Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Kenzaburo Oe's protest against bad things done by Japanese soldiers in Okinawa at the eve of war's end has manifested itself in a court case he won a few days ago. This photo is NOT a regular file photo, and is the only one I've seen where the writer has white hair.

The Guardian covered the story on 28 March. The next day, The Japan Times got into the act.

An earlier story (10 November 2007) in the same newspaper marks his day giving testimony before judge Toshimasa Fukami.

Unrest in September on the island saw "a large rally", on Okinawa streets in response to government recalcitrance (The Guardian says "more than 100,000 people"), held

to protest ... instruction to authors and publishers of high school history textbooks to delete references to the military's role in coercing civilians to commit mass suicide and mass murder-suicide.

'Whitewash' is an ambiguous synonym for 'propaganda'. It is nowhere near as destructive as the reality, which in this case encouraged a 90-year-old to "file the suit against Oe and Iwanami Shoten Publishers in August 2005". The implication is that recent government drum-thumping encouraged the men to sue for 20 million yen in damages.

Yutaka Umezawa (joined later by his brother Hidekazu Akamatsu) said that Oe's 1970 essay implied "that he could be regarded as inhumane". They also wanted the essay's publication to be "halted". Odd, this, considering it's been in print for three decades!

Jitsuho Murata hailed the March win as a "defeat for the (Imperial) military". Murata "represents a group of elderly islanders", the newspaper says.

The plaintiffs say they will appeal the ruling in the Osaka Supreme Court. In any case, the fight is clearly not yet won:

Education minister Kisaburo Tokai asked his advisory body to consider requests from textbook publishers to reinstate references to the Japanese military's role in forcing the mass civilian suicides and murder-suicides during the Battle of Okinawa.

The Textbook Authorization Council will rescreen the requests, which were filed by five textbook publishers.

In the initial screening process, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology instructed the publishers to delete references to the military's role in the mass suicides from high school textbooks on Japanese history for the 2008 academic year starting next April. The five publishers followed the instruction and revised seven textbooks.

Textbooks cannot be used unless they clear the ministry's screening process.

Oe's victory means little if children do not learn about how their forefathers behaved (pretty much uniformly barbarously) in the first half of last century. Now, there are individuals intent on retaining hold on a truth they themselves contributed to, like old man Murata

himself a second lieutenant in the Imperial army, was on duty away from the island when his family committed murder-suicide with a hand grenade provided by the Japanese military. His younger sister was killed instantly, while his mother died slowly over months due to the wounds she suffered, according to Murata.

Oe said, charmingly (self-effacement in the presence of authority is part of 'Japanese culture', we're told):

"I felt strongly that the judge accurately read my Okinawa Notes to hand down the ruling," he said. "I was most strongly impressed by that."

Nevertheless, reading the judge's comments we see plenty of latitude for equivocation. He said it was "fully presumable" and "there are reasons to believe" that soldiers encouraged islanders to commit suicide.

"It cannot be determined if the former garrison commander and others issued the order by themselves, but Mr. Oe has an adequate reason to believe so," the judge said.

"It can be said the military was deeply involved in the mass suicides," he said.

"It is reasonable to say the book presented rational resources and evidence, though we cannot determine whether the two [plaintiffs] were the ones who issued the suicide orders as described in the book," he found.

Unlike The Japan Times, The Guardian reports that "Accused of trying to whitewash Japan's wartime history, the Education Ministry soon afterwards agreed to restore to textbooks accounts of the military's involvement in the suicides."

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