Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Only after 65 years

APP advises members of congress and members of the Washington policy community on issues where Japan's war history intersects with current efforts to establish a successful East Asian regional security strategy.

Last week Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced H. Res 1567 to honor American former prisoners of war and their unending quest for justice. The resolution also commends the Government of Japan for finally offering an apology and creating an invitation program for the surviving POWs.

None of what Japan has done is perfect. Indeed, the Japanese Ambassador [above] has refused to put his oral apology in writing. And the most important apology requested by the POWs, from the Japanese companies that enslaved them, has been met with silence.

But the government's actions are a step. And a longer step than the denials made by former Prime Minister Taro Aso of his family mining company's use of POW slave labor.

On Saturday, the Mainichi Shimbun announced that the Japanese government would have the program that Mr. Honda commended Tokyo for only a few days earlier. There has been no official announcement.

68 Years after the Bataan Death March, Government for the First Time Ever to Invite 6 Former American POWs to Japan in September 

Mainichi, Eve., July 31, 2010 [Translation by William Brooks, APP Senior Fellow]

In April 1942 during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army forced approximately 70,000 prisoners of war from America and other countries to walk approximately 100 kilometers on the island of Bataan in the Philippines. Many died along the way in what came to be known as the Bataan Death March. The government will invite some former U.S. POWs and their families to come to Japan in mid-September. This will be the first time the government has invited former POWs to come to Japan and a sign of postwar conciliation between Japan and the United States. 

The government starting in fiscal 1995 and continuing for 10 years carried out a Peace and Friendship Exchange Program [Initiative, PFEI] in connection with those countries Japan had harmed during World War II. The Program included home stays and other exchanges. Former POWs from England, Holland and other countries were invited, but the program never included American POWs. The reasons apparently included the issue of the atomic bombings, as well as the string of damage-compensation lawsuits in the U.S. being filed against Japanese companies in connection with the issue of POWs being forced to labor in those firms in Japan.

Although the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, an organization created by former POWs and others from the Bataan Death March, sought an apology from the Japanese government, it disbanded in May 2009 due to the advanced age of its members. With this in mind, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concluded that the Japanese government should at least take a step forward, and Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki attended the last meeting to directly apologize. He also revealed that the Ministry was considering a program of exchanges.

The government appropriated in this fiscal year’s budget approximately 18 million yen [$180,000] for the Program to Promote Mutual Understanding between Japan and the United States. It will invite a total of 14 individuals, consisting of six former POWs -- including Lester Tenney (90), the last National Commander of the organization who resides in California -- and their families for an eight-day visit to Japan starting September 12. Except for Mr. Tenney, this will be the first trip to Japan for the other five members.

Mr. Tenney and the other former POWs were transferred from the Philippines to Japan, where they used as slave labor by Japanese companies. There has never been an apology, however, from the respective firms. Mr. Tenney explained: “This expression of kindness by the Japanese people will be an important opportunity to open up the hearts of the former POWs, but at the same time, we cannot forget the terrible days that we spent as slave laborers. We want the companies that carried out such to carry out their responsibility.

[Translator’s note: Sidebar on the history of the Bataan Death March, the fate of the POWs brought to Japan, etc. not translated.]

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