Monday, July 25, 2016

Congressional Testimony on slave labor used by Japanese high hpeed rail companies


Statement for the Record
to the 
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets

Hearing on
LAGGING BEHIND: THE STATE OF HIGH SPEED RAIL IN THE UNITED STATES

By
Ms. Jan Thompson

President, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor-Memorial Society

14 July 2015

Japanese Corporate Use of U.S. POWs as Slave Labor

Chairman Mica and Ranking Member Duckworth, I speak to you on behalf of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor-Memorial Society, the successor organization to the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC), founded in 1946. We represent the surviving prisoners of war of Japan, their families, researchers and historians. Our goal is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to communicate its enduring spirit and inspiration to future generations

Although I cannot address the delays in contracting and construction of High Speed Rail (HSR) in the United States, I would like to call your and the Committee’s attention to the delay by Japanese HSR companies in acknowledging and addressing their wartime use of American POWs as slave labor. The failure of these companies to do so is an affront to the Americans who must fund the purchase of Japanese HSR technologies in our country and to the memory of our World War II veterans who fought tyranny. It also ignores the Charter of Corporate Behavior set by Keidanren, Japan’s major business organization, that asks its members to conduct their business with a “strong sense of ethical values,” “respect [for] human rights and other international norms of behavior,” and “socially responsible behavior within their supply chain.”

Many of the Japanese companies that intend to bid on High-Speed Rail contracts in the United States profited from their wartime use of American and Allied POW slave labor in the most brutal of conditions. And, like France’s HSR company SNCF, the two Japanese consortia bidding for HSR contracts in the United States, JR East and JR Central are the successor companies to state-owned rail lines that transported American and Allied POWs to slavery, torture, and death.

These companies, unlike those in Germany, Austria, and France, have never made amends for – or even acknowledged – their role in the gross violations of human rights and breach of the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs.

We are concerned that taxpayer dollars may go to Japanese corporations that still do not respect American veterans and are unwilling to take responsibility for violations of international law and human rights.

Among the POWs enslaved to support Japanese companies was, Chairman Mica, one of your late constituents, Sgt Sam Moody. We deeply appreciate that you have urged several Congresses to enact legislation in his name: the “Samuel B. Moody Bataan Death March Compensation Act.” We also understand that you honor Sgt Moody daily by giving visiting veterans a copy of his memoir Reprieve from Hell with a forward by you. Sgt Moody was tortured at a camp operated by one of today’s key participants in Japan’s HSR consortia—Nippon Sharyo. This company made and still makes Japan’s rail cars. It is also famous for having built the engines used on the Thai-Burma Death Railway.

Sgt Moody, who survived the Bataan Death March and a “Hell Ship” to Japan was caught stealing a cup of sugar. As punishment, he was made to stand at attention in the Nippon Sharyo camp yard. The 24-year old Massachusetts native remained there for a record-setting 53 hours. The camp reportedly held 273 men of whom 189 were American with the rest being British, Canadian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Czech, Russian, Jamaican, and Finish.

The use of POWs to support Japanese industry during the War was not an isolated event, but was by government design. Imperial Japan’s Ministry of Munitions under Nobusuke Kishi in coordination with the War Ministry headed by General Hideki Tojo created a broad government program to supply over 60 private Japanese corporations with POW labor. These companies requested, paid the government for, and effectively enslaved POWs in order to maintain wartime industrial production. In Japan, some 32,000 Allied POWs endured abuses at the hands of the employees of these companies that were comparable to, and sometimes worse than, those inflicted upon them by the Japanese military. As a result, more than a 1,000 American POWs (over 3,500 Allied POWs) died on the main islands of Japan alone. Of those who survived, many suffered permanent physical or psychological damage.

Nearly all of the Japanese companies that want to bring High-Speed Rail to California, the Baltimore-Washington Corridor, and Texas used POW slave labor. In their corporate histories they boast over 100 years of continuous operation spanning three centuries. Most retain their original names. Many utilized labor from multiple POW camps for their mines, factories, foundries, and docks. Some of the camps were in Japan’s occupied territories. Current research finds the number of POW camps associated with Japanese companies bidding on HSR contracts as follows: Mitsui-9; Hitachi-7, Nippon Steel (Nippon Steel Sumitomo Metal)-6, Mitsubishi-5, Sumitomo-5, Kawasaki-2, Nippon Sharyo-2, and Toshiba-1.

