentarian from the Communist Party (who is closely linked to the protesters), who would have known the truth of whether the two detained activists had entered the base territory or not. In other words, the government did not seem to know what happened, and the Communist parliamentarian knowingly misrepresented the situation. The public similarly was misled by the media. I felt that Japanese democracy would suffer if the truth was not known. Another reason is that the Japanese guards at the base were being criticized by the local media as an “embarrassment to the prefecture.” Moreover, some of the activists threatened the guards saying “we know where you live” and “we know who your wife is.” I wanted to restore the honor of the Japanese gate guards who were taking so much abuse. The third reason was also to restore the honor of the Marine Corps and the United States government. I am a historian, so I didn’t like the thought of incorrect history being written based on misinformed newspaper articles by scholars a hundred years from now.
Motoya Nevertheless, didn’t you think that releasing the video would be detrimental to yourself?
Eldridge resolved myself to the fact that I had to do what was right despite any personal consequences. However, I never thought that I would be dismissed from my position. In fact, half-jokingly, I thought I was due for a promotion. In any case, maybe a slap on the wrist if any punishment were necessary. But never a dismissal and the effect it had on my family and our livelihood. We lost everything. I was relieved from my position in mid-March and formally dismissed on May 1.
Motoya Were you dismissed because you violated the laws of the Marine Corps?
Eldridge No. I was dismissed because I had supposedly violated a new, temporary internal regulation that no one could have contact with the media without the permission of the chief of staff. However, my job was in public diplomacy, so coming into contact with the media to release news was routine work for me. After I was dismissed, a new commanding general came in and immediately overturned the completely impractical regulation. Interestingly, the Chief of Staff left shortly after that all of a sudden.
Motoya I could understand you being punished if you had intended to hurt the national interests of the United States, but this is the exact opposite in this case. That is clearly unfair dismissal.
Eldridge I believe so too and that is why I decided to take my case to an internal appeals process. I was at one point given the option to “resign” as a compromise, but I refused. The board ruled that the dismissal was fair in its initial decision, but I have lodged an appeal. What is right is clear to me. I believe God also knows this too, so I feel confident in my actions.
Motoya I hope the court makes a ruling based on the facts. Japan has also suffered historically from falsehoods like you. This includes the imaginary fiction that 300,000 people were slaughtered in Nanjing or the rumor that 200,000 women were forcibly transported from the Korean Peninsula to work as sex slaves. The period in which the United States occupied Japan after we lost the war was unavoidable. However, even though Japan should have become a regular country when we returned to being an independent state, this was put off. On the other hand, those that had implemented censorship in cooperation with the GHQ then worked with the elites in Japan centered on graduates from the Faculty of Law at Tokyo University and others who had prospered from our nation’s defeat so that they were not treated as traitors after our return to independence. They took jobs in the bureaucracy, legal profession and the media industry. They then came to take control of Japan while following the intentions of the United States in harmonized cooperation because they felt at ease with each other as they were all from the same school of thought. Those that deviated from them – for example, those that got caught up in the bribery case such as the Recruit Affair and politicians like Hidenao Nakagawa who was the source of their existence – were cast out from the world of politics. I always write about this in Apple Town, but I am OK because I am the founder of my company and I own all the stock. I was once told that placing a magazine like this in our guest rooms would result in a decrease in guests. However, the guests staying in our hotels now enjoy reading Apple Town. I think it is powerful to assert this truth. I hope that you please continue speaking out with confidence Dr. Eldridge.
Eldridge Yes. Thank you. You said that APA Hotel will work hard this year at the party, but I will also be doing my best this year for the truth. In addition, this incident has led me to seeing who my friends are and who is not for the first time.
Motoya When there was the uproar over Mr. Tamogami, people also split between those who criticized him and those who sought to protect him among conservatives. Those that criticized him were pro-American conservatives, but those who sought to protect him like myself are true conservatives. I actually thought it was good to learn this.
Eldridge There has been a nationwide signature-collecting campaign for my reinstatement and I have received letters of encouragement from all over the country. I am extremely grateful for this. I have now separated from the command and happily work as a researcher, advisor, and commentator. Although I did great work for the Marine Corps giving my all in educating the Japanese public on the importance of the alliance and the Marine Corps, in advancing community relations, in disaster response (such as Operation Tomodachi) and disaster preparedness, and miss the chance to do what I do best, I am also enjoying myself tremendously now.
