Fumiaki Matsumoto, a Cabinet Office state minister, has been effectively sacked over his controversial remark concerning the recent rash of mishaps involving U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa Prefecture.

Matsumoto heckled Kazuo Shii, the head of the Japanese Communist Party, when the opposition lawmaker referred to repeated emergency landings made by U.S. military helicopters during the Jan. 25 Lower House plenary session.

Sitting among other Lower House members, Matsumoto blurted out, "How many people died as a result?"

When his remark caused a stir, Matsumoto uttered a familiar phrase used by politicians in such situations: Sorry for causing a “misunderstanding.”

There is absolutely no room for misunderstanding what he said, which is simply an outrageous remark that calls his qualifications as a lawmaker into question.

What makes his gaffe even more appalling is the fact that he once served as the state minister in charge of affairs related to Okinawa.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for Matsumoto’s remark during the Jan. 29 Lower House Budget Committee session.

“I will make all-out efforts to reduce Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. military bases while sympathizing with the feelings of the people of Okinawa,” he said.

In contradicting Abe’s words, however, the government is, flying in the face of strong local opposition, forging ahead with land reclamation off the Henoko district of Nago, a city in Okinawa Prefecture, to build a new air base to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan, also in Okinawa.

Abe’s swift move to dismiss Matsumoto apparently reflects his desire to limit the political fallout on the upcoming Nago mayoral election.

Matsumoto’s behavior seems to be nothing but a cruel manifestation of the Abe administration’s policy of placing greater importance on its relationship with the United States than on the wishes and feelings among the people of Okinawa.

Okinawa is sensitively conscious of the government’s posture as indicated by comments about Matsumoto’s gaffe made by some people in the prefecture.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga reacted with cold sarcasm, saying the politician’s remark was “nothing surprising.”

In speaking to an Asahi Shimbun reporter, a resident of Ginowan, asked, “How many deaths are needed to prod the government into action?”

There have been more than 700 accidents involving U.S. military aircraft since Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972.

Alarmed by the recent flurry of accidents and problems, the government has asked the U.S. military to take such steps as grounding certain aircraft. But the request was flatly rejected.

As a member of the government and the ruling camp, Matsumoto should have made serious efforts to help rectify the distorted relationship between Japan and the United States. Instead of tackling this tough challenge, however, he nonchalantly threw a gibe about the serious problem bordering on a malevolent slur.

If a politician doesn’t know or learn from history and lacks even the ability to imagine the plight of Okinawans who are facing constant safety threats from U.S. bases in their daily lives, what is the lawmaker good for?

On the day after Matsumoto’s heckling, Hiromu Nonaka, a former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, died.

As an LDP heavyweight, Nonaka promoted the plan to relocate the Futenma air station to Henoko.

But he also displayed genuine sympathy for Okinawa, which has a long history of hardships related to World War II.

Speaking in the Diet session that passed a law to make it easier for the government to expropriate land for military use in 1997, Nonaka, while acknowledging the necessity of the law, called for efforts to ensure that the legislation will not lead to “consequences that trample on the people of Okinawa with combat boots.”

This remark was deleted from the minutes of the session as an irregular statement like an act of heckling but burned into the memories of many sensible and conscientious people.

Is the act of victimizing the minority for the benefits of the majority justified? This is a question Okinawa poses to the mainland.

Quite a few politicians of the LDP, including Nonaka, have made sincere efforts to respond to this question.

Now, we cannot help but feel a sense of crisis about the disturbing decay of politics that is occurring in this nation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 30