Only one of the Mitsubishi Group’s companies, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation (MMC), and only last year, has acknowledged its involvement in POW forced labor and maltreatment. This is in stark contrast to German (Siemens) and French (SNCF) bidders for the High-Speed Rail projects, both of which have not only apologized for their war crimes during WWII but also committed themselves to supporting extensive projects of remembrance, reconciliation, and reparation.

JR East and JR Central manage the two Japanese HSR consortia. Both have their own histories of involvement with slave labor as both were part of the Japan’s national railway. The rails of JR East transported prisoners to 46 POW camps including the infamous Ofuna Interrogation Center where American Naval officers, such as Olympian Louis Zamperini, were routinely tortured. And the rails of JR Central transported prisoners to 12 POW camps, including the ones supplying slave laborers to Nippon Sharyo. JR Central now owns this company.

In 2009, the Government of Japan finally offered its apology and established a visitation program (modeled on a longstanding Japanese program for POWs of other allied nations) for American former prisoners of war of Imperial Japan. Since 2010, there have been seven trips to Japan for 43 former POWs, all in their late 80s or 90s, and three widows and two descendants.

On July 19, 2015, MMC became the first Japanese company to officially apologize to American POWs who were used as slave laborers to maintain war production. The historic apology was to those who were forced to work in four mines operated by Mitsubishi Mining, Inc., the predecessor company of MMC. This apology was followed by a $50,000 one-time donation to a museum in the United States.

It is time for all Japan’s private companies that plan to bid on American HSR projects to follow their government’s lead, as well as that of MMC, SNCF, and Siemens, and offer their own programs of reconciliation. That the transportation of POWs to “death-by-work” camps and widespread forced labor constitute war crimes is self-evident. Yet, the Japanese companies have been allowed to delay their responsibility to the American people and to justice.

It is our hope that the U.S. Congress will consider among the “delays” that have to be addressed in bringing HSR to the U.S. is Japanese corporate commitment to fostering respect for the life histories of those who they enslaved and abused. We would welcome an opportunity to share our thoughts on how this can be accomplished.
The ordeal of the American POWs of Japan is not just another facet of war history. Nor is it simply another saga of WWII suffering. It is a history of resilience, survival, and the human spirit, good and bad. And it has become an example of a path toward mutual understanding and justice between Japan and its former victims.

Ms. Jan Thompson
President
American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society
Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, Bilibid, Fukuoka 3B, & Mukden, POW# 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Obama must memorialize more than Hiroshima

memorial to American POWs
who died in Hiroshima
On May 27th, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will together visit together the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

There has been much commentary on this, most to create a climate of acceptance of this historic visit. Few give the perspective of the American POW. Many assume it will be negative. This is not necessarily true.

Below is an op ed that appeared on May 11th in The Wall Street Journal Online by Dr. Lester Tenney. He tries to give some nuance to how a Pacific War veteran may view the visit.

For the POWs, who have so often have been abandoned by the White House, this is an opportunity to insist that they must be remembered.

To this end, a memorial needs to be erected at the Port of Moji on Kyushu that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site; Japan’s new UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites must note that American and Allied POWs were slave laborers at these sites; and that the POW visitation program must be turned into a permanent program of remembrance, reconciliation, and education.

On May 12th, National Security Advisor Susan Rice held a meeting with veterans organizations to review the President’s upcoming trip to Vietnam and Japan. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society was not invited. Rice said the President’s decision to visit Hiroshima, Japan was “to honor the memory of all who lost their lives during World War II.” We shall see.

Remembering More Than Hiroshima
We must not forget the lives lost and trauma incurred by Allied forces during the Pacific War.

By LESTER TENNEY
Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2016 12:15 p.m. ET

A black man was the first American soldier to die in World War II. An unexploded bomb from a Mitsubishi “Betty” split U.S. Army Pvt. Robert Brooks in two on December 8, 1941, as he ran to the machine gun on his half-track at Clark Field in the Philippines. Like me, he was a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion preparing to fight the invading Imperial Japanese forces. It is fitting that our first black president will soon stand at Hiroshima, where the Pacific War began its end.

