History text accuracy: Okinawa mass suicides

Controversy surrounds history textbooks all over the world. Texans may be a bit more sensitive to the issues while the Texas Education Agency is revising curricula, but others are even more sensitive – such as Turkey, where controversy over the Armenian Genocide threatens to derail Turkey’s 40-year project to join the European Union; Japan, where citizens and other nations protest failures to mention harms done to people by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II; and even Europe in general, where controversy surrounds efforts to find a unifying, Europe-wide culture.

History is important in our relations with other nations. With increasing globalization, it becomes ever more important that all citizens have basic understanding of their local history, their national history, and world history, if only to avoid the social faux pas in socializing with people from other nations.

The issue is hot in Japan right now. Okinawa, a formerly independent kingdom annexed by Japan in the 19th century (did you know that?), hosted the biggest protest demonstration the island prefecture has ever seen, earlier this month – a protest over the changing of a few words in Japanese school history texts, removing the responsibility for mass suicides on Okinawa from the Japanese Imperial Army.

A story in the New York Times describes the anguish felt by Okinawans:

Brainwashed by Japanese Imperial Army soldiers into believing that victorious American troops would rape all the local women and run over the men with their tanks, Mr. Kinjo and others in his village here in Okinawa thought that suicide was their only choice. A week before American troops landed and initiated the Battle of Okinawa in March 1945, Japanese soldiers stationed in his village gave the men two hand grenades each, with instructions to hurl one at the Americans and then to kill themselves with the other.

Most of the grenades failed to explode. After watching a former district chief break off a tree branch and use it to kill his wife and children, Mr. Kinjo and his older brother followed suit.

”My older brother and I struck to death the mother who had given birth to us,” Mr. Kinjo said in an interview at the Naha Central Church, where he is the senior minister. ”I was wailing of course. We also struck to death our younger brother and sister.”

Mr. Kinjo agreed to tell his story again because the Japanese government is now denying, in new high school textbooks, that Okinawans had been coerced by Imperial troops into committing mass suicide.

The proposed changes to the school textbooks — the deletion of a subject, the change to the passive voice — amounted to just a couple of words among hundreds of pages. But the seemingly minor grammatical alterations have led to swelling anger in the Okinawa islands in Japan, cresting recently in the biggest protest here in at least 35 years and stunning the Japanese government.

How should texts deal with such issues?

China and Korea also protested the rewrite. Hot button issues involve the Japanese invasion and taking of Nanking in 1937, generally known to western historians as “the rape of Nanking;” Japanese treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs), including the Bataan Death March in the Philippines, what amounted to slave labor using POWs in Japan, and Korean women impressed into service as prostitutes to the Japanese Army, at what are euphemistically called “comfort stations.”

Texas history standards writers may benefit from taking a look at some of these other controversies, in other places. These lessons can apply to Texas and U.S. history, where Anglo and European colonist treatment of aboriginal natives is certainly an issue, but also to subjects such as biology and the treatment of evolution, health and the treatment of preventing sexually-transmitted diseases, and environmental science, and the treatment of pollution and climate change issues.

3 Responses to History text accuracy: Okinawa mass suicides

  1. bernarda says:

    Another OT post, but this one is rather amusing and revealing. A Twilight Zone episode that predicts neocons. There is also a nice teacher in it.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks. I’ve been watching the Tuscola thing, but haven’t had time to write about it yet. I think there’s a problem with parents filing a criminal complaint — and I’m looking for the statute that makes it a crime to do that instead of following the regular chain of command.

    I hope I’m not confusing federal with state law.


  3. bernarda says:

    One subject that is avoided in American history is the invasion and occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Mark Twain was vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League and wrote and talked extensively against the occupation.

    Estimates of deaths of Filipinos go up to 1 million, which would be more than 10% of the population at the time. Incidentally, waterboarding was already used, as well as “strategic hamlets” and just general massacres of villagers.

    On an OT, a Texas school is distinguishing itself.

    “TUSCOLA, Texas – A popular English teacher has been placed on paid leave — and faces possible criminal charges — after a student’s parents complained to police that a ninth-grade class reading list contained a book about a murderer who has sex with his victims’ bodies.”


    Personally, I don’t think much of the writing of Cormac McCarthy, but that is not the issue.

    “Most parents say Tierce should be reinstated, regardless of whether the book is too graphic for teens.

    “He’s a great teacher and coach and motivates the kids like no one else can,” said Chris Garcia, whose daughter was in one of Tierce’s classes. “If you’re trying to protect your kids from things in books, you may as well turn off the TV and video games. You try to protect them as much as you can, but these days kids are just exposed to so much.””

    “”He was the only one who understood us,” said Patrisha Ramirez, 15. “He would joke around. He would make English interesting, for once.”

    In Tuscola, south of Abilene, “Child of God” was on a list of titles compiled by all of the high school English teachers for a pre-Advanced Placement class.”


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