The Supreme Court said Friday it has finalized the judgment in favor of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe in a libel suit filed against him and his publisher for writing in a 1970 book of essays that the Japanese military forced civilians to kill themselves and others en masse during the Battle of Okinawa.
In its Thursday ruling, the court turned down an appeal from two plaintiffs who claimed in the 2005 suit that Oe’s depiction disgraces two garrison commanders they represent and sought an injunction to block further printing of the book.
But the top court’s five-justice First Petty Bench did not touch on whether the military issued an order for civilians to commit mass suicide, unlike lower courts that found the military was involved and thus adjudged Oe’s descriptions as not defamatory.
The plaintiffs are Yutaka Umezawa, 94, the former military garrison commander on Zamami Island in Okinawa, and a younger brother of the late Yoshitsugu Akamatsu, who was the garrison commander on nearby Tokashiki Island.
Justice Yu Shiraki, who presided over the trial, said the plaintiffs discussed only factual errors and violations of the law that do not satisfy the requirements for an appeal to the Supreme Court, such as a violation of the Constitution.
The plaintiffs filed the suit against Oe, 76, and Iwanami Shoten Publishers in August 2005, seeking to halt the publication of his book of essays “Okinawa Notes,” which they claim “wrongly” states that the garrison officers ordered civilians to commit mass suicide on the two islands.
Studies estimate that about 600 to 700 residents killed themselves, and others, by detonating grenades distributed by the military or clubbing each other with spades and sticks around March 25 to 28 during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
In “Okinawa Notes,” Oe, quoting a third-party publication on the battle, states that the tragedy stemmed from military orders urging civilians to commit mass murder-suicide so as not to hamper Japanese troops fighting U.S. forces and also to ensure troops had enough food.
In March 2008, the Osaka District Court rejected the suit, ruling the Imperial army was deeply involved in the civilian killings, a decision upheld seven months later by the Osaka High Court.