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Japan revises role in WWII Okinawa

Text­books will no longer say army ordered civil­ians to com­mit sui­cide as con­flict end­ed

by Norim­it­su Onishi

(04–01) 04:00 PDT Tokyo — In anoth­er sign that Japan is press­ing ahead in revis­ing its his­to­ry of World War II, new high school text­books will no longer acknowl­edge that the Impe­r­i­al Army was respon­si­ble for a major atroc­i­ty in Oki­nawa, the gov­ern­ment announced late Fri­day.

The Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion ordered pub­lish­ers to delete pas­sages stat­ing that the Impe­r­i­al Army ordered civil­ians to com­mit mass sui­cide dur­ing the Bat­tle of Oki­nawa, as the island was about to fall to Amer­i­can troops in the final months of the war.

The deci­sion was announced as part of the min­istry’s annu­al screen­ing of all pub­lic school text­books. The min­istry also ordered changes to oth­er del­i­cate issues to dove­tail with gov­ern­ment asser­tions, even though the screen­ing is sup­posed to be free of polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence.

“I believe the screen­ing sys­tem has been fol­lowed appro­pri­ate­ly,” said Prime Min­is­ter Shin­zo Abe, who has long cam­paigned to soft­en the treat­ment in text­books of Japan’s wartime con­duct.

The deci­sion on the Bat­tle of Oki­nawa came as a sur­prise because the min­istry had nev­er object­ed to the descrip­tion in the past. It fol­lowed recent denials by Abe that the mil­i­tary had coerced women into sex­u­al slav­ery dur­ing the war, despite acknowl­edge­ments by pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments that the com­fort women were kid­napped and forced into mil­i­tary broth­els.

The results of the annu­al text­book screen­ing are close­ly watched in Chi­na, South Korea and oth­er Asian coun­tries. So the fresh denial of the mil­i­tary’s respon­si­bil­i­ty in the Bat­tle of Oki­nawa and in sex­u­al slav­ery — long accept­ed as his­tor­i­cal facts — is like­ly to deep­en sus­pi­cions in Asia that Tokyo is try­ing to white­wash its mil­i­tarist past.

Short­ly after assum­ing office last fall, Abe trans­formed the Defense Agency into a full min­istry. He has said that his most impor­tant goal is to revise the Amer­i­can-imposed paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion, which for­bids Japan from hav­ing a full-fledged mil­i­tary with offen­sive capa­bil­i­ties.

Some 200,000 Amer­i­cans and Japan­ese died dur­ing the Bat­tle of Oki­nawa, one of the most bru­tal clash­es dur­ing the war. It was the only bat­tle on Japan­ese soil involv­ing civil­ians, but Oki­nawa was not just any part of Japan.

Japan offi­cial­ly annexed Oki­nawa — a king­dom that, to this day, has retained some of its own cul­ture — in the late 19th cen­tu­ry. Dur­ing World War II, when many Oki­nawans still spoke a dif­fer­ent dialect, Japan­ese troops treat­ed the locals bru­tal­ly. In its his­to­ry of the war, the Oki­nawa Pre­fec­tur­al Peace Memo­r­i­al Muse­um presents Oki­nawa as being caught in the fight­ing between Amer­i­ca and Japan — a stark­ly dif­fer­ent view from Toky­o’s Yasuku­ni Shrine war muse­um, which presents Japan as a lib­er­a­tor of Asia from West­ern pow­ers.

Dur­ing the 1945 bat­tle, dur­ing which one-quar­ter of the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion was killed, the Japan­ese army showed indif­fer­ence to Oki­nawa’s defense and safe­ty. Japan­ese sol­diers used civil­ians as shields against the Amer­i­cans, and con­vinced locals that vic­to­ri­ous U.S. sol­diers would go on a ram­page of killing and rap­ing. With the impend­ing vic­to­ry of U.S. troops, civil­ians com­mit­ted mass sui­cide, urged on by fanat­i­cal Japan­ese sol­diers.

“There were some peo­ple who were forced to com­mit sui­cide by the Japan­ese army,” one old text­book explained. But in the revi­sion ordered by the min­istry, it now reads, “There were some peo­ple who were dri­ven to mass sui­cide.”

Oth­er changes are sim­i­lar — the change to a pas­sive verb, the dis­ap­pear­ance of a sub­ject — and com­bine to erase the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Japan­ese mil­i­tary. In explain­ing its pol­i­cy change, the min­istry said that it “is not clear that the Japan­ese army coerced or ordered the mass sui­cides.”

As with Abe’s denial regard­ing sex­u­al slav­ery, the min­istry’s new posi­tion appears to dis­count over­whelm­ing evi­dence of coer­cion, par­tic­u­lar­ly the tes­ti­mo­ny of vic­tims and sur­vivors them­selves.

“There are many Oki­nawans who have tes­ti­fied that the Japan­ese army direct­ed them to com­mit sui­cide,” Ryukyu Shim­po, one of the two major Oki­nawan news­pa­pers, said in an angry edi­to­r­i­al. “There are also peo­ple who have tes­ti­fied that they were hand­ed grenades by Japan­ese sol­diers” to blow them­selves up.

The edi­to­r­i­al described the change as a polit­i­cal­ly influ­enced deci­sion that “went along with the gov­ern­ment view.”

Abe, after co-found­ing the Group of Young Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans Con­cerned About Japan’s Future and His­to­ry Edu­ca­tion in 1997, led a cam­paign to reject what nation­al­ists call a masochis­tic view of his­to­ry that has robbed post­war Japan­ese of pride.

Yasuhi­ro Naka­sone, a for­mer prime min­is­ter who is a staunch ally of Abe’s, recent­ly denied what he wrote in 1978. In a mem­oir about his Impe­r­i­al Navy expe­ri­ences in Indone­sia, titled “Com­man­der of Three Thou­sand Men at Age Twen­ty-Three,” he wrote that some of his men “start­ed attack­ing local women or became addict­ed to gam­bling.

“For them, I went to great pains, and had a com­fort sta­tion built,” Naka­sone wrote, using the euphemism for a mil­i­tary broth­el. But in a meet­ing with for­eign jour­nal­ists a week ago, Naka­sone, now 88, issued a flat denial. He said he had actu­al­ly set up a “recre­ation cen­ter,” where his men played Japan­ese board games like go and sho­gi.


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