Pvt. Brooks’s sacrifice and those of thousands of American and Allied forces who fought and died for freedom in the Pacific must never be forgotten. What Hiroshima represents is more than the effects of a nuclear weapon. It is the culmination of a war started by Imperial Japan and conducted with gross inhumanity, a war in which more civilians died than combatants.

It would be wrong for the president to pivot away from this history and use his visit solely to discuss aspirations for a world without nuclear weapons. Hiroshima highlights mankind’s tragic ability to wreak terrible destruction, and this destruction was not caused exclusively by atomic bombs. Sand-filled bamboo sticks, bayonets, plague-inflected fleas, starvation and rape—methods of warfare used by Japan—are also destructive.

When President Harry Truman announced the bombing of Nagasaki, which ended the war, he recognized “the tragic significance of the atomic bomb.” However, he went on to explain “we have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved, beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”

As a former American POW of Japan, I am particularly sensitive to these words. Truman was looking out for me and more than 27,000 other American POWs in Asia. Until then, we felt forgotten and ignored. The “Europe first” policy of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill abandoned us to fight without resupply or reinforcement on the Philippines at the start of World War II. We became POWs for more than three bitter years.

We endured four unforgiving months of tank warfare in the tropical heat on Bataan against an enemy with superior training, equipment and provisions. Surrendered by our commanders, nearly 80,000 of us American and Filipino troops were forced on the Bataan Death March. The surviving 68,000 arrived at Camp O’Donnell, a prison camp that saw up to 300 die daily.
The camp commandant ranted at us that we were lower than dogs and better off dead, as we would always be enemies of Japan. I must say that many times I had to agree.

After a period in the camp, many of us went by “hell ship” to Japan to become slave laborers. In my case, it was in a dilapidated Mitsui coal mine. My friend from Janesville, Wis., Capt. Fred Bruni, had a different experience. He and 150 men from the camp were sent to Palawan Island to build an airfield. Upon completion, all the men were set afire and machine-gunned by the Kempeitai.

We POWs have tried to preserve this history despite U.S. and Japanese government efforts to suppress it. Upon liberation, most of us were forced to sign gag orders not to discuss the horrors of our imprisonment. The U.S. government’s policy was to pacify Japan in part by curbing memories of its war atrocities. Central to the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty is an article foreclosing any further compensation of victims, thus again preventing the recall of Imperial Japan’s past crimes and abuses.

At home, an underfunded Veterans Administration refused to give us full disability and ignored or misunderstood the aftereffects of vitamin deficiency, tropical diseases and trauma. It took two acts of Congress before we received any compensation for our imprisonment and only at a rate of $1.50 per day for lost meals.

The U.S. government abandoned the Pacific War’s history. This has made efforts to hold Japanese companies accountable for their brutal use of POW slaves nearly impossible. It is taboo to associate high-speed rails, luxury automobiles or Washington’s metro cars with companies that once abused Americans. Among the nearly 60 well-known companies such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Kawasaki and Nippon Sharyo, only the Mitsubishi Materials Company, which used POWs in four of its mines, has apologized.

In recent years the Japanese government has finally begun to make amends to American POWs. They offered an official apology in 2009. At the Obama administration’s urging, they established in 2010 a reconciliation program for former POWs to visit Japan. Unfortunately the program will end this year without any follow-up for descendants or the public.

But history is critical to how we understand ourselves. No one knew Pvt. Brooks’s race until the Army wanted to honor him. When news of his death reached Fort Knox, the chief of the armored force, Gen. Jacob Devers, decided that a parade ground should be named in his memory, because the first American tanker to die in World War II should not be forgotten.

When it was discovered that Pvt. Brooks’s parents were black tenant farmers from Sadieville, Ky., the general was asked if he wanted to reconsider. “No,” he answered, “it did not matter whether or not Robert was black, what mattered was that he had given his life for his country.” As Gen. Devers said at the Brooks Field dedication ceremony, “In death there is no grade or rank. And in this greatest democracy the world has ever known, neither riches nor poverty, neither creed nor race, draws a line of demarcation in this hour of national crisis.”

