It is not, however, about the terrorist suspects tortured by American agents. Instead, was about the few remaining survivors of the infamous 1942 Bataan Death March on the Philippines. This horrific trek was followed by Hell Ships and years of suffering as POWs of Japan mainly as slave laborers for private Japanese companies.
Only this May did the Ambassador from Japan offer an apology. Even then it was only a reconstructed Murayama war apology statement reworded to include the Bataan Death March. Corregidor, and POWs from "other places."
Interestingly, the Ambassador's statement was never published in English or Japanese by the Japanese government. The Embassy has also refused to clarify what Japanese word was intended when the English "apologize" was used. The nuances in Japan's apology words make a difference.
The Dallas journalist asked the men, all in their 90s, how they felt about the May apology and the possibility of being finally included in a peace and reconciliation program for POWs. Since 1995, a Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative program invited Allied POWs and their families to Japan. The program also funded limited research on the topic.
The survivors quoted in the article had remained bitter and unforgiving. The brutality and inhumanity of their captors was beyond civil comprehension. The risk taken by the Japanese Ambassador was unappreciated.
For all of the men, the apology was seen as "a little late." There were too few left to hear it.
The possible invitation program, as they understood it, just seemed hypocritical. There are not many 90-year olds who can travel to Japan. As one said, "It just doesn't make any sense for us to go over there now." Others said they have no interest in reliving the painful memories of captivity.
"To me, it's a sick joke," said Bill Adair, a 92-year-old retired Army major from Dallas. "Why in the hell are they just getting around to apologizing now?
The answer is really quite simple. No one before this past year had coordinated American politicians with Japanese politicians in an effort to seek an apology for the POWs. It is significant that there is now political interest and effort in Japan to resolve lingering history issues.
To be sure, this interest is not supported by the conservative, ruling LDP. But they are on their way out, something the Japanese Foreign Ministry had long been cognizant of if not preparing for. It will be the DPJ that will be working with a bi-partisan group of American congressmen and senators.
It also helped that Japan's departing prime minister, Taro Aso, comes from a family that used Allied POWs in its mines. For years Mr. Aso denied that this happened. Only this year was he forced to admit it, which helped highlight the issue internationally.
The task, now left, is for the Obama Administration to put its weight behind encouraging Japan to do the right thing toward members of America's greatest generation. Thus far, the issue has been a nuisance and tepidly received. The Alliance Managers continue to maintain a rigid understanding of the elements of the U.S.-Japan Alliance.
And lastly, the Japanese Foreign Ministry needs to consult with the veterans and scholars as to what would actually be an appropriate Peace, Friendship and Exchange Initiative for remembering the American POWs. Simply inviting the few ambulatory old men to Japan is cynical.
The Initiative is an incredible opportunity to initiate the long-delayed dialogue on the Pacific War between the U.S. and Japan. A program that includes families, scholars, NGOs, political actors, researchers, and public programs can ensure that the dialogue is broad and constructive. Most important, it can put the "sorry" in Japan's apology.
Photo: General Masaharu Homma
N.B.: I had absolutely nothing to do with this article, was not interviewed for it, and was surprised that it was published. So don't blame me.