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. …