CHATAN, Okinawa — Momentum is gathering in a public outcry over the Japanese education ministry ordering school history texts to play down the mass suicides by civilians during the Battle of Okinawa.

More than 70,000 signatures have been collected so far by the Okinawa High School Teachers’ Union, and 27 of the island’s 41 local assemblies have passed resolutions condemning the order.

The petition was submitted to the government Friday.

In April, which marked the 62nd anniversary of the start of the only ground battle in Japan’s main islands during World War II, the education ministry directed publishers of history textbooks to alter descriptions of the mass suicides, specifically eliminating references to the Imperial Japanese military’s direct role.

Such editing would eliminate accounts that soldiers gave civilians hand grenades and instructed them to kill themselves rather than submit to the Americans.

Hirishi Matsuda, chairman of the union, said the teachers want original descriptions of the suicides left in the textbooks.

Matsuda said that the petition drive has received support throughout Japan. Of the 70,000 signatures, 53,000 were from the mainland.

Earlier this month, about 1,000 people staged a rally in Naha sponsored by the teachers’ union. They marched down Kokusai Street in the city’s crowded shopping area chanting, “Don’t distort the reality of the Battle of Okinawa!”

In the past week, the villages of Tokashiki, Ie Shima, Nago and Nishihara added their objections to the textbook change.

“It is an undeniable fact that the mass suicides could not have occurred were it not for an order, coercion, manipulation or other acts by the Japanese military,” the Tokashiki assembly’s resolution stated.

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