Thursday, May 21, 2015

Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ unscreened in Japan amid resentment

The true-life story of an American POW has been attacked as ‘anti-Japanese’

Angelina Jolie arrives to the world premiere of “Unbroken” in Sydney, Australia last November. Photograph: KHAP/GG/GC ImagesAdd caption
by David McNeill
First published in The Irish Times, May 9, 2015

In Unbroken, a 2014 war movie directed by Angelina Jolie, American prisoner of war Louis Zamperini is sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the sleepy coastal town of Naoetsu. Starved and beaten by a sadistic guard, he barely survives.

The ordeal was the nadir of an extraordinary life. A distance runner, Zamperini qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and met Adolf Hitler.

Before being captured by Japanese soldiers, he survived 47 days adrift on a raft in the Pacific. When the second World War ended, he struggled with alcoholism, depression and an obsession with revenge. His says his life rebounded only when he embraced Christianity and publicly forgave his captors.

Zamperini’s story, with its stirring American motifs of individual bravery, triumph and redemption, was turned into a bestselling book in 2010 and translated into 30 languages. Since it opened last year, Unbroken has been screened around the world. Everywhere, it seems, but Japan.

The film, and the translation of the book, was stopped in its tracks by a campaign in the right-wing media, amplified by online ranting that branded it “anti-Japanese”. Toho-Towa, the Japanese distributor for Universal Studios, has yet to announce a release date.

Universal itself has kept its distance from the controversy, except to deny any intention of “spreading a political message” through the film, says Duncan Clark, the studio’s president. Anything to do with the history of the second World War is political in Japan, in particular this year – the 70th anniversary of the nation’s surrender in August 1945.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe belongs to a political tradition that rejects much of the accepted narrative on the war. Education minister Hakubun Shimomura fired the latest salvo from that tradition last month when he announced stricter control over school history textbooks.

Mr Abe’s views were under the global spotlight last week during an eight-day visit to Washington. On April 29th, he became the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress in a speech that expressed remorse for the war but stopped short of an apology.

Japan has produced much of the top scholarship on the war, critical or otherwise, and its movie studios have produced a string of anti-war classics. American-made movies showing mistreatment of POWs, notably Bridge on the River Kwai, have been widely seen in the country.

Official amnesia
But reflection, never easy, has long battled official amnesia. That amnesia is accelerating, says Mindy Kotler, director of the Washington-based think tank Asia Policy Point. “The Abe administration has walked back on every aspect of accountability for the war,” she says.

Kotler says the government has created an atmosphere of “misinformation and self-censorship” at home and sent diplomats out across the world to object to war memorials and complain to history professors and journalists.

In one notorious incident last year, Japanese officials accused Germany’s largest business newspaper of carrying pro-Chinese propaganda against Japan. “There is a clear shift taking place under the leadership of Mr Abe,” wrote the newspaper’s correspondent Carsten Germis. “A move by the right to whitewash history.”

Many ordinary Japanese have fought the retreat from the past. In Naoetsu, a group of locals, working with the families of former Australian POWs, created one of the few domestic memorials to Japan’s wartime victims. A small park marks the spot where the camp once stood.

About 60 Australians died from disease and mistreatment at the camp from 1942-45. When the war ended, eight guards were tried and executed, more than any other POW camp in Japan. Zamperini’s tormentor, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, fled and was never brought to justice. He later became a successful businessman.

The inmates included Irish man Thomas Fanahan Finn, who left Mitchelstown, Co Cork, aged 19 and enlisted with the Manchester Regiment. Towards the end of the war he was transported to Japan in “terrible, vile conditions” for compulsory labour at the Naoetsu camp, says his daughter Kit Clay.

But many of the people who fought to have the park built in 1995 have passed away. Around the town, few seem even aware of the camp or that it has been immortalised by Hollywood. The local library doesn’t have a single record of Zamperini.

“I don’t think people care about something that happened so long ago,” says Yukiko Ishida, who runs a coffee shop less than a kilometre from where the camp once stood.

Shared interpretations
Other countries struggle over how to remember the bloody 20th century, points out Shin Kawashima, a specialist in diplomatic history at the University of Tokyo. But in Asia, nationalism appears to be fuelling a retreat from attempts at shared interpretations of the past.

South Korea has responded to Japan’s textbook changes by announcing that schoolteachers will be given dedicated training on the history of Japan’s wartime military brothels. In China, primary and secondary schools already extensively study Japanese invasions of the 1930s and 1940s; a compulsory text on the 1937 Nanjing massacre was adopted this year for use in all its classrooms.

