116,000 Okinawans protest revision of Japanese textbooks
Published Oct 22, 2007 12:04 AM
More than 110,000 Okinawans joined in a rally on Sept. 30 in the city of
Ginowan, near Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, and there were two smaller
demonstrations elsewhere on the island to protest new pro-military proposals
The protests are a response to the proposals by Japan’s Education
Ministry to delete all references to Japanese soldiers in connection with mass
suicides in Okinawa during World War II. The Okinawans contend that it was the
soldiers’ role that compelled thousands of Okinawans to kill themselves
or in some cases take the lives of their loved ones before taking their
Okinawa, which lies about 400 miles south of the main Japanese islands, has its
own national identity. Its relationship to Japan has similarities to Puerto
Rico’s relationship to the United States.
The Okinawan people have a proud history of protest and struggle against U.S.
imperialism and against Tokyo. They will not allow the truth to be rewritten by
militaristic politicians such as the former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo
Abe. The elders of the Okinawan community have begun
to tell their stories of horror and shame.
During the war between Japanese imperialism and U.S. imperialism, the Japanese
Imperial Army pushed Okinawans out of caves and other shelters and used them as
human shields during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. In addition, many people from
the island have testified that Japanese soldiers used various means to pressure
Okinawans to commit suicide just prior to the arrival of the U.S. forces. This
history is so highly accepted that it has been in high school textbooks for at
least 25 years. The combined loss of life, about 120,000 Okinawans, was about
one-quarter of the population.
Japanese soldiers supplied many Okinawans with hand grenades with which they
were to kill themselves. Japanese troops ordered the residents to die rather
than surrender to the U.S. troops and told them that to be captured would be
The Japanese military did not trust the Okinawans and feared they would act as
spies for the U.S.
Japanese imperialism’s attempts to cover up its military past by deleting
passages about wartime sex slaves and massacres have met with outcries from
other Asian communities. The protest in Okinawa is the first massive protest
from within the areas controlled by the Japanese state. After being ruled by
the U.S. since World War II, Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan in 1972, a
move that Okinawans hoped would reduce the number of military bases.
This has not been the case. Okinawa, with less than 1 percent of Japan’s
land mass, hosts 75 percent of the U.S. bases.
Okinawa was an independent kingdom until it was conquered by Japan in the late
19th century. Karate (kara, meaning empty; te, meaning hand) was developed in
Okinawa after the Japanese had divested the local population of their swords,
knives and other weapons. Okinawa continues to have its own language and its
own culture. Whereas in the traditional forms of theater in Japan men play all
the roles, in Okinawa there is a theater tradition in which women play all the
Following the capture of Okinawa by the U.S. in 1945, the Okinawans have
struggled continuously for national independence and the removal of the bases
from their islands. In the 1950s a communist mayor was elected in one of the
towns and the U.S. authorities quickly replaced him.
In August 1965, some 150,000 people rallied to protest using Okinawa as a
launching pad for the U.S. war against Vietnam. The rally’s leaders
demanded that U.S. nuclear warheads be removed from the island. Demonstrators
fought with the police.
In 1969 a series of protests and general strikes culminated in a mass uprising
when an Okinawan woman was killed in a car accident by a U.S. serviceman.
Eighty-two American cars were burned and buildings on the bases were torched as
In 1995, some 85,000 demonstrators protested the rape and beating of a
12-year-old girl by two U.S. Marines and a sailor. The governor of Okinawa also
threatened to have 2,900 Okinawans refuse to renew their contract with 13 U.S.
facilities. The strength of the protest forced the military authorities to turn
the GIs over to the Okinawan legal authorities. The U.S. Marines also agreed to
suspend training for one full day and use the day to reflect on “the
alleged rape incident and reflect on and renew their awareness of their
obligations to the local community.”
From Okinawa to Vieques to the Philippines to Korea, the people will not be
satisfied until the U.S. military bases are gone. U.S. out of everywhere!
Sharon Danann was a civilian organizer in the GI movement in Okinawa during
the Vietnam War.
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