Mr. Obama wants to use his visit to Hiroshima to highlight the perils of nuclear war. But this is not the only lesson. Our service as veterans of the Pacific War needs to be remembered and not abandoned to some tumid oratory. The president’s visit to Hiroshima will be hollow, a gesture without motion, if the Pacific War’s full history is not maintained. Hiroshima does not and cannot exist outside the context of the Asia-Pacific War and all its dead.

Mr. Tenney, 95, was a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion, Company B that defended the Philippines in World War II. He lives in San Diego.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Mr. President a visit to Hiroshima cannot be outside the context of the Pacific War

Secretary of State Kerry bows at Hiroshima, April 11, 2016
On April 19, 2016, Lester Tenney, Past National Commander, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor wrote President Barack Obama the following letter:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We met at your annual Veterans’ Day breakfast last year. I was the former POW of Japan who gave you my book describing how I survived the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March, a “hell ship” to Japan, and slave labor in a Mitsui coal mine.

Whereas I encourage a visit to Hiroshima, I do object to any visit that does not first acknowledge the American and Allied forces that fought and died for freedom in the Pacific. To focus solely on the effects of a nuclear weapon removes all responsibility from Imperial Japan for starting the war and conducting it with gross inhumanity.

American POWs of Japan are particularly sensitive to being left behind and ignored when presidents pursue big policies. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill’s “Europe First” policy abandoned us to fight without resupply or reinforcement on the Philippines at the start of World War II. Isolated, sick, and without ammunition, food, or medicine, we had no choice but to be surrendered and become prisoners of Japan for over three years

Upon liberation most of us were forced to sign gag orders not to discuss the horrors of our imprisonment. The policy was to pacify Japan by erasing its history of atrocities. At home, the VA refused to give us full disability and ignored or misunderstood the aftereffects of vitamin deficiency, tropic disease, and trauma. It took two acts of Congress before we received any compensation and only at a rate of $1.50/day for lost meals.

In 1995, we sued the Japanese companies that used us as slaves. We were thwarted in court by the U.S. State Department siding with the Japanese. The Peace Treaty with Japan, written when Japan was believed destitute, was designed to preclude further war claims. The young lawyer in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser who worked on the brief was even given an award for his successful efforts against us veterans.

In Congress, the U.S. Defense Department, State Department, and a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by Japanese companies and government joined to stop legislation that would allow the POWs to sue Japanese companies or to have the U.S. government provide ex gratia compensation as all other Allied governments and Norway had to their POWs of Japan.

Efforts to compel Japanese companies to apologize and to give atonement payments for their brutal slave labor have produced very little. Among the nearly 60 well-known companies such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Kawasaki, and Nippon Sharyo, only Mitsubishi Materials Company, that used POWs in four of its mines during the War, has come forward to apologize. Last year they held a ceremony in Los Angeles and donated $50,000 to a museum. No other company has followed.

Yes, over the past decade the Japanese government has worked to make amends to the American POWs. They offered an official apology in 2009. With your urging, they established in 2010 a reconciliation program for former POWs to visit Japan. However, the help of your Administration seems to have stopped there.

Port of Moji, Kyushu

Mr. President, I do not want you to add to the sorry tale of abandonment of the American POWs of Japan. I urge you to ensure that the history of the war in the Pacific is fully remembered and memorialized. Most of all I want you to understand that Hiroshima does not and cannot exist outside the context of the Asia Pacific War and all its dead.

Thus, I urge you to include in your visit to Japan with a visit to the American section of the Commonwealth Cemetery in Tokyo. Then you should go to the port of Moji on Kyushu to break ground for a memorial to the American and Allied POWs carried to Japan aboard “hell ships.” At Hiroshima, please include a stop at the memorial plaque to the 12 POWs killed near the hypocenter.

I also urge you Mr. President to ask Prime Minister Shinzo Abe two things: 1) to make permanent the reconciliation visitation program so that descendants and historians can be included and expand it into a joint educational program; and 2) to urge those companies that used POW slave labor to emulate their government’s honorable gesture of acknowledging their inhumane treatment of American POWs and apologizing for it.

At 95, I have witnessed the worst and the best of Japan. What I suggest can help you advance our important relationship with Japan by bringing an honorable closure and healing to its darkest history.

I wish you a very successful and fruitful trip to Japan.

