Source AP ©

Okinawa protests WWII history textbook amendment

The central government's order to modify school textbooks which say that the country's army forced civilians to commit mass suicide at the end of World War II led to massive protests by more than 110,000 people on Japan's southern island ofOkinawa.

Publishers of seven history textbooks were ordered earlier this year to modify sections that said the Japanese army - faced with an impending U.S. invasion in 1945 - handed out grenades to residents on Okinawa and ordered them to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Americans.

The amendment order came amid moves by Tokyo to soften brutal accounts of Japanese wartime conduct, but triggered immediate condemnation from residents and academics.

"We cannot bury the fact that the Japanese military was involved in the mass suicide, taking into account of the general background and testimonies that hand grenades were delivered," Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told a crowd gathered at a park in Ginowan City.

About 110,000 people - residents and politicians - attended the rally, and a total of 5,000 others took part in two other demonstrations on the island Saturday, said Yoshino Uetsu, one of the organizers.

New textbooks for use in Japanese schools must be screened and approved by a government-appointed panel, which can order corrections of perceived historical inaccuracies.

The publishers of the textbooks, slated for use in high schools next year, have been asked to make relevant changes and submit them for approval.

Accounts of forced group suicides on Okinawa are backed by historical research, as well as testimonies from victims' relatives. Historians also say civilians were induced by government propaganda to believe U.S. soldiers would commit horrible atrocities and therefore killed themselves and their families to avoid capture.

But in recent years, some academics have questioned whether the suicides were forced - part of a general push by Japanese conservatives to soften criticism of Tokyo's wartime conduct.

The bloody battle in Okinawa raged from late March through June 1945, leaving more than 200,000 civilians and soldiers dead, and speeding the collapse of Japan's defenses.

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