Showing posts with label Apology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Apology. Show all posts

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Sometimes apologies come too late. And it is not necessarily the wounded party that is made to suffer.

The State of California may soon demonstrate this to many of Japan’s greatest corporations. After 65 years of turning their backs on the people they forced to slave in their factories, on their docks, in their mines, and in their brothels, these companies will be asked by Sacramento to account for what did they did during the war and how they made amends.

The July 9th Economist reported on legislation being considered in California to require companies that want to bid on the state’s multi-billion dollar high-speed rail contracts to disclose their involvement in WWII atrocities and detail how they have taken responsibility for these crimes.

The young, first term Assemblyman who sponsors this legislation, Bob Blumenfield, is focused on the French train company SNCF. This international corporation has never apologized for transporting French  Jews and others to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. The underlying objective is to extract compensation from SNCF for the few remaining survivors.

As you will see from the passages from the bill I note below, the legislation is vague enough to include among the victims of WWII: POWs of Japan, forced laborers from China and Korea, Comfort Women from all over the Pacific. You can find the bill text HERE.

Many private Japanese companies brutalized and transported these people. In regard to the “use” of Comfort Women, the Japanese military allowed corporate executives their own access times and prices. 

Not one of these companies has acknowledged, taken responsibility, or made amends for their wartime conduct. Every Japanese company bidding in California used and abused people from the groups mentioned above. You probably recognize these companies: Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Toshiba, Kawasaki, Hitachi, and Nippon Sharyo.

In regard to transport, part of the focus of the bill many of these companies had transportation arms. According to Unjust Enrichment, at least 17 of the 69 hellships used were built, owned, and operated by Mitsubishi, and other primary owners were Mitsui, Kawasaki, and Yamashita Kisen. I am sure there is some scholar somewhere who has also tracked the ships that carried forced laborers and Comfort Women (who were referred to in the ship manifests as only “logs”).

I suspect if Mr. Blumenfield had known about the POW experience and of the long fight for justice of these Americans: Veterans, Korean Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Pacific Island American he would have better highlighted the indignities they confronted.

And among these groups, only the American POWs of Japan are not asking for compensation. They are asking “only” for respect and to be remembered. They are asking for an apology from the companies that enslaved them and a decently funded program of memory preservation that will extend to their descendants and to those who will both teach in the US and Japan the lessons of the horrors they endured.

Assemblyman Blumenfield somehow did not know about these American veterans. Maybe there is an opportunity to teach him. The legislation is still in committee; it has not passed the Assembly, and has not yet gone to the Senate.

Blumenfield’s bill notes that it is
… relevant to the state's legitimate concern with the present character of applicants, as well as to the quality of their corporate governance, corporate accountability, corporate responsibility, and trustworthiness.  
This bill is not intended to remedy historical wrongs. It is intended to ensure that public moneys provided by the taxpayers and bondholders of the State of California are used in a manner consistent with our shared values of respect for human rights
The bill specifies what involvement in war crimes entails. Did the company bidding on any part of the high-speed rail project have: "any direct involvement in the deportation of any individuals to extermination camps, work camps, concentration camps, prisoner of war camps, or any similar camps during the period from January 1, 1942, through December 31, 1944." 

The great value of this legislation is that each company has to show accountability.
If an entity responds that it has had a direct involvement in the deportation of any individuals, as described in paragraph (1), the entity shall certify all of the following: 
(A) Whether the entity has any records (whenever created) in its possession, custody, or control related to those deportations. 
(B) Whether the entity has taken any remedial action concerning those deportations, and whether the entity has provided restitution to all identifiable victims of those deportations.
As the Economist article notes; the Japanese companies are concerned about this legislation. And they should be. The bill says: 
Accordingly, should the Legislature become aware of any potential contractor competing for public funds that has engaged in conduct of similarly problematic moral or ethical character, and should there be a similar nexus between this conduct and the present quality of the applicant's character, corporate governance, responsibility, and accountability, full disclosure of the conduct is essential to the contracting and bidding process and it is the opinion of the Legislature that similar legislation should be adopted in similar circumstances. 
Moral responsibility is what this legislation requests. Maybe Japan’s companies with world scrutiny upon them will find that now is the time to apologize. There are billions of dollars at stake. The Japanese ambassador to the United States has repeatedly said that the high-speed train contract is a priority for the Embassy—it is an issue of national pride and profit.

