Wednesday, July 01, 2015

UNESCO and Japan's campaign to forget

Mitsui Miike Mine Omuta POW camp barracks
nominated World Heritage site
During the July 4th weekend, UNESCO World Heritage Committee members will meet in Bonn, Germany to approve the Government of Japan's nomination of 23 sites for designation as bearing "universal value" as world industrial heritage sites.

As the letter below shows, most of these sites have long histories of slave and forced labor combined with dangerous working conditions, labor strife, and seminal accidents. For the American POWs of Japan, a shocking number of the sites are at or are near POW camps that used Allied POW slave labor.

Unfortunately, the US government no longer has a seat at UNESCO. But possibly, Washington can speak to its Japanese ally to remind them of the debt they owe to American veterans for defending their freedom. 

American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society

June 22, 2015*

Mr. Kishore Rao
World Heritage Centre
7, place de fontenoy
75352 Paris

Dear Mr. Rao:

I am writing in regard to the Government of Japan’s nomination of the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Kyushu-Yamaguchi and Related Areas” for the UNESCO World Heritage List. As president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS), which represents surviving POWs of Japan, their families, descendants, and researchers, I have serious reservations about whether the application meets the UNESCO criteria of “universal value” and meaning.

The goal of the ADBC-MS is to preserve and to teach the history of the American POWs held captive by Imperial Japan during World War II. Japan’s use of Allied POW slave labor in its corporate metal and mineral mines is an essential part of POW history, and a central and long-term feature of the history of the nominated sites. From late Meiji onward, Japan used forced convict labor in its extractive industries and created “industrial prisons” to supply workers to factories and mills at private companies.

The Japanese World Heritage nomination focuses on the history of Japan’s mining and steel industries, but completely omits the history of POW labor. As such, it violates UNESCO’s mandate of ensuring that World Heritage sites have “Outstanding Universal Value.” The story of the thousands of foreign workers who maintained these Japanese industries remains untold.
We do not object to Japan highlighting its modern history, but the story is incomplete without a full and complete history of the use of slave labor. Forced and conscripted labor was as much a convention in Meiji Japan as it was during World War II.

Japan’s nomination features eight industrial “areas.” Five of these held 26 POW camps to provide slave labor to Japan’s industrial giants, such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Aso Group, Ube Industries, Tokai Carbon, Nippon Coke & Engineering, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Furukawa Company Group, and Denka.

The nomination does not mention the OVER 13,000 POW slave laborers who worked at or near the nominated sites. The POWs included 4,385 Dutch, 3357 British, 3,023 Americans, 1,207 Australians, 358 Canadians, 133 Indians, 5 New Zealanders, 22 Chinese, 9 Portuguese, 6 Norwegians, 2 Czechs, 2 South African, 2 Arabians, and 2 Malays.
Over all, at war’s end, there were close to 200 sites for POW internment throughout all of Japan—163 facilities to incarcerate POWs and about 33 facilities for civilian internees. There were 27 on the island of Kyushu where the majority of Japan’s nominated sites are located.

In addition, the key ports at Kitakyushu, then called Moji, and Nagasaki —both nominated sites—were the entry points for nearly 35,000 Allied POWs, of which approximately 11,000 were American. Over 7,000 American and Allied POWs perished traveling to Japan aboard the aptly called “Hell ships”, and 3,500 more perished in Japan, 25 percent within the first 30 days of arrival.

As shown at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Liverpool-Maritime Merchant City, there is a benefit to including a country’s darker history. The telling of the port’s role in the triangular transatlantic slave trade has helped the city attract a wider group of tourists while stimulating learning and international connections. For example, since establishment of its World Heritage status in 2004, Liverpool opened in 2007 the International Slavery Museum on the dock and in 2006 a Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) at the University of Liverpool. Identical memorials to the victims of slavery stand on the docks of Liverpool, Richmond, Virginia, and Cotonou, Benin, linking the shared memory among them.

In 2011, a Repatriation Memorial was unveiled at Liverpool’s Pier Head as a remembrance for the former POWs and civilian internees who returned from captivity in the Far East. My members would welcome appropriate memorials at the POW arrival ports of Moji and Nagasaki in Japan as well as Kaohsiung, Taiwan and Busan, South Korea.

