Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hidden Behind the Apology

Outside my bedroom window, the catalpa tree has finally bloomed. Its broad leaves and large white flowers block my view of the crabapple tree under which my kitty is buried. The southern catalpa is a late bloomer.

Sixty-four years after the end of World War II and 14 years after the first Japanese apology for its brutality during the War, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States dared publicly speak an apology to former American prisoners of war.

As I note in previous posts, this apology on May 30th in San Antonio, Texas was historic and long sought. It took the persistence and goodwill of Dr. Lester Tenney the last Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC). It took the compassion, research, and cultural understanding of Ms. Kinue Tokudome who founded the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs to help Dr. Tenney negotiate the often confusing politics of Japan. And it took Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki's ability and courage to seize an opportunity.

When Dr. Tenney was first invited to meet with the Ambassador in November 2008, seasoned negotiators all warned that the meeting would be frustrating and designed to defuse but not solve the problem. He was advised "not to smile until he got into the taxi to return." To his credit, Dr. Tenney, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, a Hell Ship, and a Mitsui coal mine, ignored all the advice he was given. As Ms. Tokudome admonished the scholars and diplomats advising them: "Let Lester be Lester."

Sadly, few journalists or politicans have noted the significance of what happened in San Antonio. This has surprised some journalists, as you can see in this reporter's blog. More surprising to me, it the near complete lack of reporting by the Japanese press.

Aside from a wire report online at TBS and Kyodo, there has been no acknowledgement of the apology. There has also been no annoucement on the Japanese Foreign Ministry or Embassy of Japan in the US websites. Reportedly, the Japanese Washington press corps was briefed on 5:30pm Friday, May 29th, the night before the Ambassador flew down to Texas. The Mainichi Shimbun, which had a reporter at the ADBC Convention, is yet to publish an article.

When I asked a Japanese friend from a prominent family who lived through the war about this, he replied: "If Amb. Fujisaki's initiative ever meant something, it was devalued by the neglect by the media, letting the entire Japanese population miss a good chance to stop and think"

He is right. The real point was not so much the apology, but the opportunity for the Japanese people to begin the discussion about the Pacific War and how it has shaped the US-Japan Alliance. The two country's often dramatically different views on the causes and conduct of the War have unrecognized affects on the security dialogue. It is not enough to supposedly share values. The dissimilar lessons learned from the War highlight that Japan and the US have entirely different analytical frameworks from which to consider national security.

Later: Here is a transcript of Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki's apology statement on May 30, 2009.


  1. It seems like the Japanese government is good at squashing news worthy stories. If it is potentially embarrassing to the government or public is doesn't seem to get the coverage it deserves.

  2. And it seems to have worked. I have not talked to anyone who is at all aware of that apology, and I have mentioned it to several people who are usually more informed than the average person.


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