Japan tries to cover up its gory past

After more than 110,000 Okinawans joined a dramatic protest rally on the weekend, the Japanese government may review its controversial history textbook writing policy, which has seen the deletion of the military’s role in wartime atrocities on the island. “Our people’s voice did certainly reach the government, and now we are awaiting their response,” said Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima.

Saturday’s rally was organised by Okinawans upset at education ministry instructions in March requiring high school history textbook publishers to remove references to the Japanese military forcing civilians to commit mass suicide during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. An island falling 1,500 km southwest of Tokyo, Okinawa represented the lone Japanese soil on which the US military landed during World War II. Fierce fighting for control of the island resulted in the deaths of 200,000 civilians on Okinawa and the neighbouring islands.

Older Okinawans remember how a desperate Japanese military forced the islanders to commit suicide or kill each other, as the US military landed and people fled to hideouts. The survivors have recounted episodes to their children and grandchildren for decades. Yoshikatsu Yoshikawa, 68, is one of them. The former school teacher in Tokashiki Island vividly remembers the sounds of grenades being exploded by fellow islanders. He was with his family and 20 relatives, sitting together in a circle when his elder brothers pulled the pin on grenades handed to them by military officials, killing his father among others. More than 300 people killed themselves in this fashion on Tokashiki alone.

“No one can deny what we experienced,” he said. “Those disasters would not have happened without the orders, guidance, enforcement, instructions etc of the military.” Okinawans say that the Imperial army that arrived from mainland Japan did not protect local civilians but victimised and killed them. According to Isamu Tokuyama, another war survivor, anyone can see through the government’s efforts to delete or whitewash the military’s role in wartime acts from history textbooks.

Last year, it watered down the military’s maintaining of brothels in the sexual slavery of Asian women, or the so-called comfort women. But following angry reactions from South Korea, former PM Shinzo Abe was forced retract and go back to a 1993 declaration admitting official involvement. And this year, instructions were given to textbook publishers to delete references to the number of victims of the infamous 1937 Rape of Nanjing — 300,000 according to Chinese estimates — on the plea that history textbooks should cover “various other theories”. A group of 422 historians and educators unveiled an appeal, last week, asking the government to withdraw the instructions.

The Okinawa outrage shook the entire nation, apparent from the number of protestors who turned out for the rally and filled a huge beach park in Ginowan city in the central part of the island. They included young parents with babies, children and teenagers as well as war veterans and town and village representatives. One 17-year-old high school girl said she hoped her younger peers would learn history as she did. “I would like them to know the truth, not lies,” she said. — IPS