Sincerely yours,

Lester Tenney

Past National Commander, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor

Friday, April 15, 2016

Veterans urge Obama to halt visit to Hiroshima

Ben Steele of Montana at Liberation
U.S. Veterans Ask President

To Halt Hiroshima Visit Planning

Demand a Memorial for POWs in Japan


Makanda, Illinois, April 15, 2016/American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society/ -- Survivors of wartime Japan’s death camps and slave labor call on President Barack Obama to halt planning a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial until he breaks ground in Japan for a memorial to American and Allied POWs.

The leading American veterans’ organization for former prisoners of war of Imperial Japan, their families, and historians, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS), sent a letter to the President on April 14th asking him to forego a trip to Hiroshima until he “can first make an equally poignant memorialization of the Americans who perished in Japan.”

Specifically, they want the President to “break ground for a memorial to the American and Allied POWs at their port of entry and slavery into Japan, the dock at Moji on Kyushu.”

For a President’s visit to Hiroshima to be successful, they advise “it must include the acknowledgement of all the victims of the war in the Asia Pacific. Hiroshima symbolizes not only the destructiveness of mankind, but also what lengths we may need to go to end suffering and tyranny.”

The ADBC-MS is alarmed that “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration have been working since taking office to replace the established history of Japan’s abuses during the war with a denier’s view.” As a result, they believe the President’s “visit will not merely be unreciprocated; it will sanction the Abe Administration’s anti-historical efforts and abrogate your mission, which is to remind us all what we are capable of both good and bad.”

It is estimated that over 300,000 American and Allied POWs and civilian internees were held in inhumane conditions by Imperial Japan. Nearly half died in squalid POW camps, aboard fetid “hell ships,” or as slave laborers for Japanese corporations. Over 14,000 died on the “hell ships” to Japan. And more than 30, 000 Filipino soldiers with the U.S. Forces in the Far East died as POWs.

The letter concludes “War is about how it is remembered. We hope that you will respect the interests and memory of America’s Pacific War veterans.”

For more details, contact the ADBC-MS President, Ms. Jan Thompson.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kerry's Premature Visit to Hiroshima

Saturday, April 9 was the 74th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan and the beginning of the Bataan Death March. The failure of the US Secretary of State to acknowledge all the victims of the Pacific War and why President Harry Truman felt it was necessary to use the destructive power of a new weapon on Japan has prompted many to question the wisdom of the President following with a visit as this former POW writes.

WEEKLY STANDARD, APR 11, 2016 | By LESTER TENNEY

By Lester Tenney, PhD, 95, is a survivor of the Bataan Death March and was a tank commander in the 192nd Tank Battalion on Bataan

John Kerry has become the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park, ground zero to the first atomic bomb. He recognized the victims of World War II, saying he was there in part to "revisit the past." As part of that history, a prisoner of war of Imperial Japan, I hope that Secretary Kerry also remembered why there was a Hiroshima and a Nagasaki, which I witnessed.

Secretary Kerry stood in Hiroshima on the anniversary of what was my second day of the Bataan Death March. After four months of brutal tank warfare in the Bataan Peninsula of the Philippines, on April 9, 1942, I had been surrendered by my commanding officers as we had run out of ammunition, food, and medicine.

Nearly 80,000 American, Filipino, and European volunteer troops, exhausted, sick, and hungry, were forced to march in the tropical sun on unpaved roads out of Bataan. Every moment was one of gripping fear. We did not know where we were going or if we would arrive alive. Our guards screamed commands we did not understand. They beat us with rifle butts and sand-filled bamboo sticks until we fell.

The first American I saw killed directly by the Japanese was on the second day of the Death March. He had fallen to the ground and tried to explain that he was too sick to continue. The guards responded by bayoneting and shooting him in the chest. A lieutenant also fell of exhaustion and was shot, but his body was left in the middle of the road for a truck convoy to crush. But the worst that day was watching my first American beheaded—you convulse as you throw up with your stomach muscles tightening so that you think you will never again breathe. And then you shake and shake and shake.

Deniers in Japan have been revising the Bataan history for some time. In December 2005, a popular Japanese magazine, Bungei Shunju, reported that the Bataan Death March route was mischaracterized. A female journalist had walked the 65-mile Bataan Death March trail in October and found the now-paved road undemanding. She had water, a snack, and a hat. She did not have dysentery, malaria, battle wounds, or a bayonet at her neck. She was not denied water, food, or rest. Nor did she witness random deaths. She was not a prisoner of war.

