The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly demanded Friday that the central government retract its instruction to high school history textbook publishers to downplay the military’s role in ordering mass civilian suicides during the Battle of Okinawa.
The assembly issued the call in a unanimously adopted statement after 36 out of the 41 municipal assemblies in the prefecture adopted similar statements and civic groups collected 100,000 signatures opposing the government move.
In the statement, the assembly said, “It is an undeniable fact that mass suicides could not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military.
“We strongly call on the government to retract the instruction and to immediately restore the description in the textbooks so the truth of the Battle of Okinawa will be handed down correctly and a tragic war will never happen again.”
Okinawa was the only inhabited part of Japan where ground fighting took place in the closing days of World War II. During the battle, a quarter of Okinawa’s civilian population died. More than 200,000 Japanese and Americans died in the bloody battle.
Many survivors say Japanese soldiers, on the brink of defeat, told them to kill themselves and their loved ones. But some military-related people deny that mass suicides and murder-suicides were ordered.
In March, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry advised publishers of the textbooks to be used in the next school year to reword descriptions that the embattled Imperial Japanese Army forced civilians to kill themselves in the war so they would not be taken prisoner by the U.S. military.
Textbooks for Japanese schools must be screened and approved by a government-appointed expert panel, which can order corrections of perceived historical inaccuracies.
According to the results of the screening, one textbook initially stated that “the Japanese army gave hand grenades to residents, making them commit mass suicide and kill each other.”
But after the screeners took issue with the description, saying it could result in misunderstanding, the textbook was revised to state, “Mass suicides and killings took place among the residents using hand grenades given to them by the Japanese army.”
Other textbooks simply deleted the words “by the Japanese army.”
Two assembly members were traveling to Tokyo to hand deliver the statement to the education ministry, Assemblyman Akira Nakasone said.
Accounts of forced group suicides and murder-suicides in Okinawa are backed up by historical research, and by testimonies from victims’ relatives.
Historians also say government propaganda induced civilians to believe U.S. soldiers would commit horrible atrocities, leading many to kill themselves and their loved ones to avoid capture.
But in recent years, some academics have questioned whether the suicides were forced — part of a general push by Japanese conservatives to soften criticism of Tokyo’s wartime conduct.