Mark Selden: Compulsory Mass Suicide, the Battle of Okinawa, and Japan's Textbook Controversy

Roundup: Talking About History

For more than three decades, historical memory controversies have been fought over Japanese school textbook content in both the domestic and international arenas. In these controversies, Japanese textbook contents, which are subject to Ministry of Education examination and revision of content and language prior to approval for use in the public schools, repeatedly sparked denunciations by Chinese and Korean authorities and citizens with respect to such issues as the Nanjing Massacre, the comfort women, and coerced labor. In 2007, the most intense controversy has pitted the Ministry of Education against the residents and government of the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. The issue exploded in March 2007 with the announcement that all references to military coercion in the compulsory mass suicides (shudan jiketsu) of Okinawan residents during the Battle of Okinawa were to be eliminated. The announcement triggered a wave of anger across Okinawan society leading to the mass demonstration in Ginowan City of 110,000 Okinawans addressed by the top leadership of the Prefecture. It was the largest demonstration since the 1972 reversion of Okinawa, exceeding even the response to the 1995 rape of a twelve-year old Okinawan girl by three US GIs.

We present three articles that illuminate the controversy and the tragic events of the Battle of Okinawa, including both the Japanese originals and English translations. Aniya Masaaki, an Okinawan historian and emeritus professor of International University examines the issues of the Battle and the textbook controversy, showing how the Ministry of Education rejected the testimony of Okinawan witnesses in favor of two soldiers who filed a defamation suit against novelist Oe Kenzaburo for his work on the military-enforced mass suicides. An Okinawan Times editorial that follows provides a detailed examination of the hair-splitting language politics that lie behind the Ministry of Education’s rejection of the reference to military force in the compulsory group suicide that was imposed on Okinawan citizens, and its partial retreat in the face of citizen anger. Finally, the Asahi Shinbun’s editorial offers a judicious examination of the politics of attempt to censor the issue from the nation’s textbooks. Together, these articles cast a brilliant light on the fraught political manipulation of the textbooks examination system. ...

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