On the eve of the American invasion of this subtropical island 62 years ago, Haruko Miyahira heard her elder brother, Seishu, tell their father about an order from the Japanese military.
"My brother, who was then deputy mayor, told our father that US troops were about to land on the island, and said to him, 'We were ordered from the military to kill ourselves. Let's die together with good grace!'" Ms. Miyahira recalls.
Many older islanders like Miyahira recall the warnings from the Imperial Army that American soldiers, closing in on Japan at the end of World War II, would treat captured women and men brutally. Civilians were told to kill themselves rather than surrender. Then, they were each given two grenades and instructed to hurl one at the Americans and blow themselves up with the other.
"It was hammered into us by the military and wartime indoctrination," says Kaoru Miyazato, another islander who says he lost many relatives in the suicides. "The Japanese military kept a firm grip on the village office."
The history of coerced suicides during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the bloodiest of the Pacific war, is familiar to every Japanese high school student from nationally approved textbooks. But that could change: this past spring the government said that it had ordered textbook revisions to indicate that some Okinawans committed suicide or were forced to commit mass suicide, but not 'by whom.'
Official accounts of Japan's wartime history have long been a source of deep contention in the region. China and Korea say that Japan has never been willing to confront its brutal behavior in World War II, denying or soft-peddling such events as the Nanjing Massacre in China or forcing women into sex slavery (comfort women) for Japanese soldiers.
"They want to recover the reputations of the Imperial Army by downplaying 'comfort women,' the Nanjing Massacre and Okinawa's mass suicides," says Yoshifumi Tawara, general secretary of Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21, a Tokyo-based civic group. "To make Japan wage war once again, they need to establish the illusion that the military protects civilians."
Last week, 170 Okinawans, including the chairman of the assembly, local authorities, and civic group leaders, went to Tokyo, demanding that the textbook revisions be revoked. Their trip followed protests last month that brought over 110,000 to a rally in Ginowan, the largest since Okinawa reverted to Japan in 1972.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has said he will seek a compromise on the revisions, which are to appear in textbooks at the start of the new school year in April. …