Japan’s elites have even enlisted the help of all the Alliance Managers to win the contracts. They frame their technology as one contributing to the strength of the US-Japan Alliance. The train contract will be, they say, an example of our “shared values.”

Maybe they are right. If these Japanese companies take responsibility for their wartime actions, as this California legislation requests, then they will be viewed as operating in “a manner consistent with our shared values of respect for human rights.”

For now, they do not.

N.B.: The above is a painting of the Tokushima Maru, the sister ship of the Tottori Maru, a Hellship that transported American POWs from the Philippines, both of which were operated by Nippon Yusen a shipping subsidiary of Mitsubishi. Painting lifted from HERE where you can find photos, paintings, histories, and  descriptions of other Hellships.

Friday, July 9, 2010


A Reader asked my opinion. He wondered what I thought of an article by Christian Caryl that appeared on June 28th on Foreign Policy Online entitled, “Unfinished Business: For 65 years, Japanese corporations have escaped responsibility for abusing American POWs during World War II.” 

The Reader must not be from Washington or Tokyo, as those folks never ask for my opinion or thoughts. My daughter sometimes asks, but only to make sure that she should do the opposite of whatever I advise.

Caryl* writes of a lingering historic injustice by Japan. It was not one Japan inflicted upon its Asian neighbors. It was not even one perpetrated by Imperial Japan’s military. It is a war crime against American prisoners of war, military and civilian.

Before I comment further, I suggest that the Reader pair the Caryl article with one by Lisa Belkin in July 4th The New York Times Magazine, "Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well?".

As Caryl noted, many of Japan’s well-known companies, such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Hitachi, Sumitomo, Toshiba, and Nippon Sharyo, ruthlessly used thousands of American POWs as replacements for the Japanese workers in their mines, on their docks and in their factories, in order to keep their business profitable during WWII.

Their profitability was more pronounced due to their failure to pay wages for the labor performed and to provide humane living conditions for its unwilling workers. The result was that more than 40 percent of the Americans captured by the Japanese perished due to abuse, malnutrition, disease, execution, forced labor in dangerous situations, and transport to Japan in unmarked freighters known to survivors as “Hell Ships.”

Surviving veterans of the three and a half years of slave labor have been waiting decades for an apology from those companies that used and abused them. Both American and Japanese courts long ago ruled that these Japanese companies have no financial or legal responsibility toward the POWs.

With the excuses of legal claims and compensation removed, the POWs thought that the Japanese companies would naturally move to apologize. These giant, global corporations all do extensive business in the United States benefiting from many government contracts. They all have statements of corporate responsibility claiming that they respect human rights.

Yet these same companies continue to ignore the former POWs, who are saying in essence, "you have a moral obligation to offer us a sincere apology, do so, and we will accept it, then we can both move on." As Belkin writes, an apology when done well “can heal humiliation — by lifting anger and guilt and allowing splintered bonds to mend.” Further, apologizing can “be good for our collective soul, allowing those who are wrong a chance to repent and those who have been wronged a change to forgive, right.”

A successful apology is “an expression of regret, an assumption of full responsibility. It also helps to put forward a plan for preventing similar mistakes in the future.” This is the case for France and Germany, which have both established foundations to memorialize their victims of the Holocaust and slave labor.

Germany’s Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future Foundation is funded equally by German companies and government. It’s focus is on the victims of National Socialism’s forced and slave labor. Japan’s total lack of acknowledgement of its use of slave and forced labor is an embarrassing contrast.

Belkin finds that “When an apology fails, two things are lost--the victims are not asked for forgiveness, nor are they given a chance to grant it. Being asked to forgive restores dignity to the injured. Granting forgiveness is a step toward moving on.” This is true for Japan’s equivocal or non-existent war crimes apologies.

Everyday Nippon Sharyo railcars roil past the edge of the Maywood, Illinois Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Eighty-nine Maywood soldiers were part of the infamous Bataan Death March. Only 43 returned home alive. One even slaved for Nippon Sharyo.

Soon Nippon Sharyo, now owned by JR Central in Japan, will bid on multi-billion dollar government contracts to build high-speed trains in the United States. So far, they have not said a word about respecting the dignity and memory of the American veterans they once enslaved. Also soon, the last of the American POWs of Japan will pass on.

