Review of school textbooks – greater transparency needed

April 4, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has announced the results of screening of junior high school history textbooks to be used from the 2012 academic year. However, doubts remain as to whether the content adequately covers the minimum facts that should be conveyed to next generation.

With regard to the Battle of Okinawa, all the seven companies that applied to publish textbooks made mention of “group suicide,” (shuudan jiketsu). Four of those seven mentioned that civilians felt driven to commit suicide and that the Japanese Army was involved, but did not make it clear whether or not the military ordered or compelled them to take their own lives.

The people of Okinawa were caught up in the fierce fighting that occurred between the Japanese and US armies 66 years ago at this very time of year. The mission of the Japanese 32nd Army, deployed to defend Okinawa, was to contain the US forces there for as long as possible to allow preparations to be made for a decisive struggle on the main islands of Japan. But during the fighting, rather than protecting the civilians’ lives and property, the Japanese Army was guilty of taking them.

In 2007, in a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, then acting head of the Democratic Party, stated that, “There can be no denial the Japanese military was involved in incidents of group suicide by civilians in the Battle of Okinawa.” He criticized the intervention of MEXT in the textbook screening process, calling for Yasuo Fukuda, then prime minister, to withdraw the result of the screening.

This was when those civilians who somehow managed to survive the battle of Okinawa, became united, and spoke up to demand the retraction of the screening result.

The seven companies that applied to publish school textbooks all used the expression “group suicide” (shuudan jiketsu), but this is insufficient by itself because the textbooks do not make it clear that civilians were actually compelled by their own military to kill themselves.

The Ministry needs to make the screening process of school textbooks transparent and explain to people how matters are discussed and conclusions reached. It is also a problem if textbook authors or publishers hold back, mindful of the Ministry screening. They should be prepared to present their own views.

Education or textbooks that chooses to ignore the mistakes of the past, could serve to jeopardize the future of our country.

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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