Nationals from six of the 21 nations represented on today’s UNESCO World Heritage committee were POWs held on mainland Japan. These nations are: India, Malaysia, Jamaica, Finland, Poland, and Portugal. There were also thousands of Koreans who were used as conscripted labor during the war.

It is our hope that Japan can be persuaded to amend its application to tell the full history of their industrialization by including its history of POW labor. We believe this request is reasonable. It enriches the nomination by conveying the totality of the story, helping it transcend national boundaries, and highlighting its universal importance.

After all, the many visitors to the nominated World Heritage sites who will arrive at Fukuoka International Airport will land on runways originally leveled and constructed by British, American, and Dutch Prisoners of War.

Thank you for your time and attention. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Sincerely yours,

Ms. Jan Thompson
Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, Bilibid, Fukuoka 3B, & Mukden, POW# 2011

*This letter was amended June 29, 2015 to reflect a better calculation of the POW camps strengths and numbers at liberation, August 1945. With existing records, it is difficult to be exact.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

“History is harsh” and Abe's speech to Congress

Former POW of Japan Lester Tenney sitting
behind Korean Comfort Woman
POW daughter Caroline Burkhart far right
“History is harsh”: Prime Minister Abe, the Joint Session of Congress, and World War II
By Professor Kerry Smith, Brown University

First appeared in JapanFocus, May 18, 2014

Thanks to a referral from my university’s government relations office [Brown Univerity] and an ability to head to Washington on short notice, I attended Prime Minister Abe’s April 29 speech before a Joint Session of Congress as a guest of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  This essay began as an attempt to convey a few impressions of the event from the perspective of the House gallery, but upon reflection, and after encountering the generally uncritical reception the speech received from the media in the U.S., it seemed useful to engage more directly with what Abe had said, and with the arguments I think he meant to convey. I am very grateful to the Senator and his staff for the opportunity and for their hospitality. I should stress, however, that the views expressed in this essay are entirely my own.

The first thing that Prime Minister Abe Shinzō did after taking the podium and greeting his audience at last week’s Joint Session of Congress was quote from the speech that his grandfather, Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, had delivered in that same chamber in June 1957.  Abe reminded listeners that Kishi “began his address by saying ‘It is because of our strong belief in democratic principles and ideals that Japan associates herself with the free nations of the world.’”[1]  That expression of fealty earned Kishi applause the first time it echoed through the House Chamber. Abe’s reward for recycling it was a rousing standing ovation.

The agenda for Abe’s recent trip to Washington has much in common with the goals of his grandfather’s visit in late June 1957. Kishi’s administration was concerned with managing the emerging frameworks for trade in East Asia, and with the limits on Japan’s access to American markets for some of its key exports, especially textiles.  China also loomed large, in part because Japan’s agreements with the U.S. precluded doing any significant business with the PRC, closing off opportunities for trade that might otherwise have benefited the Japanese economy.  Kishi’s visit was also an opportunity to remind U.S. policy makers and the public alike that Japan shared their commitment to democracy, and thus to resisting communism in all its forms, themes Kishi touched on more than once in his speech to Congress.[2]

That there are these commonalities in topics and tone in visits separated by almost fifty years is of course something that Abe’s speechwriters must have hoped policy makers and the public would pick up on, and be reminded of how long and how well Japan has aligned itself with America’s geopolitical goals.  Having Abe quote from the lyrics of Carole King’s 1971 hit "You've Got a Friend" was arguably another gesture in that same direction. The Prime Minister is of the same generation as many of those listening on the House Floor that morning, and no doubt more than a few recognized the song as having a place in their own histories, even if they had not before thought of it as part of the soundtrack of postwar U.S.-Japan relations.  Such an emphasis on continuity and past friendship meshes well with the push by both the Abe and Obama administrations to ratify the TPP, to align Japan’s expanding military capabilities even more closely with U.S. goals in the region, and to otherwise continue on their current trajectory towards what Abe, by the end of his speech, was describing as “an alliance of hope.”

