In the Girard incident (ジラード事件 Jirādo jiken ) of 1957, a Japanese housewife named Naka Sakai was shot and killed by an American soldier, William S. Girard.
On January 30, 1957, the 46-year-old Sakai was collecting scrap metal on a U.S. Army shooting range in Soumagahara, Gunma Prefecture, Japan. Sakai, a mother of six, earned a living selling scrap metal, and had entered the Army area for the purpose of collecting spent rifle cartridges. Specialist Third Class Girard, a 21-year-old enlisted man from Ottawa, Illinois, used a grenade launcher mounted on an M1 rifle to fire an empty casing at Sakai, which killed her.
Extradition and controversy[edit | edit source]
The strong Japanese outcry over the killing led to a jurisdictional dispute between the Japanese authorities and the U.S. Army. The Army maintained that Girard had acted while on duty and was thus under the jurisdiction of U.S. military courts, while the Japanese government held that Girard's actions had taken place during a period of rest, making him subject to Japanese law. Girard had been assigned to guard a machine gun at the firing range in between sessions of target practice; the Japanese contention was that since Girard had not fired a weapon during exercises, he could not be considered as actively on duty. Eventually, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson ruled that Girard's specific action "was not authorized", and he was turned over for trial. Girard appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, but the Court rejected his request for intervention.
American response to Girard's extradition was largely negative. Relatives and supporters in his Illinois hometown drummed up 182 feet of signatures for a petition decrying the decision, the American Legion protested vociferously, the Veterans of Foreign Wars said that Girard had been "sold down the river", Senator John Bricker of Ohio called the decision a matter of "sacrificing an American soldier to appease Japanese public opinion", and the New York Daily News summed up its feelings in a headline: "To the Wolves, Soldier". In the midst of the uproar, the New York Times, fearing that American reaction was eroding the good will earned in Asia by the initial decision to extradite, published an article lauding the positive interactions between most U.S. soldiers and Japanese civilians, including photographs of soldiers celebrating Christmas with a Japanese family while clothed in traditional Japanese attire.
Trial[edit | edit source]
At the trial, a Japanese witness for the prosecution asserted that Girard had yelled a warning to Sakai before firing, but Girard himself denied ever having done so, a statement which shocked and mystified observers. According to testimony from Victor Nickel, a soldier of the same rank who had accompanied him, Girard had lured Sakai and other scavengers toward his position by tossing empty casings out onto the range, then fired at Sakai "for a joke". Girard claimed that the death had been an accident. The presiding judge, Yuzo Kawachi, went so far as to visit the scene of the incident himself, and pronounced himself "baffled" by the discrepancies in Girard's account of events. However, he stated that he could find "no evidence of deliberate murder", and Girard was handed only a three-year suspended sentence. He was also demoted to private status by the U.S. Army as a result of his actions.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
Girard, who was recorded as having an IQ of 90, was held in little regard by his fellow soldiers, widely viewed as a "bumpkin clown" who drank to excess and ran up debts at various Japanese establishments. After his trial, he went home to America with his Taiwan-born Japanese bride, Haru "Candy" Sueyama, and was repeatedly booed by fellow servicemen during his return trip.
Sakai's widowed husband, Akikichi, and his six children were compensated with US $1,748.32 (US$ 14,681 in 2021) for their loss, but this monetary offer was perceived as an attempt to buy off justice by many Japanese, and Akikichi stated to U.S. authorities that "I do not thank you for it." 
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Harnisch, Larry. "Soldier kills woman", Los Angeles Times, retrieved November 27, 2007.
- "The Girard Case", Time, October 7, 1957, retrieved December 14, 2007.
- Shibusawa, Naoko. America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy. Dar al-Hayan. p. 371 (endnote). ISBN 0-674-02348-X.
- "The Girard Case (Contd.)", Time, October 7, 1957, retrieved December 14, 2007.
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