Bruce Lieber arrived on Okinawa in May 1970 and for the following 18 months, he served with the Ryukyu Armed Forces Police patrolling towns and bases. Most of his work as an MP involved calming down drunk service members, breaking up fights and dealing with traffic offenses.
“Some of the men had been fighting in the jungles of Vietnam the day before and now they were here on Okinawa – a few still wearing their battle fatigues. A lot of them were traumatized and a lot of them wanted to party; they caused many problems off base.”
Lieber recalls that, among service members and American civilians on Okinawa, drug usage was widespread; mainly, they used marijuana and heroin, but also LSD and amphetamines were common. Despite the illegality of drugs, not once did he arrest anyone for their usage; in fact, he says, drug abuse occurred within the military police force itself.
“MPs used to smoke marijuana on duty and some of them took LSD – even while driving their patrol cars. Senior level supervisors smoked marijuana. They used to confiscate it from service members and then smoke it themselves.”
Heroin was almost as common as marijuana, Lieber recalls, and MPs used it, too. Because heroin was relatively expensive, some military police officers turned to crime to fund their habits.
“One MP used to snatch purses from Okinawans and use the money to buy heroin. Another went further – he would come on duty, get his gun, and then change into civilian clothes to rob mom-and-pop stores. One owner finally recognized him and filed a complaint. What did the military do? The same as always. They stalled and slowed down the investigation. Then they shipped him off the island.”
The war in Vietnam was the main the reason the military tolerated drug abuse and failed to punish users, Lieber says.
“Troops needed a way to placate themselves and the military wanted to keep them in the field. The easiest way to achieve this was to allow them to take drugs.”