‘American superheroes’ debate policy with ‘Japanese samurais’

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Japanese debaters Takahito Osako and Yoshiki Shimamoto came to the United States to engage in public discourse with college students — they got Buffalo Wild Wings and lunch at Beta Theta Pi fraternity, too.

DePauw Debate Society and the communication and theatre department sponsored an international debate Thursday, discussing the resolution “the United States should remove its military base from Okinawa.” Sophomores Robert McMurray and Jimmy Kirkpatrick, a columnist for The DePauw, represented the university in the debate. DePauw applied to participate in the event.

Geoff Klinger ‘88, debate coach and communication professor, introduced the event, noting that the last time DePauw hosted the Japanese National Debate Team, he sat on the stage as a student debater. Though the university frequently hosts international debates, this is the Japanese team’s first visit to DePauw since the 1980s, one of the nine schools the team will visit during their spring in the U.S.

“I still remember the two debaters,” Klinger said after the event, recalling his experience at DePauw. “I still keep in touch with one of them.”

Klinger provided background on the Battle of Okinawa — a Japanese prefecture comprising hundreds of islands to the south of the Japanese mainland — to the full audience in the Center for Contemporary Media’s Watson Forum. The conclusion of World War II and the 1951 signing of the Treaty of San Francisco allowed the U.S. to establish military presence in the country. Bases remain in Okinawa.

Shimamoto, the prime minister of the government team, began the debate with his constructive speech — each debater has either seven or eight minutes for a constructive — introducing his team as “samurai debaters.” The audience’s laughter propelled his argument, citing noise pollution, financial burdens and Asian security as reasons to remove the Okinawa bases.

A few minutes into Shimamoto’s constructive, Kirkpatrick challenged his argument, asking for evidence of why the bases in Okinawa are more problematic than bases in other countries. Shimamoto responded by focusing on Okinawans’ response to the bases, saying the U.S. military’s presence was not in their best interest.

When Kirkpatrick stepped behind the podium, he offered evidence from public polls that 77.3 percent of the Japanese people have a favorable impression of the Okinawa base. Addressing the noise pollution argument, Kirkpatrick said that the U.S. plans to relocate some of the bases to less civilized areas of the islands, and that completely removing the bases held no advantage for either country.

“We don’t have to completely sever the limb just because it needs a Band-Aid,” Kirkpatrick said. “Be safe rather than sorry.”

In addition, he countered the economic argument Shimamoto introduced, saying that the U.S. military members account for 5 percent of Okinawa’s economy.

Osako’s constructive pushed for base removals, saying the U.S. presence promotes the assumption that Japan does not have the force to protect its citizens.

“Japan can protect on our own,” he said. “In World War II, Japan lost, and there was no way but to accept the base.”

Osako continued, saying the U.S. military added to crime in Okinawa, including a 1995 incident when three servicemen kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl.

When McMurray began his constructive, he battled using statistics. He said 1.1 percent of crime in Japan results from the U.S. military, building on Kirkpatrick’s former mention of the curfews implemented following the 1995 rape. He then focused on Okinawa’s geography, and how the bases there allow the U.S. to quickly respond when needed in surrounding countries.

Amidst questions among debaters and from the audience, both sides of the argument persisted with their evidence, but the informal vote following the debate resulted in a wash.

“This debate will be a lot closer than if we debated them in Japanese,” Klinger joked.

Klinger exchanged a bow with the Japanese guests, and Kirkpatrick and McMurray presented them with DePauw T-shirts as souvenirs.

The crowd dispersed into the lobby, mingling with the debaters while enjoying refreshments.

Speaking from four years of debate experience, Osako said he enjoyed his interaction with the DePauw debaters.

“It was very difficult to decide which won,” he said. “They used evidence from [the] Japanese side, which was very impressive.”

Attendees seemed to enjoy the event.

“I don’t know much about the politics,” said sophomore Yurika Inai, a student from Japan. “It was interesting to hear the American students’ questions and the American side’s opinions. I just know what the Japanese news says.”

In comparison to last year’s international debate, an event with visitors from the United Kingdom, this debate attracted more spectators.

“The level of debate is always high,” Klinger said. “It’s always close, which speaks volumes of the DePauw debate.”