Saying nothing, ignoring complaints, and “looking forward,” is a very Japanese tactic to avoid responsibility and confrontation. It makes Americans uneasy and undermines trust. More, the non-response is viewed as bad as a botched apology. Belkin says these not only taint “the act of apology but the ability to accept an apology as well. And that is unforgivable.”


*I must confess that I do know Mr. Caryl. We had an appointment, which he forgot and missed. He did not know I was used to that sort of thing, so he sent flowers. They remain the most beautiful and unexpected flowers I have ever received.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Historic Apology


On May 30, 2009, Japan's ambassador to the U.S., Ichiro Fujisaki delivered a historic apology to the former POWs of Japan, their families, and friends. [If the video above does not work, go HERE.]

Like the apology by the President of Toyota to Congress it can not be found in Japanese on any official website. More interesting, it cannot be found on Ambassador Fujisaki's Embassy's website or on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website.

Nor did the Ambassador mention the apology in his new year's message as one of the three "firsts" in Japan-U.S. relations in 2009. In fact, no newsletter or publication of the Japanese Embassy noted that Ambassador Fujisaki traveled to San Antonio, Texas to address the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC).

No where in Japan was it reported that Ambassador received a standing ovation. Only a few refused to stand.

The Ambassador, speaking for the Government of Japan, expanded upon the apology he wrote to the last Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Dr. Lester Tenney in December 2008:
Accepting with a spirit of humility the facts of history that Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering including those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in the Philippines.
He altered the above to read to the ADBC Convention:
We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people including POWs , those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan peninsula the Corregidor Island, Philippines and other places.
Thus, this apology is inclusive of all POWs wherever captured or from any country. And it echoes the official, formal apology for the POWs given by the Cabinet to Upper House member Yukihisa Fujita. In many respects it cements that significant apology. That the apology given to Senator Fujita was a Cabinet Decision, a kakugi kettei, the definition of official governmental statements:

Accepting with a spirit of humility the facts of history that Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of former Allied nations and other nations including former POWs.
This statement mirrors the 1995 Murayama apology for the Pacific War. MOFA has decided that it is fungible.

What is unknown is how the Ambassador translated the English word "apology" in Japanese. In the Murayama Statement, the word used is merely owabi. Interestingly, Ambassador Togo in an op ed for the Mainichi translates it to the stronger shazai.

Here, it is important to note that Ambassador Fujisaki carefully used the personal pronoun "I" to signal a shift from his official statement to his personal feelings when he said,

I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who have lose their lives to the war and after the war and their family members.
ABC News, below, reports incorrectly that this was a Japanese government apology and expression of sympathy. It was not. It was the Ambassador's personal feelings. Although these fine points are lost on the Americans, they are not to the Japanese, especially to Japan's very vocal conservative nationalists and Rightists.

In some respects, the American press has overstated what Ambassador did. He has not apologized for the Bataan Death March or for the war. He is merely expressing regret for the horrors and inhumanity inflicted upon the people who were put in their care.

Nevertheless, what the Ambassador did was profoundly significant and opened the door for more words and acts of contrition. Each time the apologies will become easier and the discussion that surrounds them will become more searching. All this is a good thing.

Now, the U.S. government needs to make clear to Japan that it is important to create a permanent Peace and Remembrance Fund for research and exchange to better understand the war and Japan's relationship with the U.S.

For an apology to be meaningful, it is necessary to put deeds to words. Thus, it is necessary to not merely include the few remaining American POWs in the 1995 Peace Friendship and Exchange Initiative. Widows, wives, children, grandchildren, archivists and scholars need to participate. The records of the POWs buried in the basements of Japanese government ministries and corporations need to be released. And the Japanese corporations that purchased the POWs from the Imperial Japan's army and navy need to apologize.

A temporary, selective invitation program created long after any of the POWs could physically ever endure returning to Japan is cynical, at best. It is indeed time for Japan to move forward honestly.

This article gives a sense of what it was like to be in the Convention Room when the Ambassador spoke. Below is another article on the apology. The Nikkei reported the Ambassador's remarks here.

