Okinawans urge textbook "truth" on WW2 suicides

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TOKYO, Oct 3 (Reuters) Days after a huge rally on Okinawa, the governor of the southern Japanese island today that the government restore schoolbook references to the army forcing civilians to commit suicide there in 1945.

Hirokazu Nakaima and other local leaders met Education Minister Kisaburo Tokai in Tokyo, after textbook changes sparked a furious 110,000-strong rally in Okinawa at the weekend, which organisers said was the biggest ever on the island.

The 1945 Battle of Okinawa, known as the ''Typhoon of Steel'', left about 200,000 dead. Many Okinawan civilians committed suicide rather than surrender to the Americans, by some eyewitness accounts on the orders of Japanese soldiers.

Conservative historians dispute these accounts, saying the suicides were voluntary.

The education ministry ordered that references to military involvement in the deaths be cut from high school textbooks in March, a move that sparked fury in Okinawa and prompted local assemblies to pass resolutions condemning the changes.

''It is an indisputable fact that the mass suicides during the Battle of Okinawa could not have taken place without the involvement of the Japanese military,'' Toshinobu Nakasato, the speaker of the Okinawa assembly, told Tokai.

''The people of Okinawa can in no way tolerate these changes and cuts,'' he added, reading from a resolution backed by participants at the rally.

PATRIOTIC AGENDA? Tokai told them he would see whether local people's opinions could be taken into account.

References to military involvement were removed under previous Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose vision of a ''Beautiful Country'' including teaching patriotism in schools and escaping what he called a masochistic postwar view of Japan's past.

He stirred anger in Asia this year by saying the military and government did not coerce Asian women into sexual slavery for Japanese troops before and during World War Two, although he later apologised to the victims.

Critics accuse the government of introducing a political bias into textbooks.

''I believe the government's perspective on history led to the removal of the information on involvement of the military in the mass suicides,'' Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party said yesterday.

The Democrats and their opposition allies are considering submitting a motion to parliament condemning the revisions.

Abe's successor, Yasuo Fukuda, a 71-year-old moderate, has said he understands the feelings of the Okinawan people on the textbook issue and Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura has ordered the Education Ministry to review the revisions.

But the government is concerned that bowing to the demands of Okinawa could open the floodgates to requests from other parts of Asia, the Yomiuri Shimbun said today.

History books that critics say skate over Japan's past misdeeds have sparked rows with China and South Korea, where many suffered under Japanese invasion and occupation in the early 20th century.

The conservative press were infuriated by the government's largely sympathetic attitude.

''History textbooks must be written entirely based on historical facts,'' the Yomiuri said in an editorial. ''Their contents should not be rewritten just to avoid hurting people's feelings,'' it added, calling Machimura's reponse ''unreasonable.'' The debate over what constitutes the truth looks set to continue.

''Are you saying our grandmas and grandpas are lying?'' said a message read by two students at Saturday's demonstration.

''Even if it is ugly, we want to know the truth, we want to learn the truth and pass it on,'' said another pair of students.

REUTERS SG BST1308

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