Japan Court Rejects Suit Against Oe
TOKYO (AP) — Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe won a major court battle Friday over a book he wrote more than 30 years ago detailing how Japanese soldiers persuaded and sometimes forced Okinawan civilians to commit suicide rather than give themselves up in the closing days of World War II.
The topic is a hugely sensitive issue on the southern Japan islands, where battles raged from late March through June 1945, leaving more than 200,000 civilians and soldiers dead and speeding the collapse of Japan's defenses. The U.S. occupied Okinawa until 1972.
The ruling was also a high-profile setback for a vocal lobby among Japanese conservatives who have long sought to discredit or censure materials documenting Japanese excesses during the war, including government-supported prostitution, the rape of the Chinese city of Nanking and other incidents.
In his book, "Okinawa Notes," Oe chronicled accounts of group suicides on Okinawa, and alleged that Japanese soldiers persuaded and at times coerced civilians to kill themselves rather than face what they were told would be horrible atrocities if they gave themselves up to the invading U.S. troops.
Historians generally agree that hundreds of Okinawan civilians killed themselves under such circumstances, and there is a wealth of testimony from survivors and their relatives to back that up.
But Yutaka Umezawa, 91, and his brother Hidekazu Akamatsu, 75, argued that Oe wrongfully accused them — though not by name — of ordering suicides on the Okinawan islands of Zamami and Tokashiki in March, 1945.
The two denied the military ordered any suicides and demanded Oe and the publisher pay them $200,000 in compensation.
In a closely watched ruling Friday, their complaint — first filed in 2005 — was rejected.
The Osaka District Court held that "there are reasons to believe" the military was responsible for such atrocities on Okinawa and other nearby southern islands, said spokesman Masakatsu Yatabe.
The court noted that the sites of Okinawan group suicides overlapped with Japanese military posts, and said testimony by survivors that Japanese soldiers handed out grenades gave solid evidence of "the military's deep involvement in the group suicides," Kyodo News agency reported.
"It is reasonable to say the book presented rational resources and evidence, though we cannot determine whether the two were the ones who issued the suicide orders as described in the book," it found.
Oe, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994, welcomed the decision.
"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."
The plaintiffs are expected to appeal.
A government decision two years ago to delete textbook references to the Japanese military role in the forced suicides brought the issue to a boil on Okinawa, culminating in a protest by more than 100,000 people in September last year.
Accused of trying to whitewash Japan's wartime history, the Education Ministry soon afterward agreed to restore to textbooks accounts of the military's involvement in the suicides.
Military 'deeply involved' in Okinawa suicides
OSAKA--A court Friday dismissed a libel suit against Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, ruling that the Imperial Japanese Army was "deeply involved" in mass civilian suicides in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.
|Kenzaburo Oe, at a news conference in Osaka on Friday, says a court's ruling should help schools provide a precise picture of the Battle of Okinawa.(EIJIRO MORII/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)|
"I believe the tragedy (of mass suicides) occurred because of coercion by the military against the backdrop of wartime teachings by the central government and the military," Oe, 73, told a news conference in Osaka after the Osaka District Court's ruling. "The court grasped what I maintained in my book."
Two plaintiffs sued Oe and Iwanami Shoten Publishers in 2005, claiming they suffered damage by Oe's 1970 essay "Okinawa Notes," which said the Imperial Japanese Army ordered islanders to kill themselves during the battle.
The plaintiffs were Yutaka Umezawa, 91, who commanded Japanese troops on Zamamijima island during the Battle of Okinawa, and Hidekazu Akamatsu, 75, a brother of Yoshitsugu Akamatsu, who led soldiers on nearby Tokashikijima island. Umezawa now lives in Osaka Prefecture.
The two argued that such a military order was never given, and that the civilian deaths on the two islands were actually "murder-suicides of families." They also claimed that Okinawans fabricated the story about forced suicides to enable residents to become eligible for bereaved family pensions.
The plaintiffs demanded Iwanami Shoten Publishers halt printing of Oe's book as well as compensation from the defendants. The plaintiffs said they plan to appeal the ruling.
More than 430 people took their lives on the two islands in late March 1945 amid the U.S. onslaught.
In "Okinawa Notes," Oe blamed Japanese troops for forcing mass civilian suicides, but he did not include the commanders' names.
The central issue of the trial was whether the Imperial Japanese Army played a role in the suicides.
"The court cannot conclude that they (the commanders) actually issued direct orders, but it can sufficiently presume that they were involved" in the mass suicides, Presiding Judge Toshimasa Fukami said.
The Imperial Japanese Army was "deeply involved" in the mass suicides, and Oe's references to commanders as "those responsible for the incident" in his book had "reasonable data and grounds," the court ruled.
The court cited numerous accounts of survivors who testified that Japanese troops delivered grenades to the islanders to blow themselves up.
Grenades, the court said, were highly valued weapons for the soldiers and very difficult to obtain from other sources.
In addition, the court noted that mass civilian suicides occurred only in places where Japanese troops were deployed.
The ruling also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the islanders lied to gain pensions. The court said witness accounts pointing to the role of the military in the suicides existed even before those pensions were available.
The libel suit was cited by the education ministry in its decision to downplay Japanese troops' role in the mass suicides from "coercion" to "involvement" in a screening of high school textbooks, whose results were disclosed last year. For more than 20 years, the history textbooks said the military forced the suicides.
Oe said Friday the court's ruling will help schools provide a precise picture of what really happened during the battle.
"Although the textbooks merely state the 'involvement' of the military behind the mass suicides, teachers can teach the meaning of the hideous incident with this ruling," said Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994.
The writer argued in court that the mass suicides resulted from the military's teachings to Okinawans that becoming a prisoner of war was a "disgrace" as well as from coercion by the military, which presided over civilians in a "vertical structure."
The ruling came on the same day that people on Tokashikijima island visited a monument honoring those who committed suicide in March 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa.
On March 28 that year, the largest number of islanders killed themselves.
The Battle of Okinawa, the last major campaign of the Pacific War, raged for nearly three months. Okinawan casualties were estimated at around 120,000, most of them civilians. The figure represented about one-quarter of Okinawa's population at that time.(IHT/Asahi: March 29,2008)