One striking and somewhat ironic difference between the expectations that shaped Abe’s speech and the context of his grandfather’s is that Kishi didn’t have to talk about the war, much less apologize for any of Japan’s actions during it.   Kishi’s speech referenced the conflict only to thank the U.S. for its support in rebuilding Japan’s economy in its aftermath.  Kishi’s own personal experiences as a wartime cabinet member and potential defendant in the post-surrender war crimes trials were of little interest to the press or the public during his visit.  Invited to throw out the first ball at Yankee Stadium a few days after his speech in Washington, the fans in New York greeted the Prime Minister with a standing ovation, after which he delivered “a strong overhand pitch that went a little more than 25 feet into the glove of Yankee catcher Yogi Berra.”[3]

Fast forward to the present, where the expectations surrounding Abe’s visit and speech were very different.  It matters that this year brings the 70th anniversary of some of the deadliest of the wartime encounters between the Americans and the Japanese, of course, but it also matters that the Abe administration has worked hard over the years to offer the public ways of thinking about the war that are significantly out of step with how Japan’s neighbors, and many of its own historians, understand it.[4]

Abe’s performance before Congress built on those efforts in at least three ways.   First, having opposed earlier expressions of remorse for Japan’s actions during the war, and specifically having questioned both the veracity of the evidence linking the Japanese military to the comfort women system and thus the need to apologize to its victims, Abe has turned his decision to not repudiate the statements of regret crafted by prior administrations into a rhetorical device that occupies the space where an apology ought to be.  “Our actions,” Abe reminded Congress, “brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that.”  “I will,” he continued, to applause from the Congressmen and Senators who had gathered to hear him speak, “uphold the views expressed by previous Prime Ministers in this regard.” [5] (This language is in line with previous statements by Abe prior to his Washington visit.)

Second, Abe’s speechwriters highlighted the Prime Minister’s efforts to honor those who sacrificed their lives for their country by having him reflect on his visit earlier that same day to the nearby National World War II Memorial.  Referring to the field of 4,048 gold stars on the wall that is among the Memorial’s most striking features, Abe reported that he had “gasped with surprise to hear that each star represents the lives of 100 fallen soldiers. I believe,” he went on, “those gold stars are a proud symbol of the sacrifices in defending freedom.” (A standing ovation followed.)  It was in the context of his visit to the Memorial, which Abe described as “a place of peace and calm that struck me as a sanctuary,” that he said:

History is harsh.  What is done cannot be undone.  With deep repentance in my heart, I stood there in silent prayer for   some time. My dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II. ” (Another standing ovation.)[6]

Because this language limits the scope of Abe’s condolences to Americans, one of the things it also does is raise the question of whether he will eventually express similar sentiments towards the souls of Chinese or Korean soldiers and civilians lost in the war.  At the same time, it is hard not to hear at least some echoes of the Prime Minister’s many visits to Yasukuni Shrine in the way this part of his speech emphasizes the common impulse to honor the sacrifice and “lost hopes and lost futures” of young men and women “who otherwise would have lived happy lives.” In Japanese, his reference to the National World War II Memorial as a “sanctuary” reads as “神殿を思わせる、静謐な場所でした.” While 神殿 is sometimes used to name religious sites outside of Japan - the Temple Mount (神殿の丘), for example - I’d be surprised if readers coming across that term didn’t give some thought to the way it is more frequently deployed in Japan, which would be to refer to one of the sacred structures in a Shinto shrine, or more specifically still to one of the three Imperial Household sanctuaries on the Palace grounds. I’m not arguing that Abe was making an explicit comparison between his presence at the World War II Memorial and his actions at Yasukuni Shrine,  but it will be interesting to see whether this visit has to some extent inoculated the Prime Minister against official American critiques of future visits to Yasukuni, or at least complicated those critiques.

