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Okinawa furious at Japan's war suicide revision

TOKYO (Reuters) - Lawmakers from Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, site of one of World War Two’s bloodiest battles, blasted a government decision to tone down textbook accounts of soldiers ordering civilians to commit suicide.

Akio Maejima (3rd R), a lawmaker from Japan's southern island of Okinawa, hands a statement over to an education ministry official in Tokyo June 22, 2007. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Friday’s resolution urging the government to scrap the textbook revision comes a day before the anniversary of the end of the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, a “Typhoon of Steel” that left some 200,000 dead -- soldiers, civilians, Japanese and Americans.

Many Okinawan civilians, often entire families, committed suicide rather than surrender to Americans, by some eyewitness accounts on the orders of fanatical Japanese soldiers.

Some conservative Japanese historians -- also eager to revise descriptions of wartime atrocities in China and other parts of Asia -- have called into question the eyewitness accounts, arguing the suicides were voluntary.

In March, the education ministry ordered publishers of high school textbooks to modify their descriptions of the suicides. The step outraged many Okinawa residents.

“It is an undeniable fact that mass suicides could not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military,” the Okinawa assembly said in a statement that was presented in person to the education ministry in Tokyo later on Friday.

“We strongly call on the government to retract its instruction and immediately restore the description in the textbooks so the truth of the Battle of Okinawa will be correctly conveyed and such a tragic war will never happen again.”

The statement followed similar ones by town, village and city assemblies throughout the island and a campaign by civic groups to collect signatures opposing the ministry move.

“The great majority of people were furious at the instruction,” an Okinawa assembly official said by phone.

The textbook revisions mirror other efforts by conservatives to revise descriptions of Japan’s wartime actions, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s denial that the military or government hauled women away to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers before and during World War Two.

Abe has repeated his backing for a 1993 apology to the “comfort women”, as they are known in Japan.

But a U.S. Congressional committee is set to approve a non-binding resolution next week seeking a clearer apology from Japan, and support for the demand is growing in the full chamber.

Earlier this week, a group of Japanese ruling party lawmakers denounced the 1937 Nanjing Massacre as a fabrication, contesting Chinese claims that Japanese soldiers killed hundreds of thousands after seizing the Chinese city in 1937.