Marine Corps’ sunset-over-machine-gun tweet above Okinawa draws fire
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 11, 2021
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing removed a tweet Monday of an Okinawa sunset photographed from a helicopter in flight after it provoked a sizeable negative response.
The sunset wasn’t the problem, according to local media reports, but the view included the barrel of a .50-caliber machine gun and the caption: “Oki views! A view down the barrel with HMH-465 ‘Warhorse’ on a recent flight in Okinawa!!” The caption included the hashtags #FightNow and #FreeAndOpenIndoPacific.
The photo showed two CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 returning to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan city after a training mission, wing spokesman Maj. Ken Kunze said in an email Thursday to Stars and Stripes.
“The weapon in the lower left of the photo that is pointing away from any populated area below was locked in the up position for travel and no Marine was manning it when the photo was taken,” he wrote.
Nonetheless, The Okinawa Times, for one, reported the tweet as insensitive for depicting weaponry being flown over Okinawa cities.
“Ordinary residents get startled when they see guns,” even though they often see service members carrying them, Takashi Kishimoto, director of Okinawa Heiwa Undo Center, or Okinawa Peace Movement Center, told Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday. “It is unthinkable from the residents’ point of view to post a photo showing guns.”
Kunze maintains the wing’s Twitter account and posted the tweet Sunday, he said during a follow-up phone call Thursday with Stars and Stripes. Typically, the wing’s posts get about 10,000 impressions, he said. This tweet went from about 10,000 to about 90,000 in 24 hours’ time.
“The focus of the photo was the sunset and the weapon in the foreground was incidental,” Kunze said. “Our aircraft fly around Okinawa frequently with weapons mounted while transiting to training areas … Weapons are always locked in an elevated position while in transit and Marines are not manning them.”
Kunze said the photograph drew many positive comments but also attracted many vulgar and misleading ones. He said he took the tweet down because he could not respond to all the negative and misleading remarks, not because he believed the tweet was inappropriate.
“The post was taken down because inappropriate and misleading comments were being made,” Kunze said in his email. “Some of the comments were vulgar and it was suspected that some of the responses and re-tweets were being promoted by individuals outside of Japan in an attempt to spread the misleading information.”
Okinawa Prefectural Officials declined to comment Thursday. Ginowan city officials did not respond to requests seeking comment.