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Prime Minister, Governor lead Battle observance

Date Posted: 2009-06-25

Japan’s Prime Minister took advantage of Tuesday’s 64th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa to both express sorrow and promise to ease the burdens on Okinawans imposed by being host to American military forces.

Representing the Japanese Government were Prime Minister Taro Aso, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yohei Kono, and Speaker of the Councilors Satsuki Eda. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and Okinawa Prefecture Assembly members also attended.

Taro Aso, speaking at the annual memorial ceremonies honoring the more than 200,000 Japanese and American military personnel and Japanese civilians who died in the May-June 1945 battle, reaffirmed his support for a U.S. forces realignment that will remove thousands of GI’s from Okinawa and reduce the burden on the Okinawan people. The Prime Minister pledged support in removing unexploded bombs that remain scattered underground across the island.

“Okinawa became the largest ground battle in the nation,” Aso said, referring to the 240,734 who died during the island-wide battle. “My heart aches when I think of the unimaginable suffering of the Okinawan people,” he said. Okinawa, 1,500 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, was the only inhabited part of Japan where ground fighting occurred during World War II.

Okinawa’s 69-year-old governor used the day to encourage both the Japanese and U.S. governments to lessen Okinawa’s burden. Hirokazu Nakaima, who suffered a heart attack two years ago just before the annual ceremonies at Peace Memorial Park on the hillside at Itoman, on the southern tip of Okinawa Island, read the annual peace message that offered condolences to victims of the battle, while renewing the pledge to never wage war again. “Okinawa suffered the loss o more than 200,000 precious lives in the Battle of Okinawa, and in addition, a lot of our cultural heritage and nature was destroyed. The saddest part is people who lost their family and loved ones, and were left with a void inside that will never be filled,” Nakaima said.

Prior to the main ceremonies attended by hundreds of dignitaries, a smaller ceremony honoring the 14,007 Americans who died in the Battle of Okinawa took place alongside the marble slabs engraved with the names of each battle casualty.

While ceremonies took place, surveys by the local Okinawan Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper showed young people aren’t remembering much about the historic battle. A poll of students at five local universities showed young people think learning about the Battle of Okinawa is important, but 30% had no idea about the significance of June 23rd, and 40% didn’t even know what year the war ended.

Okinawan young people were aware of the controversial issues of group suicides forced on Okinawans as the battle wound down. Some 93% explained it fairly well, despite the descriptions having been dropped from school history textbooks. Mainland students, the newspaper survey says, didn’t know much about the Battle of Okinawa. Some 83.6% answered correctly “Why Okinawan people committed mass suicide?”….that “the Japanese Army forced residents to commit suicide rather than surrender to the American Army”, but 4.4% of the students said “Because of the Japanese country, people committed group suicide and offered their lives to the country. It is beautiful death.”

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