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Nobel Prize winner stands by testimony Japanese military ordered mass suicides

Date Posted: 2007-11-15

Kenzaburo Oe says “I believe there was an order from the military” to direct Okinawans to commit suicide during the Battle of Okinawa, rather than permit capture by American troops.

Oe, a Nobel Prize winning novelist, was testifying in a lawsuit brought by a former senior Japanese military commander. The novelist told the Osaka District Court his three books detailing the 1945 Battle of Okinawa are accurate, and should be published.

Yutaka Umezawa is asking the court to block the publications, insisting the Japanese Imperial Army did not order Okinawans to kill themselves. Umezawa was the Japanese Army commander on Zamami Island. He says Oe’s depictions of Japanese leaders on Tokashiki and Zamami Islands are wrong. Oe writes in his books that senior Japanese officers on both islands did order Okinawan civilians to commit suicide instead of surrendering to invading American troops.

The 90-year-old Umezawa, then an Army captain commanding the Zamami garrison, says “No way, there was no order at all. I didn’t tell anyone to commit suicide.” He has testified We never gave anybody hand grenades, and I didn’t order my men to write that.”

Oe, the 1994 Nobel Prize winner for literature, counters “It is not a question of whether there were written orders.” In a statement to the media before his testimony, Oe said “Mass suicides were forced on Okinawa islanders under Japan’s hierarchical social structure that ran through the state of Japan, the Japanese armed forces, and local garrisons.”

Zamami Island survivors of the battle have repeatedly said “Yes, the suicides were ordered by Japanese military officials. Yes, Umezawa said ‘die with the hand grenades’”. Umezawa launched the suit against Oe and co-collaborator Iwanami Shoten, charging their descriptions of him in the three books make him appear to be inhumane.

In one of his three books, Oe included an extract from his 1970 essay “Okinawa Notes”, in which he wrote the mass Okinawa suicides in March 1945 came as a result of an order from the Japanese garrison. He described the wartime garrison commander as “a man remembered by Okinawa residents as having forced the mass suicides on Tokashiki Island.” Oe did not list the military commander’s name. He also wrote that the commander on the small island “repeatedly tried to deceive himself and other people.”

Oe, in another part of “Okinawa Notes”, drew upon the works of another writer, repeating that author’s contention the Japanese Imperial Army issued the suicides order in order to preserve food supplies for the soldiers, and to get rid of civilians so they weren’t in the way of the military maneuvers.

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