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Japan revises its history texts

Okinawa residents protest attempts to play down the Imperial Army's role in World War II mass suicides.

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On the eve of the American invasion of this subtropical island 62 years ago, Haruko Miyahira heard her elder brother, Seishu, tell their father about an order from the Japanese military.

"My brother, who was then deputy mayor, told our father that US troops were about to land on the island, and said to him, 'We were ordered from the military to kill ourselves. Let's die together with good grace!'" Ms. Miyahira recalls.

Many older islanders like Miyahira recall the warnings from the Imperial Army that American soldiers, closing in on Japan at the end of World War II, would treat captured women and men brutally. Civilians were told to kill themselves rather than surrender. Then, they were each given two grenades and instructed to hurl one at the Americans and blow themselves up with the other.

"It was hammered into us by the military and wartime indoctrination," says Kaoru Miyazato, another islander who says he lost many relatives in the suicides. "The Japanese military kept a firm grip on the village office."

The history of coerced suicides during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, the bloodiest of the Pacific war, is familiar to every Japanese high school student from nationally approved textbooks. But that could change: this past spring the government said that it had ordered textbook revisions to indicate that some Okinawans committed suicide or were forced to commit mass suicide, but not 'by whom.'

Official accounts of Japan's wartime history have long been a source of deep contention in the region. China and Korea say that Japan has never been willing to confront its brutal behavior in World War II, denying or soft-peddling such events as the Nanjing Massacre in China or forcing women into sex slavery (comfort women) for Japanese soldiers.

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