Okinawans: Were they pushed, or did they jump?
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 29, 2007
IT WASN’T THE ORIGINAL PLAN, but this has turned out to be interview week at Ampontan. I’ve got several different posts underway, but keep getting interrupted by other good stories.
Today in Okinawa Prefecture, citizens will hold a rally protesting the decision by the Japanese Ministry of Education to remove a section from textbooks stating that the mass suicides of civilians during the Battle of Okinawa at the end of the Second World War resulted from “military coercion”.
We already know without being told what narrative the world’s media will adopt for this story—resurgent Japanese nationalism and militarism, denial of brutal behavior, failure to come to terms with the war, and–one suspects–a failure to recognize one’s place and stay in it.
Hidden behind this narrative is a different picture of Japan, and one that is all the more compelling because it is the truth—the Japanese conduct the most robust and wide-ranging debate on the planet about their role and behavior in the Pacific War, and always have.
The Japanese media, regardless of their political orientation, will sometimes present the other side of the story. In the Nishinippon Shimbun this morning, I read an article on the rally that went into detail about the textbook controversy and military involvement in civilian suicides.
In other words, none of this information is hidden in Japan. All anyone has to do is pick up a newspaper.
Next to the article was an interview with Toru Oto, a member of the Okinawan prefectural assembly. (On the left in the photo, in good company) How could anyone in Okinawa support the government’s position? You’re about to find out.
As with the other translations this week, this one was uncredited and not on line.
The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly has twice adopted unanimous resolutions calling for the restoration of passages in school textbooks stating that the Japanese military compelled the mass suicides of Okinawan civilians during the Battle of Okinawa, which had been removed from the textbooks during the Ministry of Education’s certification process. Why are you opposed to those resolutions?
Several municipal assemblies adopted the same resolutions, and there were increasing calls within the prefectural assembly for our own resolution. The opposition parties wanted it written into the resolution that the mass suicides occurred due to “military orders or coercion”. I was opposed, however, and one reason is that a court case on this issue is pending. Opinion was divided even in the Liberal Democratic Party. In the end, they settled on the expression, “military involvement”. When the second resolution was adopted, I left the chamber.
The pending court case is the lawsuit in Osaka in which the family of the former Japanese commander of the military forces on the Kerama Islands (next to the main Okinawan island) is suing (author) Kenzaburo Oe and publisher Iwanami Shoten, claiming there were no military orders. They are seeking to prevent Oe and Iwanami from publishing the book. It is odd for the assembly, a legislative body, to politically intervene in an issue that is being contested under civil law.
If there were no military orders, why were there mass suicides?
Before the Battle of Okinawa, during the Battle of Saipan (where many people from Okinawa had moved), residents of the island committed suicide after the American military landed by jumping off a site they called Banzai Cliff. The newspapers incited this occurrence by referring to them as “magnificent Japanese” (rippa na nihonjin). The residents of Okinawa at that time had a strong fear of being taken prisoner. People in the upper levels of the local Okinawan government likely cooperated with the military. I wonder about the idea of blaming everything on the military without questioning the beliefs held by Japanese at that time.
The citizens of Okinawa have filed an objection seeking the restoration of the expression “military coercion”, and the movement has spread throughout the prefecture. As a backdrop to this, what about the deep-seated hatred of the Japanese military, which persecuted the residents during the Battle of Okinawa by either killing them or confiscating their food supplies?
Yes, that exists, but today in Okinawa this has become a political issue rather than a historical issue. Public opinion was manufactured by a series of reports in a media campaign, and as a result those who do not criticize the Education Ministry or the Japanese military are branded as being “anti-prefecture citizens” (hikenmin). The conditions are the same as before the war, when there was no freedom of speech. Even Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who was initially hesitant about joining the rally, was unable to turn them down.
What effect will the certification issue have on Okinawan society?
