Sunday, April 12, 2009

Japan Untarnished

Before Congress left for recess, freshman Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced legislation, S.768, to mint a Congressional Gold Medal to be exhibited (maybe) in the Smithsonian Institution in honor of only American soldiers who were prisoners of war at Bataan during World War II.

It is likely to succeed as it is one of the very few pieces of legislation on the Pacific War ever supported by the powerful head of the Senate Appropriations Committee Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI).

Besides historians who will have some serious quibbles with the legislation's historiography, the specific exclusion of Filipinos who made up at least 75% of the US fighting force on the Battle of the Bataan Peninsula (and who were just awarded their pensions from the US Government), and that almost no surviving members of the Bataan Death March will feel honored by a piece of gold gathering dust in a museum, there is a curious flaw in the legislation.

Japan is mentioned no where in the legislative text. The phrase used instead is "the enemy."

The "enemy" is the same phrase used by President George W. Bush in his 2008 Pearl Harbor Day remembrance ceremony. President-elect Barak Obama was even more ambiguous in his commemoration statement and simply said that Americans "beat back a danger in the Pacific." Both men never identified Japan as the country that sank our fleet to the bottom of the ocean.

In talking with survivors of the Battle of the Philippines, the Bataan Death March and Japan's infamous prisoner of war camps, I doubt if they will appreciate the gold medal. They will appreciate even less that the legislation does not recognize Japan as the enemy.

They want their legacy remembered, both in Japan and in the US. They want people to understand the horrors of war and in particular the unforgiving brutality of Imperial Japan. By ignoring who the "enemy " was, the bill's drafters also dismiss the legacy of human spirit, victory, and reconciliation by those captured by Japan.


  1. It seems as if Japan has some magical power over the US. I have not figured it out yet but America seems to fear Japan. The US government will not do anything to ruffle Japan's feathers. Japan has squashed all mention of House Resolution 125 and international child abduction. American politicians are very careful not to say anything bad about Japan or portray Japan in a bad light. The US government seems more willing to ignore Americans in need than to say an unkind word about Japan. I don't understand the logic here unless it is tied to money. Japan seems to have plenty of it to throw around. A public apology from Japan about Bataan and international child abduction would be nice. It would also be nice if our governement started supporting its people instead of protecting Japan.

  2. This is an amazing that the US is so reluctant to criticize Japan over anything. The reluctance to name Japan as an enemy in WW2 is absurd.

    I do believe that as Kevin mentioned, money is involved--we owe our souls to Japan (and China) but I think there has to be more to it.


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