As noted no where is a transcript of the Ambassador of Japan Ichiro Fujisaki's apology to the POWs of Japan given on May 30, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas to the last convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

Here is my intern's transcription of his remarks taken off a video above produced by the San Antonio Express:
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much. I am very grateful, for the very kind invitation I have received. It is a great honor to participate in your final convention.
Today, I would like to convey to you the position of the government of Japan on this issue. As former Prime Ministers of Japan have repeatedly stated, the Japanese people should bear in mind that we must look into the past and to learn from the lessons of history. We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of wars, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula, Corregidor Island, in the Philippines, and other places.
Ladies and gentlemen, taking this opportunity, I would like to express my deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives in the war, and after the war, and their family members. As for the Peace Program, as such Dr. Tenney referred, I have told him that I cannot make a definite statement at this junction, if we can expand this program. However, I can convey to you that relevant bureau in the government of Japan is working seriously and sincerely on this matter.
Today, Japan and United States are the closest friends, best allies. But, we should always keep in our mind that this good relations is based on our past experiences and efforts. Ladies and gentlemen, we are committed to carry on the torch of our future gen-to our future generations of this excellent and irreplaceable friendship and relations. I thank you very much for this occasion.
Here is one of only two TV broadcasts in Japan that reported on the apology. It was produced by MBS and only broadcast to the Kansai region. The clip also only shows the Ambassador's personal condolences on the many deaths, and not the formal apology.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Did he apologize?

In a formalistic manner the President Toyota did apologize to Congress and the victims of its company's mistakes. He expressed his pity and promised that the future will be better.

As the victims of Japan's wars will tell you, who still seek after 65 years a proper and sincere apology from Japan, what happens after the apology is what matters.

I am not sure if those in Asia will be completely happy with what the Toyota president said. However, will we know soon as he is traveling to China on Monday, March 1 to hold a press conference.

There are differences in what Mr.Toyoda said in his prepared testimony and what his company offered as an apology. I am actually not sure what Mr. Toyoda said in his prepared testimony as the only Japanese versions of the testimony are on Japanese newspaper sites. It is not clear if these are from an official Toyota distributed Japanese text or translated by the news organizations.

For those who study these sorts of things, I give you the elements of Toyota's apologies. I leave up to you readers to tell me if the apology is meaningful or not.

Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda’s prepared testimony to House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 24 can be found in English on Toyota’s website. The Japanese draft is not located on the webpage but appeared in the Japanese press prior to the hearing (Wednesday February 24, afternoon, Tokyo time).

The specific phrase regarding apology (highlighted):

今回リコールに至った品質問題を引き起こし、それが原因で事故が起きたことはまことに残念だ。特に、サンディエゴでの事故で命を失った一家4人に深い哀悼 の意を表し、悲劇を繰り返さないよう全力を尽くす

English transliterations:

makoto ni zannen da…fukai aitou no yi wo arawashi, higeki wo kurikaesanai you zenryoku wo tsukusu.

The key words used in this statement with selected English translations:

Makoto まこと sincerely, truly
Zannen 残念 regretful, unfortunate
(fukai) Aitou 深い哀悼 (deep) condolences, regret, sorrow
Higeki 悲劇 tragedy

Mr. Toyoda’s prepared speech was given in English but he responded to questions in Japanese. According to a transcript of that session, he made the following statements regarding the family from San Diego who died in an accident:

English transliterations:
…moushi wake naku, go-meifuku wo o-inori shitai…

Moushi wake naku/nai 申し訳なく (I’m) sorry; it’s inexcusable
Meifuku wo inoru 冥福を祈る May they rest in peace

A live blogging of the event by USA Today indicates the whole deposition took three and a half hours, letting out at 5:10 pm.

Regarding the recall, the front page of Toyota Japan has the following statement that was posted February 9:


English transliterations:

taihen-na go-meiwaku…go-shimpai…kokoro kara owabi moushiagemasu.

(taihen-na) meiwaku 大変な迷惑 (great) trouble, annoyance
Shimpai 心配 worry, concern
(Kokoro kara) owabi 心からお詫び apologies (from my heart)

The announcement is almost identical to a press release of February 5 by President Toyoda. (The highlighted portions are unchanged.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Revisionism I

This Christmas week was good for denials. World War II issues of responsibility that most thought were settled reemerged. After of a year of considerable progress for both Japan and the Vatican in acknowledging atrocities allowed by their wartime regimes, this is both surprising and disappointing. Saying sorry is no substitute for a genuine apology of words and deeds.

On December 20th, an Australian search team found the hospital ship, The Centaur, that was sunk during World War II off the coast of Australia in 1943. The Centaur went down with the loss of 268 lives after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine—despite being painted white with red crosses.