Unbroken should resonate beyond national borders because its central character embraced reconciliation, say those who know the story. Zamperini, who died last year, aged 97, later went to Japan to meet his captors and even requested a meeting with Watanabe, who refused. Zamperini was one of 30,000 POWs in Japan; 10 per cent died in the country, says Kinue Tokudome, executive director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs. “People don’t know that history,” she laments. “They must have seen these emaciated Caucasians in the countryside. How could they not remember and talk about it?”

Tokudome says there is still some space in Japan to discuss the uncomfortable past. She points to a new English-language textbook for secondary school children that recounts the tale of another POW.

But like many observers, she worries that this space may be closing. “I’m pleased that at least we now have this one vehicle to reach out to young Japanese people,” she says.

“Otherwise, they have very few opportunities to learn about the history that took place in their country.”

Friday, May 01, 2015

Senator Barbara Boxer Honors the Fifth American Prisoner of War Friendship Delegation to Japan

From the Congressional Record, April 29, 2015

Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I wish to honor veterans from America's "greatest generation'' who were held captive as prisoners of war, POWs, by Japan during World War II and to recognize seven veterans-- including three from California--who recently [October 2014] participated in a historic trip to Japan to promote reconciliation and remembrance.

At the invitation of the Japanese Government, the veterans were joined by their family members to become the 5th delegation of American POWs to visit Japan as part of the official Japanese-American POW Friendship Program that began in 2010.

These brave men fought in the historic first battles of World War II and endured years of hardship as POWs. This year, as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, I want to recognize them and honor their service and sacrifice. 

Costa by Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group
Anthony Costa, 95, from Concord, CA, was a private first class in the famed 4th Marine Regiment, also known as the China Marines, which arrived in the Philippines days before the Japanese invasion. He fought to defend the island of Corregidor in the Philippines from December 1941 to May 1942 before he was captured by the Japanese. As a POW, Private Costa was force-marched through Manila and taken to the Cabanatuan prison camp, where thousands of POWs died from starvation, dehydration and abuse. He was then moved to Japan to work as a slave dockworker in the freight yards in and around Osaka before being liberated in September 1945. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. 

Sanchez by James Kimber/Stars and Stripes
William Sanchez, 96, from Monterey Park, CA, was an Army sergeant with the 59th Coast Artillery assigned to the island of Corregidor in the Philippines where he helped defend the harbor against the Japanese invasion. In May 1942, Sergeant Sanchez and the rest of his division were captured and paraded through the streets of Manila to Bilibid Prison. He was later transported to Japan in the hold of a Japanese hell ship, where he endured a 33-day oceanic journey plagued by dysentery, malaria and malnutrition before reaching Camp Omori. At the POW camp, he was forced to work as a slave laborer and dockworker at the railway yards in Tokyo prior to his liberation in August 1945. 

Schwartz by AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
Jack Schwartz, 100, from Hanford, CA, was a Navy lieutenant junior grade serving on Guam when the Japanese Navy attacked the island on December 8, 1941. When Guam fell to the Japanese, Lieutenant Schwartz was taken to a POW camp in Japan where he was repeatedly beaten, starved and provided insufficient clothing to endure the harsh winters. He was sent to several POW camps before being moved to Camp Rokuroshi, which was hidden in the Japanese Alps. After being liberated on September 8, 1945, he remained in the Navy and retired after a distinguished career in 1962. 

My constituents were joined on their trip by Daniel Crowley, 92, of Connecticut, an Army Air Corps infantryman who participated in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor; Oral Nichols, 93, of New Mexico, who served as a civilian medic in the historic defense of Wake Island; Warren Jorgenson, 93, of Nebraska, a marine who defended Corregidor; and Darrell Stark, 91, of Connecticut, who served as an Army infantryman on the Bataan Peninsula.

This trip was part of a reconciliation process that, while undoubtedly painful, is critical to help provide closure to POWs and their families and continue building stronger relations between the U.S. and Japan. It is important that this reconciliation program continue so that this history is remembered and the families can continue to heal.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Statement of the ADBC-Memorial Society on PM Abe's Speech to Congress

Freedom Wall at National WWII Memorial

Washington, DC
April 29, 2015

There is something deeply disturbing about offering sympathy to the victims of a war that Japan started rather than acknowledging responsibility and offering national remorse.

Although we respect the Prime Minister Abe’s silent repentance and prayer at the National WWII Memorial, we wish he had not been silent when viewing the stars that represent the helpless American Prisoners of War who died because of the abuse and neglect of Imperial Japan.

