I go away for a few days, and all hell breaks loose. Bush & co. are fighting to bring “democracy” to Iraq. I’d take that more seriously if it didn’t come from the mouth of an allegedly corrupt, second generation President who didn’t even win the election.

I spent the last four days in Okinawa. It’s an interesting place, and I can’t help thinking that it would be a whole lot better without the massive American military presence. They don’t seem to care about the locals, judging by the frequent roars of jets as they fly all over the place. I found myself wishing that they would all fly away and bomb North Dakota or some such place instead of disturbing what would otherwise be a subtropical idyll.

It is easy to identify the American military personnel’s cars, too. They have registration plates that look almost normal, but where other Japanese plates would have a Japanese character, they have the letter Y. I have to assume that it isn’t meant to stand for “Yank”, but it amused me nonetheless.

Because of the American military, it was possible to receive “AFN” (American Forces Network) in the hotel. It seems to consist of (badly) patched together segments from the major US TV channels with military news interspersed occasionally. Military news included such gems as a report on the supply of microwave ovens to barracks, but a conspicuous silence on the fact that hundreds of thousands of troops were preparing for war a few thousand miles away. In fact, it was telling that, as Bush’s deadline approached, several of the Japanese TV channels were showing heavyweight analyses of the situation with ticking clocks counting down the time remaining. AFN’s choice of programming? Sesame Street.

The commercials on AFN were quite bizarre. When the original programme had a break, AFN would also go to a break. Some of this was filled with commercials for services on and off base in Okinawa. However, they also had remembrance presentations for posthumous medal winners. From an objective point of view, most of these people’s acts of bravery were acts of fatal—and often futile—foolhardiness. The young man who ran across open ground under enemy fire in Vietnam to shield his dying comrade’s body with his own, for example, died in a useless manner in a war that should never have happened. Rather than celebrating bravery, it seemed to me to be more of a reminder of the appalling waste of life that is the inevitable result of any war. Maybe that’s a really useful lesson to have on a military TV station after all.

The weather in Okinawa was, as predicted, pretty bad. It didn’t rain much except on the morning of our departure, but it was incredibly cloudy, even by British standards. I estimate that we must have seen the sun for no more than fifteen minutes in the whole time we were there.

I’d really like to go back again to see what it’s like in decent weather.