Letter to the Editor: A sincere apology to the people of Okinawa
Letter to the Editor: A sincere apology to the people of Okinawa By Victor Bounds
To the wonderful people of Okinawa,
I would like to offer my sincerest apologies for the inexcusable crimes that American Military/Civilian personnel have committed against the citizens of Okinawa including this most recent rape and murder of a 20 year old Okinawan woman. My deepest condolences go out to the Shimabukuro family. My name is Victor Bounds and I’m half American, half Okinawan. My father was in the US Military and my mother is from Miyakojima (outer island that is part of the Ryukyu Island chain). My father, due to his military service, was stationed on Okinawa several times and as a result, I was fortunate enough to spend most of my childhood years on Okinawa. It was like paradise for me growing up on Okinawa and I miss being there so much. My experience on Okinawa as a child and teenager was magical and I would not trade it for the world. The Okinawan culture is one to be admired and the Okinawan people are the most kind-hearted, modest, and peaceful people I have ever encountered. I am “hafu” (Japanese term for one of mixed heritage) and although some Okinawans are ashamed of their “hafu” family members, my family in Miyakojima was not. In fact my Grandfather, Grandmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins showed me nothing but love and kindness. My Grandparents paraded my brother and I around Miyako with pride which is something I will never forget. My Oji and Oba were truly wonderful people. As a kid, I would spend at least a month in Miyakojima every summer and the memories I have of that time are some of the best of my life…helping my grandparents farm sugarcane, hunting “makugan” (Miyako language for coconut crab) at night with my uncles/aunts and cousins, and enjoying the beautiful ocean. It was the best! Of course, I also had family on the main island of Okinawa (in Oroku, Urasoe, Gushikawa) and they also showed me nothing but kindness. All my Okinawan family members are just fantastic people.
Growing up on Kadena Air Base was definitely a blessing. I had all the American things on base and also had the beautiful Okinawan culture off base. It was truly a dream childhood. Sadly my family and I left Okinawa in
1992 and since then I’ve only been back for short visits. I am a 44 year old man now and for the past several years, I’ve tried to read and research Okinawan history when time has allowed. It saddened me to learn about all the atrocities that the Okinawans have suffered since WWII at American hands.
When one compares the number of US Military personnel/civilians committing crimes against Okinawans to that of Okinawan people committing crimes against US Military personnel (very rare), it is indeed sad. It amazes me that mainland Japan will not take on more of the US Military burden. Obviously, Japan needs the American military presence but it is ridiculous how much of this burden lies with Okinawa and the Okinawan people. Okinawa does not even account for 1% of Japan’s total land area and yet it takes on almost 80% of the US Military personnel in Japan. This is extremely unfair and a profound injustice to the citizens of Okinawa. The fact that mainland Japanese government refuses to do anything about this issue is absolutely bewildering since so much of the Japanese culture is based in honor and justice. I say all of this with a heavy heart because it would sadden me to see Kadena Air Base close. That base was essentially my childhood home but I’d rather see the Okinawan people suffer no more than to keep a base open for my own selfish reasons. Will closing all US bases on Okinawa solve the problem? The answer is “YES” but is it a realistic solution? The answer is definitely “NO” and I'm afraid the economic repercussions of the bases closing on Okinawa would be severe on many Okinawans. I know most Okinawans do not want to hear this but there is a need for some (not the majority) US Military presence on Okinawa in order to protect the Okinawans/Japanese citizens (U.S.allies) from any enemy aggression. Japan’s enemies are right across the ocean and Japan does not currently have the military power to fend off a major offensive from these threats, and because of this, some form of US Military presence will most likely be on Okinawa for a long time.., but this does not have to be a bad thing. The majority of American soldiers and civilians are not terrible people. There are a few bad seeds that ruin it for everybody. These bad seeds think they are entitled because they believe their service to the US military serves as justification for them to act any way they want on an island whose people have a very passive, non-confrontational culture. This peaceful and passive culture makes it all that much easier for these evil people to perpetrate such terrible acts. I ask the Okinawan people to please realize that not all Americans are like this and most Americans are sickened and embarrassed by these atrocious acts. In no way am I trying to make light of these inexcusable acts committed by those few US personnel but those few bad Americans are truly not representative of Americans as a whole.
I have hope that Okinawans and Americans can live peacefully with each other.
I believe this starts with reducing the number of US bases on Okinawa.
Mainland Japan has to take on their fair share of the burden! I also believe that the US government has to start implementing tougher programs that inform US military/civilian personnel the importance of respecting the Okinawan people, their land, oceans, and their culture and to impose harsh penalties on anybody who does not. Every American coming to Okinawa in connection with the US Military should be put through a lengthy orientation that explains the history of Okinawa and the Okinawan people and the importance of respecting Okinawa and its citizens during their time there. Classes should be given to all US Military personnel and US civilians working for the US Military at regular intervals, highlighting the importance of respecting our host nation during their entire stay overseas. Television commercials, signs, and posters with this information should be displayed in areas of work and business throughout the bases. DODDS schools (American schools on bases overseas) should teach dependent children about respecting Okinawa and its people. We need constant reminders of this policy everywhere so the Americans on Okinawa do not just forget or take this issue lightly. When I lived there, there was not a lot of this type of education going on and I doubt there is a lot of it going on now. More programs should be developed that have Americans going out in the local culture to improve things…for example having American volunteers help clean up beaches, trash sweeps around the outside perimeter of the bases,etc. There should be more friendly interchange between US personnel and Okinawans besides the Kadena Carnival. For example, having US personnel (especially the youth) have more athletic interchange with our host country. US athletic teams playing regular, friendly games against Okinawan teams would be great. I know there is some of that now but there needs to be more especially with the youth. I love my American side and I love my Okinawan side. I am extremely lucky and proud to be of mixed American/Okinawan heritage. This is why it saddens me to see this current climate on Okinawa. Again I want to apologize for all the atrocities that the Okinawans have endured during the US Military presence on Okinawa. There is no way to justify anything that has been done but I will hold on to the hope that things will improve for Okinawa and its people. I want to truly thank Okinawa and its people for giving me such a wonderful childhood. My memories of Okinawa are something that I will always cherish.