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Abe skirts textbook issue at memorial ceremony

Date Posted: 2007-06-28

Japan’s Prime Minister was in the spotlight at weekend memorial ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Okinawa, choosing to pledge support for reducing problems caused to local citizens by the American military bases being here, instead of focusing on his government’s move to modify history books over the battle.

Shinzo Abe, speaking at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman’s historic Mabuni district during 62nd anniversary memorial ceremonies Saturday, reassured Okinawans “I know I have to make Okinawan people’s load lighter by reducing the problems caused by American military bases,” he said, promising to “listen to Okinawa people’s opinions and try to promote a reorganization of the military problem.”
He offered prayers at an altar built with a sugar cane fields motif, noting “during wartime people didn’t have food, so they ate the sugar cane and people did hide out in sugar cane fields, so nobody could find them to talk about suicide.” It was his only reference to the controversy brewing over his Ministry of Education’s decision ordering all references to Japanese soldiers telling Okinawans to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Americans removed from school textbooks.

Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima didn’t let the issue go unnoticed. “It was not by ourselves. It was ordered by the Japanese government,” he said, “but now historical accounts are being changed “to cut the parts about Japanese soldiers”. More than 4,500 bereaved family members attended the memorial service, including some survivors of the 1945 battle. Nakaima said “not only Okinawa and mainland Japan, but surely, the world’s people, global people, have the right to live life in peace and safety,” and he pledged “this is something we have to build together.

Prefecture Assembly Members Chairman Toshinobu Nakazato told those gathered for the annual ceremony “Our ancestors had patience enough, and even though family members wre dead they y came through over sadness and stood up to promote and rebuild our homeland.” He said “We have peaceful days today, because our ancestors had worked for us for our future.”

Abe, asked about the group suicide issue at a press conference following the ceremonies, simply said “the Ministry of Education is checking about this problem and doing a conference. Soon it will come out.” The Ministry has ordered all textbooks be rewritten, removing the portion about Japanese soldiers giving hand grenades to Okinawans and telling them to commit suicide rather than turn themselves over to American soldiers. The revised textbooks are to enter Japanese schools in April.

“I feel there was a very tragic scandal,” Abe said referring to the group suicides written about in history books and talked about by Okinawa battle survivors, “so we learn again that residents’ minds are deep hearted and again I feel very sad. I swear I will do my best for Okinawan people’s peaceful lives.”

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