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“We Might As Well Write Japan Off”: The State Department Deals with the Girard Crisis of 1957

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The Girard Crisis of 1957 erupted after a young American serviceman, William S. Girard, shot and killed Mrs. Naka Sakai, a Japanese woman collecting shell cases on an army firing range in Japan. While this incident caused an immediate storm of Japanese protest against American military bases, controversy erupted in the United States only when it was revealed that the Army would waive criminal jurisdiction and hand Girard over to Japanese courts for trial. American press and congressional critics charged that the decision to “surrender” Girard under the provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) threatened the constitutional rights of all American servicemen overseas, while Japan and other Asian countries hotly resented the one-sided SOFAs and lenient treatment of American soldiers in military courts. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson bickered over responsibility, but both worried that the jurisprudential dispute would fatally undermine Japanese support for the Security Treaty and threaten the entire U.S. alliance system in the Far East. Although the administration, with President Eisenhower’s shrewd help, eventually defused the crisis, its initial responses were confused. This article focuses on State Department handling of the diplomatic and jurisdictional issues in Asia and development of a coherent administration strategy in the face of public anger at home.

Affiliations: 1: University of Winchester, Email:, URL:


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