Witness: Military ordered mass suicides

Plaintiffs trying to stop Kenzaburo Oe dispute testimony on Battle of Okinawa


A witness in a lawsuit over the Japanese military’s involvement in ordering civilians to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa has told a court that residents wouldn’t have taken such actions were it not for an order by a military commander.

The plaintiffs are trying to halt publication of a booklet written by Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe, which states that the mass suicide order was given by the military during the Battle of Okinawa in the closing days of World War II.

The counsel for the plaintiffs, including a former military officer, tried to discredit witness Shigeaki Kinjo, 78, by saying that his statement was contradictory.

The question of the military’s involvement in the mass suicides made headlines after the education ministry told publishers in March to rewrite phrases in high school history textbooks that had stated or suggested that soldiers ordered civilians to kill themselves.

Kinjo, a pastor from Tokashiki Island who survived a mass suicide, testified Monday in a closed session at the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court. His testimony was requested by the Osaka District Court, where the lawsuit is pending.

“Grenades were handed out to residents by the military one week before the U.S. military landed. The residents were forced to congregate near a post of the Japanese military and waited for an order to kill themselves. Without an order from a military officer, no mass suicide could have happened,” Kinjo’s lawyers quoted him as saying during the closed session.

Kinjo also told supporters at a hotel in Naha after the hearing that, “Were it not for the Japanese military, mass deaths could not have occurred.”

According to the local history of Tokashiki Island and testimony from its residents, more than 300 people killed themselves and each other, using the grenades and farming tools as weapons. Kinjo has said he and his elder brother used rocks to kill their mother, sister and brother.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, appearing at a news conference in Naha, questioned Kinjo’s testimony.

“There are some questionable points,” the lawyer said. “For instance, Mr. Kinjo said the military handed out grenades to boys aged 17 or below, but Mr. Kinjo, who was then 16, was not given a grenade.”

The hearings are scheduled to conclude in December after Oe testifies in November. A ruling is expected by next spring.

The education ministry’s directive to rewrite textbooks has angered many Okinawa residents, including those who survived the battle, and the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly has twice adopted a unanimous statement demanding the ministry withdraw the instructions.

But the ministry has rebuffed such calls, saying it cannot change a policy that was drafted by a panel of experts.

Many survivors have said the Japanese military pressured locals to kill both themselves and those who were incapable of committing suicide by casting shame on the notion of being taken prisoner.