According to Japan’s official 1979 submarine warfare history, it was submarine 1-177, under the command of Lt Commander Nakagawa who had sunk the Centaur. Lt Commander Nakagawa was convicted as a war criminal for firing on survivors of the British Chivalry, which his ship had sunk in the Indian Ocean. He was not charged, however, for the sinking of The Centaur.

Japan’s embassy in Canberra hastily issued a statement to the press (which cannot be found on their website) on December 23rd that said the circumstances in which the Centaur went down were not conclusive. "The Japanese government had conducted its own inquiry into the Centaur," the statement said, without giving any indication when the inquiry took place. “The circumstances were not clear given that it occurred during the Second World War. We will see how the on-going investigation by Australia unfolds." The Embassy continued with a reworking of the traditional and tired Murayama apology, "Japan, reflecting on the past, has since made the greatest efforts for world peace and prosperity as a responsible member of the international community and has also developed a close relationship with Australia.”

Members of the Centaur Memorial Association were disgusted by the Embassy’s response and some demanded an apology. But the Australian government jumped into damage control and a Foreign Ministry spokesman referred to Japan's past apologies for other wartime atrocities and said (also not on their website) that "The Australian government recognises the suffering endured by families of those killed as a result of the sinking of the Australian hospital ship Centaur in 1943." And added that "Australia accepts Japan's repeated apologies -- the 1951 Peace Treaty, which Australia signed, drew a line under Japan's crimes during the World War II for which many Japanese were rightly tried, convicted and sentenced. Japan is now a different country; it contributes greatly to regional prosperity and security."

Maybe after filming the remains of The Centaur and confirmation of what sunk the hospital ship, Japan will send a representative to the annual memorial, as some have suggested. The Hatoyama Administration came to office saying it wanted to face squarely Japan's history. We are waiting.

Later:  Sunk Australia WWII hospital ship Centaur: first images

Next post, The Vatican

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Forbes Misses the Big Story

I was going to discuss North Korea or the new Japanese politics of apology, but then I made the mistake of reading Tim Kelly's new dispatch from Tokyo. It is rare that I do read his pieces, and I now remember why. They make no sense.

The "Dispatch" is a ramble about how Japan feels unappreciated and insecure as an American ally. Although opinion polls in the US show that the Japanese are respected and considered dependable, Tokyo is unconvinced. Some believe it is time for Japan develop it own a nuclear option to defend itself.

Ok, but then how did he jump to World War II's legacy in the US-Japan relationship? He notes that the US Senate [sic] passed a resolution asking for an apology to the Comfort Women. Kelly did not check his facts as it was the House of Representatives, not the Senate that unanimously passed H. Res. 121 in July 2007.

Maybe he is trying to say that Washington is sending Tokyo mixed signals when it asks the Japanese government to become more accountable and responsible in its treatment of its war history. He does not make the connection that a good, dependable ally to the US is also one that does not antagonize other key allies or the allied fighting forces set to defend it.

The last paragraph was probably why he wrote the piece. But it is one that made the least sense and come to a contorted conclusion. He suddenly veers away from the discussion of American trust or Americans to a focus on the war crimes by Japan against non-American POWs. In fact, I doubt if Kelly is even aware that American former POWs of Japan share similar grievances.  Here he notes that a 
Former allied prisoner of war Joe Coombs came to Tokyo seeking an apology for the time he spent shoveling coal as a slave laborer in an Aso-family coal mine. Coombs' is one foreigner’s opinion Aso might choose to ignore.
Kelly clearly attended or just heard about the Friday, June 19th press conference in Tokyo held by the Australian Mr. Coombs and the son of a former British POW. There it was noted that the Aso Company refused to acknowledge or apologize for Coombs' slave labor and that PM Aso did ignore the former POW by refusing to meet with him. If Kelly had attended the press conference, he would have known the latter.

Kelly also clearly missed the big stories in his haste to craft a story defending the Aso government's reliability as an American ally and  partner. He failed to note the new and unusual situation that the press conference was hosted by a senior member of the opposition DPJ, Upper House Member Yukihisa Fujita. It was neither a Communist nor Socialist who was pressing on making historical responsibility a mainstream political issue in Japan. This is a surprising change and is reflected in the new committee the DPJ recently formed for the settlement of POW issues.

As a business reporter for Forbes, Kelly also failed to note that the Aso Company is now in a joint venture with the French building materials conglomerate Lafarge. This socially conscious European giant soon will be hard pressed to rationalize protecting an once slave-owning partner.