We agree with the Prime Minister that history is "harsh," but we offer the caution that history is ultimately harsher on those who deny it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Urgent! Help bring a POW to Washington

Lester Tenney
Dear friends,

We are appealing to you and your network to assist Lester Tenney, 94, to travel to Washington this week. 

He was invited just last Monday night to attend Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress and the Japanese Embassy dinner for Mr. Abe. This all takes place on April 29th (Hirohito’s birthday).

Unfortunately, the Japanese Embassy “cannot” find the funds cover his trip to Washington. He lives in San Diego and always travels with his wife. He is partly blind and deaf. It will cost at least $6,000 for last minute air and hotel reservations and related expenses for this elderly couple to travel and stay in DC.

click to order
Dr. Tenney is a survivor of the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March, a Hellship to Japan, and a Mitsui coal mine. He was tortured, sliced by a samurai sword, and had nearly every bone in his body broken. He also successfully negotiated with the Japanese government in 2008 to persuade them to offer the POWs of Japan an apology and to establish a reconciliation program for former POWs to visit Japan. He is a warrior, a hero, a teacher, and a peacemaker. Dr. Tenney is also the author of two books: “My Hitch in Hell” and “The Courage to Remember: PTSD - From Trauma to Triumph”.

You can find more about Dr. Tenney on this blog

Donations are tax-deductible if made to Asia Policy Point or to the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society. Any funds raised in excess of the travel funds will go to the ADBC Museum and Library in Wellsburg, West Virginia.

Thank you!

Can Abe Acknowledge the Truth

Bataan Death March by Ben Steele
Bataan Death March Survivor
To be in House Gallery for Japanese PM Speech
Listening for Acknowledgment

American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor to hold Press Conference

CARBONDALE, Ill., April 28, 2015/ADBC-Memorial Society/ --

Lester Tenney, 94 – a former POW of Japan and Bataan Death March survivor will be a guest of Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress on April 29th. That evening he will be a guest of the Japanese Embassy at their Gala dinner to be held at the Smithsonian.

Caroline Burkhart - Vice President of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS) and daughter of Bataan defender and former POW of Japan will also attend the speech by Mr. Abe as a guest of Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Dr. Tenney was the last National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. He successfully negotiated with the Government of Japan and the US State Department Japan’s 2009 offer of an apology to the American POWs of Japan and the program of reconciliation and visitation to Japan for former POWs. He was a tank commander from the famous Maywood, Illinois National Guard, Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion and fought in the Battle for Bataan from December 1941 to April 9, 1942. He survived the infamous Bataan Death March, a Hellship to Japan, and slave labor mining coal for Mitsui at Fukuoka #17 Branch POW Camp in Omuta. 

A press conference will be held with Dr. Tenney and Ms. Jan Thompson, President of the ADBC-MS on Thursday, April 30 at 9:00am at the American Institute for the Study of Contemporary Germany, 1755 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC.

Ms. Thompson is the daughter of a USS Canopus sailor who was a POW held in Mukden, China. She is a filmmaker chronicling the ordeal of the American POWs of Japan.

For more details, contact the ADBC Memorial Society President Ms. Jan Thompson.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Shinzo Abe’s Ill-Timed Speech

The young Edward Jackfert
(VW Public Broadcasting)
Addressing the U.S. Congress on Hirohito’s birthday is an insult to Pacific Waveterans

 The Diplomat, April 27, 2015

By Edward Jackfert, 93, a POW of Japan captured on Mindanao, The Philippines as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was twice National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s April 29 address to the U.S. Congress will come at the expense of America’s Pacific War veterans. As a former POW of Japan who endured a hellish three-and-a-half years of captivity and slave labor, I am astonished that Abe’s address falls on the birthday – a national holiday in Japan – of the man who initiated World War II, Emperor Hirohito. For me, it was a day of harsher beatings and lower bows. I am outraged that this high American honor was given to a Japanese leader who still evades his country’s war responsibilities. 

It has been difficult for me to watch the fading memory of Japan’s war atrocities accompanied by increasing Japanese denials of their heinous war record. A complacent U.S. Congress has been complicit. In 2011, no effort was made to remember the 70th Anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entry into WWII. This omission and others regarding the war, I understand, were the result of new House rules ending commemorative resolutions.

But Congress was not totally opposed to celebratory resolutions that year. On December 19, 2011, it marked the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s December 1941 speech before Congress. Churchill, barely two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, urged Americans to pursue the war first in Europe and not in Asia.

