The Japanese government’s attempts to revise history textbooks to suggest Okinawan civilians were not butchered or forced into committing suicide by the Imperial Army to keep them out of American hands has run up against near unanimous opposition from Okinawans, surveys reveal.
The main historical issue in question is regarding the massacres of Japanese (Okinawan) civilians by the Japanese Imperial Army towards the end of the Battle of Okinawa, the successful but costly invasion of the islands by US forces towards the end of WWII.
The traditional historical account, favoured by virtually all international historians and Okinawans, is that the Japanese army forced civilians to commit mass suicide, often directly ordering them to kill themselves and their families, and in all cases insisting they would be massacred by US forces if captured.
Japanese army units are accused of treating the civilian populace with brutal contempt even prior to their complete defeat, and abundant eye witness testimony from both Japanese and American sources generally convinces all but the most staunch revisionists.
That the invasion resulted in the death of some 150,000 Okinawan civilians, and over 100,000 Japanese soldiers is not seriously disputed.
Textbooks describing the events of the battle previously described the massacres as being the result of “日本軍の強制”, “compulsion by the Japanese military”, but in recent years a sustained effort by the ministry of education has seen efforts to force all textbooks to describe the civilian deaths as being “集団自決”, “mass suicides”.
The consensus amongst Okinawans appears to be that this is completely unacceptable.
In a survey of a thousand students from five of the archipelago’s universities, 99.4% felt that it was “important” to learn about the battle, and 86% knew about the massacres of civilians by the armed forces of Japan.
84% gave as a reason for the mass suicides the fact that “they were forced into killing themselves by the military government’s refusal to countenance surrender to the American forces”, whilst 4.4% gave the pathetic response that “they sacrificed their lives for their country, dying a beautiful death.” The rest did not know or gave other responses.
90% of participants were aware that the “army compulsion” account had been removed from textbooks, with 81% saying this was “not right,” and a mere 2.8% saying it was “right.”
However, in similar surveys conducted in the rest of Japan, 8% said the butchered Okinawan civilians died a “beautiful death”, and only 66% disapproved of the revision of the textbooks.
Okinawa, along with Hiroshima, are generally some of the most extreme advocates of Japan’s staunch pacifism, so such results are not entirely surprising.
The issue is made all the more sensitive by the strong independent cultural identity Okinawa enjoys, having only been formally annexed to Japan for 150 years, prior to which it enjoyed quasi-independence.
There is also a strong independence movement in Okinawa, which does not generally see eye to eye with Tokyo on historical matters, and none of this is helped by the relative poverty of the islands, and the stressful concentration of US forces there.
Of course, if 2ch is to be believed the noble Imperial Army was merely clearing up treacherous spies…