Kelly neglected to note that Upper House Member Fujita had received from the Prime Minister's office in February an official, formal, governmental apology to all former POWs. What is odd is that this apology has only appeared in blogs and in the Diet record. Why the PM's office and the Foreign Ministry and the Japanese press have not wanted to publish this important, historic apology in multiple languages is a mystery. A journalist's question is definitely in order here.

But, he missed it all.

Friday, June 5, 2009

After The Death Marches

World War II saw many death marches. The Bataan Death March was one of many forced treks Japan's Imperial Army imposed on its prisoners of war. In some respects, it may be the most famous because it had the most survivors and witnesses.

Like so many of Japan's war crimes, the marches were all strikingly similar in conception and execution. No matter where in the Pacific Theater, Imperial troops with their Korean and Formosan conscripts inflicted horrors upon those in their care. Neither disdain nor indifference succeeds in explaining the inhumanity.

The Sandankan Death Marches in North Borneo match if not surpass the miseries of Bataan. Of the 2400 Australian and British POWs involved, only 6 Australians survived. Originally, moved to Sandankan to build an airfield, many POWs in January 1945 were forced to began a series of marches away from possible Allied landings on the island. This was partly to dispose of them and partly to use the survivors as mules for a retreat. Those left in the camp were murdered.

This atrocity was considered so infamous that in the movie, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence about a Japanese POW camp on Java, the director included an indirect reference to it. Toward the end of the film, one group of Australian prisoners was marched off to "build an airfield." It was a subtle reference to more horrors to come in a film about confusing Japanese brutality, male honor and homosexuality. The movie, starring David Bowie, was based on a moving book on war and forgiveness by Larens van der Post, The Seed and the Sower.*

On the Western Front, the best known Death March of POWs was only recently recognized. This was by 350 mostly Jewish American POWs who unlike other POWs of the Third Reich were sent to a concentration camp, Berga, a subcamp of Buchenwald. In the last months of the war, these POWs became slave laborers building air defense tunnels. It was "death through work" one of the survivors said. Like the Japanese, the Nazis tried to hide these starving and sick POWs by marching them away from the advancing American forces. And like the in the Japanese POWs, nearly one-third of the POWs perished.

It was very unusual for American POWs to treated like this by the Nazis. Although typical for POWs of Japan, this appears to be the only case where Americans were slave laborers for the German military. The typical death rate in German POW camps was one and one-half percent, unlike in Japan's POW camps, which was over 30%.

Unique to these POWs, is that they were finally compensated for their work and suffering. Because Berga was a concentration camp** and not a POW camp, these POWs received settlements from the German Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future" Fund as well as some an award from a lawsuit against the German Government. Neither have been options for the American POWs of Japan.

Similar to the American POWs of Japan, the survivors of Berga were also forced to sign gag orders threatening prosecution if they talked about their experiences. They also were ignored by the US Government and their stories suppressed. Just this year new photos of the graves at Berga surfaced.

This weekend, the US Army, pressured by Congress, will honor the surviving Berga veterans. Maj. Gen. Vincent Boles is to present these men with some sort of special recognition and an explanation as to why the US government commuted the death sentences of the two Berga commanders, Erwin Metz and his superior, Hauptmann Ludwig Merz.

As noted below, last weekend the Japanese government made its first step toward apologizing to and acknowledging the American POWs of Japan. Unfortunately, the Foreign Ministry nor the Japanese Embassy in the US have not published any press release nor transcript of the Japanese Ambassador's apology. More surprising, the Japanese press has not reported the story. Even the Mainichi Shimbun reporter present did not have his story published.

Maybe soon, the Pentagon will so honor the POW survivors of Japan's death marches and explain too why so many camp commanders and guards were never executed or prosecuted. This is not just for the American POWs, but also for Japan. The Japanese need to understand that these apologies matter and that these histories with its most important ally cannot be ignored, nor remain unexamined.

Later: Here is the CNN Report on this past weekend's Berga reunion attended by Maj. Gen. Vincent Boles, an emissary from the Army. He told the group that "These men were abused and put under some of the most horrific conditions, It wasn't a prison camp. It was a slave labor camp." As one Berga survivor responded, "It means a great deal -- that it's being recognized and understood."

*Strangely, Japanese pop idol Utada took the award winning music from the movie and produced a completely unseemly and irrelevant song
**As an aside, recent scholarship on Nazi concentration and extermination camps have found that the number of 5,000 to 7,000 to be conservative. The count is more than 20,000.