As someone who fought in the Philippines in the first battles of WWII, I have painful reminders of Churchill’s successful Europe-first lobbying. Most Pacific veterans from the early months of the war believe that his efforts ensured that we were abandoned. We were condemned to hopeless battles with obsolete weapons and no provisions ending in death or imprisonment in Japan’s notorious POW camps.

I think that most Americans view the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a more transformative event than a speech by a foreign dignitary – even one by Churchill. Ignoring the attack on Pearl Harbor was a slap in the face to Pacific War veterans.

Previous Japanese government officials have apologized for their country’s actions before and during WWII. Abe objects to those. He believes the war was just and walked out on the parliamentary vote in 1995 for the now-standard government apology. Today, he never uses the word “apology.” Instead, he is “deeply pained” by events of the past, yet never connects them to decisions made by Japanese leaders.

Speaking to Australia’s parliament last year, Abe was neither contrite nor clear. He merely mentioned “Sandakan” and sent his “condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.” Never mentioned was that “Sandakan” was a series of death marches in 1945 on Borneo forced upon approximately 2,400 emaciated Australian and British POWs by the Japanese. [only 6 survived]

Most important, Abe failed to identify who was responsible for this war crime against Australians. It was simply something that “happened in the past.” As a survivor, myself, of Imperial Japan’s mindless brutality and fanatical leadership, I am not satisfied with disconnected “condolences” for “the evils and horrors of history.”

I want to know what Abe learned from the past, and what steps he plans for reconciliation with Japan’s former adversaries and victims. To the American POWs of Japan, this means acknowledging our inhumane imprisonment and brutal slave labor for Japan’s corporations. It means creating a program of remembrance and education on the war.

We Pacific War veterans ask most that what we fought for not be forgotten. This is what Congress must demand of Shinzo Abe.

Imperial Japan was a brutal regime that was merciless to the people put in its care. It astonishes me that Japan’s leaders now avoid offering an apology or acts of contrition. Yet, if the U.S. Congress cannot remember this history, it is unlikely that the Japanese will want to disturb that amnesia. And if Congress does not speak for America’s veterans, it is unlikely that Japan will feel compelled to remember them as well. Prime Minister Abe will simply indulge this ignorance.

In memory Major Thomas Smothers, Jr. - POW of Japan

Wall of the Missing American Cemetery Manila

April 26th is the 70th anniversary of the death Major Thomas Bolyn Smothers, Jr. He was a West Point Graduate and a member of the 45th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts.

He was the father of the Smothers Brothers comedy team.

Major Smothers survived Battle of Bataan and the Bataan Death March. He endured harsh captivity for nearly three years in Cabanatuan, a POW camp on the Philippines. It is the trip to become a hostage, slave laborer for Japan that he did not survive.

On 13 December 1944, he was among 1621 prisoners, the majority officers, who were marched from Bilibid Prison to Pier 7, Manila. At dusk, they were marched aboard the Oryoku Maru, divided into three groups, and forced down into three dark holds.

What followed was probably the most infamous of the Hell Ship voyages. American bombers sunk the Oryoku Maru barely out of port. POW survivors were kept for five tortuous days on an abandoned tennis court, exposed to the tropical sun with little water or food.

On December 27. the men were again packed aboard a freighter, the Enoura Maru to Formosa. This ship's holds were not cleaned of its previous cargo, horses. They arrived in Takao, Formosa on New Year's Day only to be left on board for over a week, where they were again bombed by American planes. The Japanese took days to remove the dead and did little to help the wounded.

Finally on January 13, 1945, the survivors were packed on the Brazil Maru to Moji Japan arriving January 31st. Smothers was judged as one of those in the worst shape and sent along with 109 others to "Moji Hospital" more properly known as Kokura Army Hospital.

After a month he and most of the few survivors of Kokura Army hospital were brought to Fukuoka #22 camp that provided POW slave labor to Sumitomo steel.

Smothers was never well enough to perform any labor at the camp. He was taken from Fukuoka #22 to the Fukuoka city docks on April 25th. Either on the dock or at sea on the steamer to Fusan, Korea, Major Smothers died. Some report he was buried at sea, others say his body was carried on to Korea and cremated.

Only 36 of the 110 men brought to Kokura Army hospital survived the war, with Smothers being the last to die. Only 404 of men from the Oryoku Maru--374 Americans, 19 British, and 11 Dutch--survived through to liberation in late August 1945.

Later: Thanks to James Erickson, America's leading expert on Japan's Hellships, for his helpful corrections to this post.