Okinawa’s Governor Masahide Ota has learned what it means to be governor of a Japanese prefecture; precious little. When Mr. Ota stood up for Okinawans who no longer wish to lease their land to the American military, he was asserting an ancient Okinawan belief in private property: “It’s yours, do with it as you see fit.”

The Japanese Supreme Court, 650 miles away in Tokyo, set him straight: private property is where the emperor quarters his troops. In this case, however, because Japan has not paid for its own defense for half a century, the imperial troops are not sword-swinging samurai, but the United States Marines. And a relationship that began with the bloodiest battle in the Corps’ history has not improved with time. Okinawans want the marines out, and it is time to give them what they want.

What’s wrong with stationing an entire marine division on Okinawa? Well, to the Japanese government, nothing. In fact, it’s a great deal. A third of the Fleet Marine Force sits both within easy reach and at arm’s length. Indeed, what better Pacific police than an outfit with an international—and well-deserved—reputation for getting places fast and furiously? Just as long as they pursue their noisy training—to say nothing of their off-color, off-duty pastimes—in someone else’s backyard. And whose backyard could be better than that of the “racially inferior Okinawans”? (Really, more Eskimo than Japanese.)

Of course, to the Okinawans, it’s a raw deal. Twenty percent of their already tiny island—including the best golf courses—is occupied by a foreign army. Our howitzers and tanks make a lot of noise. We use up a lot of water (always in short supply). We sell liquor and rice (believe it or not) on the black market. We even rape schoolgirls. (This is not to say that Okinawans are without their sexual sins: women marines have made good money turning tricks for island men, and a popular place with Okinawa’s businessmen is a “theater” in Naha for voyeurs and participants alike.)

Nor is it such a great deal for the average marine. Marines call Okinawa “The Rock,” and although the sentences are somewhat shorter and the surrounding water is warmer, the little Pacific island—for marines deployed to it—resembles another island with the same nickname. Okinawa is a great place to be idle, and the moment marines arrive they begin the countdown on their “shortimers’ calendars” (some are real works of art) until the day they will board the “freedom bird” at Kadena Air Base. The island is humid in summer, rainy in winter. Okinawa has one English television station, FEN—the Far East (or “forced entertainment”) Network (which broadcast real-time images of a fish tank when the emperor died eight years ago)—and the PX may be “the largest in the Far East,” but once you have dumped your paycheck into a new stereo, a new camera, and all the phony samurai swords you can buy, the charm wears thin. (Shopping opportunities are now central to our defense policy. When I was in the Persian Gulf some senior officer made sure, in October, that there were ample copies of the PX catalog to go around so that marines would not have “to worry about their Christmas shopping.”)

Bad weather and lousy television, however, can be blessings to any marine, as long as he is able to train, but the training in Okinawa (with the exception of the Northern Training Area—a first-rate jungle) is the worst in the Corps, particularly for artillerymen and tankers: the impact areas are minuscule, the restrictions on night fire are severe, and the competition for what few training areas there are, is stiff. Without enough real training to go around, marines in Okinawa endure day-long “stand downs” to make them more sensitive to their “hosts.”

What is more, to keep the Third Marine Division manned, marines deploy “unaccompanied” (without spouses) to Okinawa for as much as a year. The wear and tear on families (a divorce rate above the national average in a service whose officer corps is more Roman Catholic than anything else) alone is hard to justify at a time when there is not even a Cold War to fight.

The unhappiness—on all sides—might be tolerable, however, if there were a compelling security interest in keeping marines on Okinawa. Is the threat North Korea? Communist China? Certainly there is no shortage of smaller “contingencies” that the Third Marine Division is prepared to confront, but when was the last time the United States actually stuck by its commitments in the Far East? I think we know the answer: World War II. In Korea and Vietnam, marines got precious little support from the politicians who sent them there in the first place.

Why are marines on Okinawa? The same reason the United States Navy had a base in the Philippines, and the same reason the United States Army has soldiers in Germany: that’s where they were at the end of World War II. The Philippines told the Navy it’s time to move along, the Army is pulling out of Germany, and it’s time to find a friendlier place for the Third Marine Division to call home. I suggest somewhere in the old 48.