National

Military ‘forced’ Okinawa mass suicides

Expert defies ministry to go public with criticism of textbook revisions

Kyodo News

Researchers of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa agree that the Imperial army “forced and steered” civilians to commit mass suicide during the only full-scale ground battle in Japan during World War II, an authority on modern Japanese history said Tuesday.

Hirofumi Hayashi, a professor at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama, said he conveyed the view in a statement handed to the government’s textbook-screening panel, which is considering requests by publishers to reinstate references about the military’s role in forcing civilians to commit suicide, in some cases involving children, invalids and the elderly.

Hayashi said he responded to a request from the Textbook Authorization Council, which advises the education minister, and had asked a number of researchers on the battle to file their opinions.

Opinions from researchers, including Hayashi, will be used in screening requests from six textbook publishers to reinstate references about the military’s coercive role in ordering mass suicides and mass murder-suicides, government sources said.

In the statement to the panel, Hayashi said, “The question is not whether there was an order from the military but the process that resulted in driving Okinawa residents to commit mass suicide. The residents committed suicide effectively under the military’s orders,” he said.

Hayashi criticized the Textbook Authorization Council for “distorting and misusing” passages from his work on the Battle of Okinawa, published in 2001, in urging textbook publishers to change references on the military’s role.

In the book, Hayashi writes, “the Japanese military did not directly order the residents on (Okinawa’s Zamami Island) to commit suicide.”

Hayashi said he rejected the education ministry’s request not to make public his statement to the media before the textbook panel comes to a conclusion.

He said he decided to air his statement because secret screening is one of the major causes behind the uproar over history textbooks.

Education Minister Kisaburo Tokai told a news conference Tuesday he will refrain from commenting to help the textbook panel conduct its work in a calm atmosphere.

In the initial screening process, the ministry instructed publishers to delete references to the military’s role from high school textbooks on Japanese history to be used in the 2008 academic year starting next April. The publishers complied and revised the books.

But the ministry’s instruction sparked a huge outcry in Okinawa. A rally was held in September in Ginowan, just northeast of the prefectural capital Naha, demanding that the ministry retract the instruction and that the textbooks be restored to their original wording.

Organizers put the number of protesters at about 110,000. It was the largest rally in Okinawa since its reversion to Japan from the United States in 1972.

Amid rising protests from the prefecture, the education minister said in October that applications to modify the textbooks would be referred to the council for further screening.

Earlier this month, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe testified in court that he believes an order from the Japanese military led to the mass suicides. “I believe there was an order from the military,” Oe, 72, told the Osaka District Court.

Hayashi is known for his research on the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese atrocities in Southeast Asia and the military’s use of sex slaves, who are euphemistically known in Japan as “comfort women.”