Motoya Against that background, the fact you – with United States citizenship – applied to this essay contest is incredibly meaningful in the sense of waking up many Japanese people. Japan has been disparaged even though it is a wonderful country. The United States started the development of the atomic bomb with secret parliamentary funds in order to avoid World War III at the same time as capturing post-war hegemony. In order to buy time until the completion of the atomic bomb, the United States removed the clause stipulating the maintenance of the emperor system from the Potsdam Declaration even though they knew that Japan was willing to surrender under just this one condition to stop our nation from accepting this deal immediately. The United States then dropped their completed atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is tragic, but we also know that intense fighting turned into a cold war with the dropping of these bombs and so saved many lives. Japan needs to recognize the significance of this, release ourselves from the spell of the bombing by the United States and then stop supporting the falsified history of the Nanjing Massacre and forced comfort women. The United States can see and prove that these lies are false with the documents in the Washington Archives and other sources.
Eldridge I see.
Motoya President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear disarmament. Ms. Kennedy, the Ambassador to Japan, and Ms. Gottemoeller, the Undersecretary of State, attended the atomic bomb memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015. There is now a question of whether President Obama will himself attend these ceremonies in 2016 – his final year in office. This is a chance for Japan to free itself from the spell of the United States. Relations between the United States and Japan would become even closer through this.
Eldridge I have no doubt that parts of your understanding of history are correct, but it is not possible for me to assert this for certain as a historian that values source materials. Tsuneyasu Takeda – the winner of the “2nd True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest – released a book in Japanese from the PHP Institute called America’s War Responsibility in 2015. This book overlaps with what you are saying. This is linked to the formation of a new relationship between the United States and Japan like you are arguing for. I think it is my duty to introduce this book to the United States, so I am planning to publish an English translation of this even though I do not necessarily agree with all the contents. It is important to have a discussion, as only then can progress be made.
Motoya That is wonderful. I am looking forward to that.
Eldridge I actually have a proposal for you. I have won the Suntory Prize among several other awards, but none of them has a program, such as an alumni association, for interaction between past winners of these prizes. The “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest will celebrate its tenth anniversary in two years’ time. I think it would be a good idea to have a large gathering of past winners in a retreat-style at that time. First, you could give a keynote speech and then the winners could report, perhaps ten minutes each, on what they have been working on since they were awarded their prize. You could then have a reception in the evening, with perhaps more presentations the next day. Without an overnight stay, it will not be possible to have sufficient discussions, so I think a retreat would be good. What do you think?
Motoya That is an interesting idea. I think it is worth giving that a try. However, if we invite all the winners, there will be 130 people, so it will take a considerable amount of time just for everyone to give their presentations. Therefore, I think it might be better to narrow down the number of people attending and hold such an event over three days and two nights. I will have to give consideration to your proposal. Finally, I would like to hear your “words to young people” as always at this time.
Eldridge I think it is difficult for young people to understand how great their country is if they only stay within it. For Japanese young people, I think first they should study the history and culture of Japan on their own, and then interact with those older than themselves to deepen their knowledge. Of course, it is a good idea to go overseas and compare Japan with the countries they visit. I am sure, when they return, they will appreciate even more that they were born in Japan.. I think it is very important for the people of all nations to have pride in and love their own countries.
Motoya Absolutely. I was hoping that you would be able to come and speak at Shoheijuku – an institution which has already welcomed the attendance of 10,000 people.
Eldridge Definitely. I would like to do that.
Motoya I look forward to that. Thank you for your time today.
Dr. Robert D. Eldridge
Dr. Robert D. Eldridge was born in New Jersey in the United States in 1968. He graduated from the Department of International Relations at Lynchburg College in Virginia in 1990. He completed a doctoral course, receiving his Ph.D. in Political Science, at the Graduate School of Law, Kobe University. He previously served as a Fellow at the Suntory Foundation, a Researcher at the Research Institute for Peace and Security, a tenured Associate Professor of International Public Policy Studies at the Graduate School of Osaka University, and the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff of Government and External Affairs for the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa. His publications include The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem: Okinawa in Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations, 1945-1952 (Routledge, 2001, and published in Japanese in 2003 by the University of Nagoya Press; winner of the Suntory Award for History and Asia-Pacific Special Award) and The Origins of U.S. Policy in the East China Sea Islands Dispute: Okinawa’s Reversion and the Senkaku Islands (Routledge, 2014, published in Japanese in 2015).