ITOMAN, Okinawa Pref. – Okinawa Prefecture marked on Saturday the 62nd anniversary of the end of the World War II battle that bears its name, in which more than 200,000 people died, including civilians in mass suicides.
The anniversary came a day after the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly urged the central government to retract its instruction to publishers to play down in history textbooks the Japanese military’s role in the mass suicides. Many Okinawans, including war survivors, see the policy as an attempt to gloss over the reality of the battle.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said in a message, “It is our crucial responsibility” to hand down lessons from the war to future generations and to “take a square look at the reality in the international community that terrorism and ethnic conflicts never end, to foster a peace-wishing mind to make sure that the calamities of war never happen again and to try to create lasting peace in the world.”
Nakaima also said in a peace declaration at a memorial ceremony, “Needless to say the problems of U.S. military bases must be settled in a way people in Okinawa can accept, and it is our task to create the economic basis on which people can live free from anxiety, and to raise cultural vitality.”
The ceremony, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended, was held at the Peace Memorial Park on a seaside hill in the city of Itoman in the southern part of Okinawa Island, where Japanese soldiers and civilian islanders held out against U.S. soldiers during the war.
“We must certainly reduce the burden on Okinawa of U.S. military facilities,” Abe told about 4,500 people at the ceremony held under a scorching sun. “We will listen to the fervent voice of people in Okinawa and push the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan in a steady manner.”
The focal point of the realignment is a planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to Nago on the island. Some local people oppose the plan, saying the base should be moved outside the prefecture.
Okinawa was the only inhabited part of Japan to see ground fighting during the war. It is now a popular tourist destination while also hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, the top commander of the U.S. military in Okinawa, also attended the ceremony. He is the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa.
People related to U.S. and Korean victims of the battle held small memorials in the Cornerstone of Peace area, where there are a number of black granite tablets inscribed with the names of the victims.
More than a quarter of the 450,000 inhabitants of Okinawa perished in the battle. Some civilians killed themselves using hand grenades. Many survivors say they were forced to do so or were talked into doing so by Japanese soldiers due partly to fears over intelligence leaks. In addition, being a prisoner of war was considered shameful in Japan at the time.
In March, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry told publishers of high school history textbooks to reword phrases indicating that force or persuasion by the military was behind the mass suicides of civilians in editions to be used from the 2008 academic year.
“I believe there were orders from the military in the mass suicides,” said a 70-year-old retired local government worker from the city of Nanjo. “It goes against the times (for the education ministry) to eliminate the descriptions” of the military involvement in textbooks, said the man, who was visiting the peace memorial park.
“You cannot distort the truth. I cannot stand some powerful people making decisions to delete the textbook references without listening to us,” said a 67-year-old man from Ginowan.
Abe, speaking to reporters after the ceremony, declined to go into details on the issue, merely saying that a relevant educational council “has examined the issue from an academic viewpoint.”
The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, including members of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, adopted an opinion letter Friday unanimously urging the ministry to rescind the advice.
As of Saturday, the names of 235 people, including five South Koreans, were added to inscriptions on the tablets in the park, bringing the total number of Okinawa war dead to 240,609.
Okinawa remained under U.S. occupation after the war until it was returned to Japan in 1972.