Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Okinawans slam denial of coerced wartime suicides

While previous revisions have angered its neighbors, the government's whitewashing of the past is now fueling outrage in Japan

By Norimitsu Onishi  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , GINOWAN, JAPAN

The Reverend Shigeaki Kinjo, 78 years old and in failing health, no longer wanted to talk about that fateful day 62 years ago toward the end of World War II when he beat to death his mother, younger brother and sister.

Brainwashed by Japanese Imperial Army soldiers into believing that victorious US troops would rape all the local women and run over the men with their tanks, Kinjo and others in his village here in Okinawa thought that death was their only choice. A week before US troops landed and initiated the Battle of Okinawa in March 1945, Japanese soldiers stationed in his village gave the men two hand grenades each, with instructions to hurl one at the Americans and then to kill themselves with the other.

Most of the grenades failed to explode. After watching a former district chief break off a tree branch and use it to kill his wife and children, Kinjo and his older brother followed suit.

"My older brother and I struck to death the mother who had given birth to us," Kinjo said in an interview at the Naha Central Church, where he is the senior minister. "I was wailing, of course. We also struck to death our younger brother and sister."

Kinjo agreed to tell his story again because the Japanese government is now denying, in new high school textbooks, that Okinawans had been coerced by imperial troops into committing mass suicide.

The proposed changes -- the deletion of a subject, the change to the passive voice -- amounted to just a couple of words among hundreds of pages. But the seemingly minor grammatical alterations have led to swelling anger in the Okinawa islands in Japan, cresting recently in the biggest protest here in at least 35 years and stunning the Japanese government.

For the past quarter-century, Japan's high school textbooks had included the accepted historical fact that that Okinawans had been coerced into mass suicides by Imperial Army soldiers.

But six months ago, the Education Ministry said that next year's government-endorsed textbooks would eliminate all references to Japan's soldiers. According to the revised passages, the Okinawans simply committed mass suicide or felt compelled to do so. But by whom?

"If Japanese soldiers had not been there, the mass suicides would never have occurred," said Kinjo, who said he decided not to kill himself after he saw that Japanese soldiers were not committing suicide.

The ministry said that it "is not clear that the Japanese army coerced or ordered the mass suicides," but cited no fresh evidence to explain its change in policy.

The announcement came a few months after the Japanese government passed a new law emphasizing "patriotism" in public schools.

In fact, for at least the past decade, nationalist scholars and politicians, including former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, had fought to cleanse textbooks of passages on crimes committed by Japanese soldiers. If the deletion of passages on wartime sex slaves or massacres angered Asian nations in recent years, this was the first time that the government's whitewashing of the past had caused this kind of anger in Japan.

The uproar presents a serious challenge for the new government of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who needs Okinawa's consent to carry out the reconfiguration of US military bases here. A moderate, Fukuda has signaled that he is seeking a compromise on the new textbooks, which are scheduled to go to the publishers next month and be introduced into classrooms with the start of the new school year in April.

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