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The Curfew – Further Fuel for Hatred and Mistrust

By: Elena Sinnemaki

Date Posted: 2000-07-31

There seems to have been an enormous reaction to the recent problems that a few Americans have caused in the Okinawa community – not just locally, but globally. I am only one of thousands that has been affected by the outcome of these incidents. First of all, people need to be provided with valid facts before they condemn someone for their actions. Most of us do not know all the facts behind the recent “breaking and entering” and “hit and run” incidents that occurred. The things we have heard about immediately infuriate us, and perhaps it is because we don’t know the whole story. It’s easier to assume that all Americans are rapists, child molesters, and reckless drivers that have no remorse than to believe that people just make mistakes. The media is half the problem. They play to the political arena about incidents that happen for a story and they play the public for a reaction. The G-8 summit played its part as well. Putting everyone in a panic, afraid that someone or some country would look bad if an incident happened while there were cameras rolling. Do important political figures live in closets? Does the occurrence of a Summit meeting make crimes any more or less significant?

Now I’m seeing something that is reminiscent of 1950’s America and is something to be embarrassed about. When a crime was committed back then and it happened to be by an African American, all African Americans were instantly assumed to be criminals due to stereotypes, media, and ignorance. If an African American committed a crime against a Caucasian, there was immediate uproar and the entire community was terrorized to the point were the accused could not get a fair trial. If someone tried to defend them they were condemned and their family tortured. And in the end, there was usually an extreme “verdict” made in the interest of politics instead of one based on fact. While we have come so far as a society from this kind of torturous and uncivilized behavior, is it more “civil” to harass and control a community in other ways so as to strike the same kind of message? Aren’t we in the 21st century? Has our society evolved at all or are we just doomed to let history repeat itself?

Though I am ashamed of the actions of the few Americans who have caused so much grief in this community, I feel nothing but pride when I think of each American Soldier, Airman, Sailor, and Marine who works tirelessly each day, maintaining peace in a region far from home while sacrificing his/her own freedom to live their life close to their family and loved ones. They live a life that could easily drive a sane person mad and do it with pride and with dignity. Although punishment can never entirely give back what was taken from any victim of crime, American Service Members are held to the highest codes of conduct around and are always punished accordingly. Therefore, punishing a population of law-abiding citizens is counterproductive as it will not bring more or less punishment to the offenders, but instead build a wall between the military and Okinawans and further fuel hatred and mistrust in the community. Not all Americans are criminals and most of us actually benefit from our relationships with our Okinawan friends. What should concern us is not what happens to the Americans who committed the crimes. The American and Japanese courts will punish the Americans and due justice will be served. What should worry us is an increase in racism that is going to damage the relationship between the Americans and Okinawans.

The military is a society like most others. All members are held accountable for their actions. In any society there are criminals or bad people (please show me one where there isn’t) and the military is no different. People should understand that. Americans, as well as Okinawans, have their share of “bad apples”, but that shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch. In fact, if you compare the crime rates of military members to Okinawans, you would notice the surprising fact is Okinawans commit more crimes per capita than the American Military. This fact can be easily confirmed by calling your friendly Japanese Police.

What happened had nothing to do with the American military as a whole, age, race, curfew or no curfew, or even alcohol restrictions. It had to do with one person who made a bad choice. It could have happened anywhere to anyone. Everyone makes bad choices at one point or another, only some are worse than others. Does that justify any of it? ABSOLUTELY NOT! But that is not for us who have one-sided ideas, half of the facts, and a lot of hate to decide. Leave that to the professionals who are working to ensure that we are all held accountable for our actions. Will it make us look better if we start protesting, enforcing curfews, and signing petitions? NO! It will only increase the hate.

The curfew was not set up to control a group of people who military leaders think are irresponsible. The curfew was set up to ease the minds of the people who are uncomfortable with our presence. The curfew was set up to protect the interests of those leaders who are trying to stay in congress, keep the star, or obtain higher rank. Of course the media will play on it to get a story, but which story will they be telling? Will this deter the crime on Okinawa? Probably not. People who think irrationally and act irresponsibly can do that at one in the afternoon or at midnight - it will still happen no matter what precautions are taken. Will all of this cause more problems? I’m sure it will. I know I’m starting to look differently toward some Okinawans than I did two months ago.

Many Okinawans want us to leave. Should we? I’m sure China or North Korea would love that. Who would that hurt most? Americans? Did you forget that most of us pump thousands of dollars a year into the Japanese economy? Most of us will be gone in a few years with Okinawa only a memory (good or bad depending on our experiences). Do you know that many Americans do not want to be here? They are either trying to make the best of their time here, count down the days until departure, or they will treasure the experience. It’s time to start weighing the advantages over the disadvantages of our presence. What would happen to the economy? The stability of the region? The well being of a nation? Maybe it would be better… maybe not.

This goes way beyond isolated incidents, G8 Summits, and restrictions. How is this going to affect the society that we all have to live in together? What is going to happen when the Summit hype passes and Okinawa is out of the “spotlight”? Do we return to our efforts of making the most of our experience here and getting to know our host nation or do we go on hating each other for the mistakes of the few? We should all think more about our own actions and less about the actions of others. We would get along a lot better and our society would be a much better place to live in.

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