Abe’s final point about the war was at first blush also his least subtle.  Gesturing to the visitors gallery that rings the upper level of the House chamber, Abe invited the audience to acknowledge Lt. General Lawrence Snowden, who as a young Marine captain had been among the first to land on Ioto, or Iwo Jima, in February 1945.  Once the applause for Snowden had died down, Abe introduced the man standing next to the General in the gallery as

Diet Member Yoshitaka Shindō, who is a former member of my Cabinet.  His grandfather, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, whose valor we remember even today, was the commander of the Japanese garrison during the Battle of Iwo Jima.  What should we call this, if not a miracle of history?  Enemies that had fought each other so fiercely have become friends bonded in spirit.
The handshake that Snowden and Shindō then shared prompted yet another standing ovation from Abe’s audience.

It is interesting that Abe understood history to be at once “harsh”, a way of thinking about the past that insisted that what was done could not be undone, but at the same time prone to miracles. In any case, the staged performance of this “miracle of history” was quite clever on several levels.  Of the many battles the American and Japanese forces waged against each other over the course of the war, only a handful have been as fixed in popular memory - in both countries - as the one for Iwo Jima. That horrific struggle is also special in that something like a shared narrative has developed around it, due in no small part to Clint Eastwood’s two films on the campaign, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, both released in 2006.  The latter portrays General Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) as an honorable and humane man, who together with the soldiers under his command struggles to do his duty against impossible odds. Very few of the Japanese defenders survived the battle.  General Kuribayashi was not one of them. That there were few if any civilians left on Iwo Jima by the time the fighting commenced presumably makes it much easier - for both Americans and Japanese - to view the island’s defenders and those who would take it from them as worthy of respect, and perhaps admiration. It also matters that although the Americans were victorious in the end, the total number of their dead and wounded exceeded the final tally on the other side, which in the blundered logic of the day was seen by some in the Japanese leadership as a positive outcome.

Bringing Kuribayashi’s grandson together with Lt. General Snowden did useful work for the Prime Minister.  Who could bear witness to such an example of reconciliation in practice and not be moved? The optics of their friendly handshake offered tangible evidence of the Abe administration’s willingness to confront the nation’s wartime past, even as it reminded those who saw it of how close the U.S. and Japan had become in the seventy years since the end of the war.  It therefore also smoothed the way for Abe to get on with the business of promoting the TPP and a stronger military relationship with the U.S. in his speech, and for him to eventually introduce the theme of a “proactive contribution to peace based on the principle of international cooperation” as the “new banner” under which Japan would pursue these goals.

I suspect that audiences in Japan and elsewhere in East Asia might have been paying attention to some of the other messages that this piece of Abe’s performance conveyed. I was struck less by the implications of the handshake for U.S.-Japan relations, for example, than by Shindō’s participation in it.  It isn’t that  Shindō's connection to Kuribayashi came as a surprise, since he has spoken on many occasions about his grandfather, or that he is somehow opposed to reconciliation, since he is a regular and enthusiastic participant in joint memorial services on Ioto.[7] What complicates our understanding of Shindō’s role in this part of Abe’s visit are all the ways he has been active over the years as an advocate of a deeply revisionist agenda for how Japan’s wartime history should be remembered, and taught.  Shindō is well known for his frequent and problematic visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a practice he continued during his tenure as Abe’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications.  The Chinese, South Korean and Taiwanese governments have regularly denounced these visits, but Shindō’s decision not to go to Yasukuni this April, as has been his practice in recent years, almost certainly has more to do with Abe’s impending visit to Washington than with concerns over how Japan’s neighbors would react.[8] As an active proponent of Japan’s claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan, Shindō is also well known to policy makers and the public in the region for reasons other than Yasukuni. In August 2011, after announcing plans to travel to the South Korean island of Ulleung-do on a fact-finding mission related to the ongoing Dokdo/Takeshima territorial dispute, Shindō and several fellow legislators were ultimately denied entry to South Korea. That incident did not go unnoticed by the Japanese or Korean media.