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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Still Marching

Lester Tenney, the last Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, has fought the long fight. Nearly 90, this Bataan Death March survivor and former POW of Japan still badgers the Japanese government for justice.  

It is not for the pain or torture or depravations he faced daily as a POW. After all he is a proud soldier. It is for the injustice of the Japanese government selling him to a private Japanese company, Mitsui Mining, that allowed its employees to beat and belittle him while he toiled in an unsafe mine for no compensation. It is for the sub-human living conditions Mitsui maintained for its slave laborers. And it is for Mitsui's unwillingness to acknowledge or redress this dark history.

But, Lester who is nearly 90, is forgiving and hopeful. He thinks now that the Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso has acknowledged his family's own company used POW labor, other Japanese companies will follow. He is also hopeful that the apology the Japanese government gave to  a House of Councilor's member for the POWs will be translated and stated directly to his surviving fellow POWs and himself.

We shall see. For now, read what he has to say in the Japan Times, April 15, 2009.

The end of the long march


Special to The Japan Times
CARLSBAD, Calif. — Sixty-seven years ago this month, on April 9, 1942, I was surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. At my first prison camp, the Japanese commandant turned to the American prisoners of war (POWs) and told us that we were "lower than dogs" and "they (the Japanese) would treat us that way for the rest of our lives." Then he said, "We will never be friends with the piggish Americans.

For a long time I thought he was right. But we have both changed. This year, I welcomed the Japanese government's first official apology to the American POWs, 63 years after our liberation.

If my fellow soldiers or I had known the consequences of being a POW of the Japanese, we would have fought to the death. After three long months of jungle fighting against a better-equipped invasion force, the American and Filipino troops were starving, sick, exhausted and out of ammunition.

At surrender, we were immediately forced to march 105 km through the steaming Bataan Peninsula without food, water, medical treatment or rest. Today, the Bataan Death March is remembered as one of the worst war crimes of World War II.

I will never forget my buddies who were shot simply for trying to get a drink of water; crushed by a tank for stumbling; bayoneted just because they could not take another step; or forced at gun point to bury alive the sick. I bear a deep scar where a Japanese officer on horseback brought his samurai sword down on my shoulder.

Those who survived the Death March faced over three years of unimaginably brutal imprisonment. Many, like me, were herded into "Hell Ships," packed shoulder to shoulder without food or sanitation and shipped to factories, mines and docks across the Japanese Empire. The survivors were literally sold to private Japanese companies to work sustaining wartime production.

I dug coal in a dangerous Mitsui Corporation-owned mine. Like all POWs, I was overworked, beaten, humiliated and starved. The damage and suffering we endured from these companies' employees were comparable to, and sometimes worse than, that inflicted upon us by the Imperial Japanese military. Among World War II combat veterans and former POWs, those who were prisoners of the Japanese have the highest percentage of post-traumatic stress disorders. To say the least, we POWs had and still have intense feelings about Japan.

Yet the Japanese commandant who belittled his American captives was wrong. The United States and Japan have become friends and close allies — a result we welcome. My anger has been tempered by the many Japanese people who have welcomed me to Japan. Personal friendships and common goals heal many wounds.

Our unfortunate history came largely to closure in a personal meeting with the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. and his wife last November. I was finally able to tell a Japanese official my story. He heard of my humiliations, saw my scars and learned of my Japanese friends who have helped me overcome my POW trauma.

I asked for the ambassador's help in requesting three things from his government so that justice is achieved for POWs: (1) an official apology; (2) an appeal to companies to apologize for their wartime use of POWs; and (3) a reconciliation project.

In December, the ambassador wrote me with news for which I have waited decades. His letter said that Japan's government extends "a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island in the Philippines."

This acknowledging gesture was followed in February by a Cabinet-approved statement to a member of the Diet that extended the apology to all "former POWs." It is the first official apology specifically to mention POWs or any particular group hurt by Imperial Japan.

We POWs accept these long-sought apologies and now ask Japan to state them for all to hear and understand. I trust that my two other requests will be fulfilled soon. It has taken nearly seven decades, but Japan's recognition of its mistreatment of POWs attains historic justice and brings fullness to the U.S.-Japan relationship. A future of a peaceful alliance is what we really wanted in the first place.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Gist of the Statement

Japan’s Ambassador to the Philippines Makoto Katsura last week expressed his “heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse" over the damage the Japanese army caused in the Philippines during World War II, at the annual commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) on Mt. Samat in Pilar town in Bataan province.

