Four local assemblies are protesting an order by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Education Ministry to remove from school textbooks all references to military involvement in suicide deaths of Okinawans. They have passed a resolution demanding the central government reverse its decision, and several other communities are considering the measure.
On March 30, the Education Ministry declared that the army’s role in the Okinawa deaths be stricken from textbooks, igniting anger on the island where almost 150,000 people, or a quarter of the population, died in the fighting.
Once an independent kingdom known as Ryukyu, Okinawa was a prosperous trading nation with its own culture and language. In 1879, it came under the control of Japan, which introduced an education system designed to make Okinawans loyal imperial subjects. The archipelago was Japan’s final front line during World War II.
[Reactions of Okinawans]
“Mr. Abe seems eager to delete the memory of Japan’s defeat and the military’s direct involvement in mass suicides,” said Tomokazu Takamine, the author of “Unknown U.S. Soldiers in Okinawa” and executive director of the Ryukyu Shimpo, Okinawa’s largest daily newspaper. “He wants to create a new fiction.”
“It is an unmistakable fact that mass suicides in Okinawa could not have taken place without the military’s order,” said the resolution, which local governments in Naha, Okinawa’s capital; Itoman; Tomigusuku and Haebaru have adopted. “For Okinawans who experienced the fierce and tragic battle and were forced to endure indescribable sacrifices,” changing the textbooks “is utterly unacceptable,” the resolution said.
Shinjun Tomiyama was a village official on Yoneda’s island home of Tokashiki in charge of army liaison during the war. In 1988, shortly before he died, he talked to the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper about military involvement in the mass suicides.
“A few days before the landing of the U.S. troops, the Japanese army assembled the young men of the island,” Tomiyama said in the report. “There was a speech instructing them never to be taken as a war prisoner. The army gave each one two grenades: one for attacking Americans and the other to kill themselves.”
“We have to remember that the mass suicides happened under the rule of the Japanese military government,” said Tadakatsu Nakayama, an Okinawan lawyer. “The central government is trying to dilute the damage and pain inflicted on Okinawans.”
We have personal account by people working in Okinawa now (which you can read saying the Okinawans are extremely angry with the whitewashing of history.
The “denial” and “beautification” (meihua) of wartime history is getting more intensified under Abe-administration.