The final observation to make about what it means that Abe brought Shindō with him to Washington and wrote him into his speech is that it is hard not to see it as signaling an attitude toward the comfort women issue that is at odds with the Prime Minister’s careful efforts in the months leading up to the trip to avoid suggesting in public that his position differs in any way from that of his predecessors on the key questions of whether coercion occurred, and what if anything the Japanese government might owe to survivors of those practices.  In a March 26th interview with the Washington Post's David Ignatius and then again at Harvard a few days before he arrived in Washington, Abe had spoken of his sorrow over the suffering of those women who had been victims of human trafficking, and as he did in his speech, reiterated the point that his views were no different from those expressed by previous Prime Ministers.[9]

Such language was presumably designed to avoid the widespread criticism that a clearly articulated change in the government’s position would have provoked, to say nothing of the complications it would have posed for Abe’s dealings with the Obama administration.  But casting Shindō in a key role as a symbol for postwar reconciliation - however pleasantly sentimental that might have been for an American audience - can also be read as evidence of what the Abe administration really thinks about all this.  Shindō has a history going back many years as an outspoken critic of efforts to connect the Japanese military to the coercion of young women into the comfort women system. (His views on the topic are documented on his website.) In a recent Channel Sakura broadcast, for example, Shindō responds at length to the June 2012 unveiling of a memorial to the comfort women in New York’s Nassau County.[10]  The text inscribed on the memorial referring to the “more than 200,000 women and girls who were abducted for the use of sexual slavery by the armed forces of the Imperial Government of Japan,” Shindō challenges as entirely without a basis in fact, and as an insult to the nation and the Japanese people alike.  Later that same year, and just before Abe became Prime Minister (again),  Shindō signed on as an “Assentor” when the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact placed a prominent advertisement in the New Jersey Star Ledger denying that the Japanese military had been involved in coercion, and arguing that the women “embedded with the Japanese army” were “working under a system of licensed prostitution” in which they were well treated and well paid.[11] Shindō was one of eight other future members of Abe’s cabinet whose names appeared on the ad.

Or nine if you include Abe, who was also on the list.

Also in the House visitors gallery that morning, as the guest of Representative Mike Honda, was Yong Soo Lee, who at the age of 16 had been forced to serve the Japanese military as a comfort woman.  She had no comment on the Prime Minister’s speech.

Kerry Smith is an Associate Professor in the Department of History, Brown University, where he teaches courses on modern Japan, East Asia, and the atomic age.  His publications include A Time of Crisis: Japan, the Great Depression, and Rural Revitalization (2001),  “The Shōwa Hall: Memorializing Japan’s War at Home,” The Public Historian, 24:4 (Fall 2002): 35-64,  and “Earthquake Prediction in Occupied Japan,” Historical Social Research 40, no. 2 (2015): 105–33. He is at work on a book about disasters, science and the history of expertise in 20th and 21st century Japan.

[1] 114 Cong. Rec. H2504 (daily edition April 29, 2015).  That phrase appears three paragraphs into Kishi’s speech.
[2] Prime Minister Kishi spoke before both Houses of Congress, just not at the same time. Kishi gave the same speech twice - first in the Senate Chamber and then a few hours later in the House.  85 Cong. Rec 9777 and 9865, 1957.
[3] “Kishi is Yankee Rooter, Hurls Game’s First Ball,” Washington Post and Times Herald,  June 24, 1957, p. A4.
[4] See, for example, Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. “Addressing Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’ Issue from an Academic Standpoint.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 12, issue 9, no. 1. (2014).
[5] 114 Cong. Rec H2505 (daily edition April 29, 2015.
[6] The first two sentences of that quote are rendered as one in the Japanese version of the speech: “ 歴史とは実に取り返しのつかない、苛烈なものです.” See the Prime Minister’s website for the full text in Japanese.
[7] Shindo’s official website ( ( includes video clips of his visits to the island, as well as links to published reflections on his grandfather and the battle.
[8] “Yasukuni Frequent Flyer Enrages China, South Korea,” Japan Times, April 12,  2014.
[9] “David Ignatius’s full interview with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” Washington Post, online, March 26, 2015., accessed May 7, 2015.
[10] Also accessible via Shindō’s website,  a Youtube version of the broadcast is available here:
[11] “Yes, we remember the facts,” Star-Ledger, 4 November 2012.

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.