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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 from Tokyo.

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 own.

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 shameful.

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 roles.

Okinawans fought

U.S. domination

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 well.

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.