Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Japan still agonizing over World War II

In an indication that Japanese revisionism is alive and well, the education ministry recently ordered publishers of school textbooks to remove references to forced suicides in Okinawa

By Justin McCurry  /  THE GUARDIAN , TOKYO

Choho Zukeran was a schoolboy, mobilized to dig beachfront trenches, when US soldiers landed on his native Okinawa, sparking one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Over the next few weeks, some 200,000 Japanese and Americans would die, including more than a quarter of Okinawa's civilian population. Some died in the invasion, but many more killed themselves -- on the orders of the army that was supposed to be protecting them.

"The army had given us two grenades each. They told us to hurl the first one at the enemy and to use the second one to kill ourselves," Zukeran said from his home in Okinawa, a subtropical island 1,600km southwest of Tokyo.

Whole families and communities committed suicide together.

Yet if the government in Tokyo gets its way, Japanese children may never learn how thousands of Okinawa residents, under direct or indirect pressure from the military, took their own lives.

This year the education ministry ordered publishers of seven high-school textbooks to be introduced next April to remove references to the forced suicides. The ministry said "it was not clear there were military orders [to commit suicide]" and that "recent studies suggest there were no such orders."

The demand is part of a growing movement to sanitize -- or simply ignore -- the darkest episodes in modern Japanese history, which have gathered pace under one of the most conservative governments of recent decades, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A long simmering row over the 1937 massacre of tens of thousands of Chinese civilians in Nanking by Japanese forces has been reignited by renewed efforts to play down the carnage.

Last month about 130 Japanese MPs denounced the massacre as a Chinese fabrication and claimed the death toll was nearer 20,000. Several films marking the 70th anniversary are due for release this year, including one by the rightwing director Satoru Mizushima which describes the episode as a myth.

Other attempts by the Japanese right to rectify Japan's "masochistic" view of its own history have set it on a diplomatic collision course with its closest ally, the US.

Last month a congressional committee passed a resolution calling on Japan to acknowledge and apologize for forcing an estimated 200,000 mainly Chinese and Korean women to work in frontline brothels -- the so-called "comfort women." Abe caused uproar when he denied the women had been coerced, and was forced to reiterate his support for an informal 1993 apology issued by the then parliament speaker.

Hiromichi Moteki, secretary-general of the rightwing Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, denies Japan's current obsession with reinterpreting the past is politically motivated.

"We are now able to look again at our history now that the facts have come to light," he said. "We have been listening to the left's fabrications for years, but now we have the truth in front of us."

The drive extends to the rehabilitation of wartime politicians closely associated with militarism. Yuko Tojo, whose grandfather, Hideki Tojo, was prime minister during the war and was hanged as a war criminal in 1948, says clearing her grandfather's name is part of a mission to restore "pride and confidence."

"There is no need to apologize to anyone -- our ancestors are not guilty of the crimes of which they have been accused," said Tojo, 68, who is running as an independent in elections. "If my grandfather is to be blamed for anything, it is not that he started the war but that we lost it."

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