Okinawans continue expressing cries of pain and fury under the heavy presence of U.S. military bases.

The political parties and candidates running in the Oct. 22 Lower House election should take this opportunity to listen to their voices anew and take them to heart as their own affair.

A large U.S. military transport helicopter recently crash-landed and went up in flames not far from private residences in the Takae district of Higashi, Okinawa Prefecture. The helicopter was of the same type as the one that crashed on the grounds of Okinawa International University in Ginowan, also in the southern prefecture, 13 years ago.

Takeshi Onaga, the prefectural governor, and other local residents have reacted angrily. It is all too natural that the government has called on the U.S. forces in Japan to determine the cause of the accident and to ground all helicopters of the same type.

In the past, however, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has often dilly-dallied in taking similar “all too natural” response measures.

The U.S. Marine Corps deployed Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to Air Station Futenma in Ginowan five Octobers ago. The fleet was later expanded to comprise 24 Osprey aircraft.

When one crash-landed and was badly damaged late last year off the coast of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, the government accepted the U.S. explanation that there was no problem with the aircraft itself and readily approved the resumption of Osprey flights. The U.S. forces last month presented its final report on the accident to the government of Japan, but the sections detailing views and recommendations were withheld from disclosure and were all blacked out.

Osprey aircraft based at Futenma have continued to be involved in a number of mishaps this year, too. One crashed into the sea off Australia, killing three crew members. Others made emergency landings, including on Amami-Oshima island, in Oita Prefecture, and on Ishigakijima island.

We are curious to learn what is taking place behind these developments. Many of the accidents have been processed as caused by human errors. If so, why have there been so many errors in succession?

It is the government’s mission to call on the U.S. forces to conduct thorough investigations, draw acceptable answers and address concerns and questions of local residents. Tokyo should also do its best to bring about a review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which has stood in the way of inspections and investigations by Japanese authorities.

But the Abe administration has seldom applied serious pressure on Washington. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s campaign platform for the Lower House election only includes an empty clause saying, “We seek to bring the SOFA to an ideal state.”

It is not only fear of crashes that is on the minds of Okinawan people.

Six helipads were built during the last several years in the Takae district, the site of the latest helicopter fire, in exchange for the return of half of the Northern Training Area by the U.S. military.

Osprey aircraft have often flown through the skies over the district. Noise levels of 60 decibels or more were recorded 6,887 times during the last fiscal year, up significantly from 567 times in fiscal 2012. Many complain of headaches from low-frequency noise.

Agreements have been made on nighttime drills and flight routes, but those promises have seldom been kept. All this represents the real picture of what the government so proudly calls its efforts to “reduce burdens on Okinawa.”

Abe is emphasizing that he is determined to “defend this country (Japan) through and through.” We are tempted to ask, however, if the word “this country” is meant to include the peaceful lives of Okinawan people.

If the U.S. forces were to continue to do whatever they want to do and if the government of Japan were to remain silent on that, public sentiment in Okinawa would drift further from the government, which would radically undermine Japan’s security policy that owes so much to Okinawa.

How truly to alleviate the burdens on Okinawa is a serious question that should really be addressed during the election campaigns.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 15