This is the Filipino national holiday that remembers the beginning of the Bataan Death March, April 9, 1941 and the fall of the Philippines. The solemn ceremony was also attended by President Arroyo, US Ambassador Kristie Anne Kenney, local government officials and war veterans.

His exact words were:
As I stand before this venerable shrine on Mount Samat, let me first of all reiterate my greatest tribute to all those who fought and fell, and my heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the damages caused by the Japanese military in the Philippines during World War II, including the tragic Bataan death march. Let me also state that after the war, Japan was reborn as a peace-loving nation, and that post-war Japan has firmly resolved to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world, without allowing the terrible lessons of the war to erode.
Nice, but they were the very same as the year before.

And that was a mere modification of what was said in 2007 by his predecessor, Ryuichiro Yamazaki: who very very carefully read them as you can see from this video.
At the outset, allow me to express again my heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in the Philippines during World War II. Let me also reiterate the Japanese government's determination not to allow the lessons of that terrible war to erode, and, our determination to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world without ever waging a war.
The previous year, Ambassador Yamazaki was invited for the first time to the commemoration of the Battle of Manila. There he said,
The terror that each Filipino man, woman, and child must have experienced in Manila 61 years ago is beyond the imagination of any sane human being. With this historical fact in mind, I would like to express my heartfelt apologies and deep sense of remorse over the tragic fate of Manila.
Later that year, during the commemorative program of the Leyte Gulf Landings' 62nd anniversary in Palo, Yamazaki said, "I would like to reiterate my heartfelt apology and deep sense of remorse and reflection over the tragic fate of all those who fought to defend this country against Japanese military aggression and the atrocities committed by (its army)."

In 2000, as spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, Yamazaki wrote a letter to the New York Times: 
The fact is that Japan has repeatedly expressed its remorse and stated its apology for wartime actions with the utmost clarity. A notable example is then Prime Minister's official statement in August 1995, based upon a Cabinet decision. In the statement, Mr. Murayama said that Japan 'through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations,' and he expressed his 'feelings of deep remorse' and stated his 'heartfelt apology.' As recently as 1998, then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi reiterated gist of this statement to Chinese President Jiang Zeming when he paid a state visit to Japan.
In each "apology" there is the careful repetition of the 1995 Murayama apology that Amb. Yamazaki correctly points out is the only one Cabinet approved, which makes it the only official government apology. And in each apology, there is a slight variation in the predicate. Thus, Japan’s one "comprehensive apology" is fungible.

I will let my readers draw their own conclusions from all this.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Laugh

On Wednesday, February 18th, an assistant to the Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki called Lester Tenney. He said that the Ambassador would not be traveling next week to San Diego. The Japanese Prime Minister was coming to Washington. Thus, it would not be possible for the Ambassador to meet with him to continue the quiet dialogue they started on Japan's reconciliation with the American POWs of Japan.

Dr. Tenney,88, Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, has tried for 65 years to get recognition and an apology for his and other POWs of Japan's forced labor for Imperial Japan's military and private Japanese companies. Strangely, the Japanese have offered apologies to and created a Peace, Friendship, and Reconciliation Initiative for all the other Allied POWs. Only the Americans were excluded. No answer why has ever been given.

Dr. Tenney then asked about the possibility of meeting with the visiting Prime Minister to discuss resolving this sore on US-Japan relations. After all, Mr. Aso had just admitted that his family company used POWs in his mines during the war.

The Japanese diplomat laughed at him.

The young man's blunt response resurrected a bitter memory in Dr. Tenney. He flashed back to end of the Bataan Death March. Starving, exhausted, and sick the surviving POWS stood at attention in Camp O’Donnell while the Japanese Commandant told them [the POWs] that they were “lower than dogs” and “they [the Japanese] would treat them that way for the rest of their lives.” Then the Commandant said, “We will never be friends with the piggish Americans.”

Dr. Tenney is only asking for fairness for the American POWs. He wants the American POWs and their descendants to be included in a new Japanese government initiative to fund visits and research on the POW experience, and to help former POWs to overcome and cope with their negative wartime experiences and to promote a spirit of reconciliation with Japan and the Japanese people.

After all these years of goodwill and friendship between the US and Japan, is this too much to ask?