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110,000 Okinawans send strong message to Tokyo

Date Posted: 2007-10-01

The message Saturday from tens of thousands of Okinawans was for the central government to quit messing with history.
At least 110,000 Okinawans—from senior government leaders to ordinary citizens—rallied at Ginowan City’s Kaihin Park to demand the Japanese education ministry reverse its order that school textbooks be modified to remove references to suicides during the Battle of Okinawa were ordered by Japanese soldiers. Current textbooks describe how the Japanese Army provided hand grenades and told Okinawans to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to American forces during the 1945 battle.
Okinawa’s Governor lashed out at the government, telling the gathering “The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry hasn’t responded sincerely to repeated calls and deep feelings for peace of the people of Okinawa, and has not accepted our request to retract the instruction.” Governor Hirokazu Nakaima says “The ministry’s attitude is regrettable, and I strongly protest.”
Organizers say the demonstration was the largest ever in Okinawa since its reversion to Japan from American control in 1972. The demonstration was a rallying point for every political party and municipality, drawing supporters from members of the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly, every one of the prefecture’s 42 municipalities, schools and teacher unions, business and citizen groups, and rank and file citizens. Smaller demonstrations protesting the education ministry’s action were staged in Miyakojima City and Ishigakijima City.
The controversial directive from the education ministry on March 30th ordered history textbooks for high school students be amended to change the verbiage to eliminate references that the Japanese military issued orders to Okinawans they should commit mass suicide rather than surrender or be captured by American forces. “It’s not sure what was truth,” the ministry said in its letter, noting “It might give misunderstanding to students about the actual Okinawa Battle conditions.” The ministry acted after recent research claims disputed the eyewitness accounts of Battle of Okinawa survivors.
Witnesses, many of whom attended Saturday’s demonstration, insist they know what they saw and heard, and that group suicides would never have occurred without Japanese military intervention. They charge the education ministry’s actions “contradict and depart from the truth.” In defending its action, to which five textbook publishers have already capitulated and changed their history books, the ministry says “The decision is something we want everyone to understand.” The ministry still rejects demands it back off and reverse the modifications.
Okinawans challenge the education ministry, insisting “It’s most important to give truth in education, that children understand what is peace, what is war, and that peace is the most important thing to prevent war from ever happening again. The demonstrators adopted a joint resolution urging the central government in Tokyo to review the issue and rescind the education ministry’s directive.
“It is an undeniable fact that the mass suicides would not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military,” the resolution states, “and any deletion of or revision to the description is a denial and distortion of the many testimonies by people who survived the incidents.” Battle of Okinawa survivors insist the Japanese military used the mass suicide orders as a means of preventing leaks of military intelligence data to the Americans, a charge former Imperial Japanese Army soldiers vehemently deny.
In a run-up to Saturday’s demonstrations, many angry Okinawans joined city, town and village assemblies and the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly in smaller protest demonstrations urging the education ministry to retract its ruling. The Chairman of the Prefecture Assembly, Toshinobu Nakazato, headed the rally committee. He says the committee will meet again next month, where it will organize a large delegation to go to Tokyo to argue the case directly.
“It’s our duty to hand this down as a historical fact to generations to come,” Nakazato says, “and to make sure such a brutal war never occurs again.” The education ministry, in rejecting Okinawa’s requests and demands, has placed its support for change behind members of its textbook screening panel, many of whom Okinawans contend know little about the subject.
Okinawans want history to stay as it has been reported during the 52 years since the Battle of Okinawa. “This time,” their resolution declares, “researchers should be withdrawn and the group suicides descriptions (reported in current textbooks) should be recovered, right now.” New versions of the textbooks must be in place before the coming academic year, which begins in April 2008.

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