A considerable number of prefectural citizens are under the mistaken impression that the Education Ministry eliminated the textbooks’ references to mass suicide altogether. Even some of my supporters have asked me, “There were mass suicides, weren’t there?” The mass media have changed the points of the debate to manipulate public opinion.
Both the special attack squadron at Chiran (kamikaze pilots at their base in Kagoshima) and the battleship Yamato were thrown into the final battle, (because it was known that) if Okinawa fell, it was over for the main islands as well. But high school students believe that Okinawa was abandoned like some rock, or that it was sacrificed for the sake of the main islands, because that’s all they’re taught. As a result, the certification issue has increased the animosity of the prefectural citizens toward the military, the government, and the main islands.
Everyone has an agenda. Here’s a look at the agendas of some of those involved in this story.
Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994. A far-left intellectual in the mold of Susan Sontag or Noam Chomsky, he was heavily influenced by Sartre, met Chairman Mao at the age of 25, defends Kim Jong-il, and works for the preservation of Article 9, the peace clause, in the Japanese Constitution. The author of this piece does not care for his recent behavior. For contrast, here is an interview with Mr. Oe in the Virginia Quarterly Review. This is what he says near the end:
In China a new nationalism is being born specifically in opposition to Japan, and if we Japanese create a new nationalism of our own it will be the biggest danger in Asia and—ultimately—in the world.
Mr. Oto, 55, is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party and in his third term in the Okinawa Prefecture assembly. He also served on the Okinawa City Council.
Mr. Oto has a blog in Japanese, which you can read here. He seems to be a bit behind in his posting.
Here is an article on the Oe/Iwanami suit that appeared in the People’s Daily of China.
The Japan Times ran an op-ed that encourages the Okinawans to portray themselves as victims:
All Okinawans agree that people would have never killed their loved ones if it had not been for the Japanese military’s involvement (orders, pressure, inducement, indoctrination, etc.)
In other words, “the devil made me do it”.
Incidentally, the op-ed fails to mention that former Prime Minister Abe, the devil’s disciple, came to Okinawa this spring twice to campaign for the LDP candidate in an election to fill an upper house seat. It does mention that the LDP candidate won. Everyone in Japan knew Mr. Abe’s agenda from the day he took office, including the people of Okinawa.
Some Okinawans do not need encouragement to claim victimization, as this article in the American military newspaper Stars and Stripes shows:
“Besides the issuing of hand grenades, what else do you need to prove the army was responsible for the mass suicides?” asked Kosei Yonemura, 77…“The residents in Zamami were driven to commit mass suicide,” he said. “The cause of the tragedy was militarism and nationalistic education.”
Regardless of where the truth lies, it is certain that Mr. Oto makes some valid points. Every time and place has its prevailing emotional climate. There is no question that what seemed to some like the right thing to do in Okinawa then and the mood in Okinawa today are as different as a tortoise and the moon, as the Japanese would say. There is also no question that this dispute has become political (and driven by contemporary emotional urges), rather than historical.
It is telling that few of the survivors’ stories are of actual compulsion–they seem much more like stories of active encouragement. That would be congruent with the emotional climate in the country as a whole at the time, and not a phenomenon unique to the Battle of Okinawa. It is easy to imagine the continuous reenactment of those incidents throughout the Japanese archipelago, starting in Kagoshima–had it not been for the atomic bomb.
That brings us to the confluence of several agendas, some of which people would realize are contradictory, if they were to conduct a rigorous self-examination (hansei). Most people choose to avoid that option, however, regardless of the situation. It would deprive them of the opportunity for their turn on stage as the hero or as the victim. Or both.
At that point, the entire issue transcends the war, Okinawa, and Japan today to become a metaphor for sociopolitical debate in our time and how people choose to participate in it.
That’s why–unfortunately–the issue today isn’t so much about the war but about how people want to emotionally perceive it, and be perceived as perceiving it.
And that brings us very close to an environment of sound and fury, signifying nothing.