In 2010, another popular magazine, Shukan Shincho, again questioned my memory of the Death March and the abuse I received as a POW. The author suggested that the March never happened and that I made up a "collection of torture scenes from Hollywood movies."

A similar article in 2012, in the conservative monthly, Seiron, accused me of willfully killing civilians in the Philippines and exaggerating the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Both articles referred to my being Jewish as the cause of my indifference and supposed overstatements, as if to say I am not a typical American.

But the bigger problem of misperception is maybe outside Japan, where the POW experience is ignored. Last year, UNESCO designated Mitsui's Miike Coal mine, barely 35 miles from Nagasaki, as a World Industrial Heritage site. This is the dangerous mine where 1,700 POWs and I were slave laborers. Nothing at the site mentions us, and no U.S., European or Australian government official has objected.

While the Bataan Death March is being dismissed in Japan, it is being misremembered in the U.S. If recognized at all, it is believed to have been just another long slog. In an interview with Politico, President Obama compared his first election campaign to the Bataan Death March.

I am a witness. Who will be my witness when I am gone? At 95, I can't have much longer. It is not enough to silently remember the victims of the Pacific War. An active and rigorous campaign of education and reflection is necessary. It is premature to visit Hiroshima's ground zero before first ensuring that the full history of World War II is preserved.

If President Obama follows his Secretary of State with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in May, I suggest he also visit the Port of Moji. The "hell ships" carrying the sick and dying survivors of the Bataan Death March and other lost battles unloaded their "cargo" at this port. It would be fitting for the president of the United States and the prime minister of Japan to break ground with a memorial at the port to the American and Allied POWs. And the president should insist that Japan's UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites, where so many POWs toiled and died after arriving at Moji, have this history included in the pubic descriptions.

The final Japanese offensive on Bataan had started on April 3: Good Friday for the Americans and Filipinos. Behind Japanese lines, it was the anniversary of their first Emperor Jimmu's death. For both sides it was a day of death, but one that might point to a path toward redemption.

Looking back 74 years, I understand that it is what we share that matters most. On the second day of the Bataan Death March, I happened to stare at a tin of fish being eaten by a young Japanese soldier sitting beside the road. We had not yet been allowed food or water. He stared back. Then, without hesitation, he handed me the opened can.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

April 9 - Remember Bataan

Presidential Proclamation -- National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, 2016

NATIONAL FORMER PRISONER OF WAR RECOGNITION DAY, 2016
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION


Under the flag of the United States, generations of women and men, united in a common cause greater than themselves, have served to defend the ideals that bind us together as a Nation and that preserve our country as a beacon of hope and freedom around the world. On National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day, we salute the selfless service members throughout our history who gave of their own liberty to ensure ours, and we renew our commitment to remaining a Nation worthy of their extraordinary sacrifices.

In wars and engagements since America's founding, brave patriots have experienced indescribable suffering as prisoners of war. Often physically and mentally tortured, starved, and put through the worst most of us could imagine, these heroes are owed a debt we can never fully repay, and their families -- who exhibited tremendous fortitude in the face of grueling uncertainty -- are worthy of our profound gratitude. The values of honor, courage, and selflessness that drive our Armed Forces are particularly acute in those who have been taken as prisoners of war, sustaining them through days, weeks, and sometimes years of profound hardship endured for the sake of securing the blessings of liberty for all.

America's former prisoners of war -- and all who don our uniform to keep us safe -- have helped make our Nation the strongest and most prosperous in the history of the world. Our eternal obligation is to care for them and uphold our everlasting promise to never leave our men and women on the battlefield behind. Let us reaffirm our adherence to these ideals and honor our former prisoners of war by paying them the gratitude and respect they deserve.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2016, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day of remembrance by honoring all American prisoners of war, our service members, and our veterans. I also call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

A quid pro quo for Hiroshima

1930s Postcard of Moji
click to purchase
On March 3rd, Ms. Jan Thompson, President, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society submitted a Statement for the Record to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Joint Hearing To Receive Legislative Presentations of Veterans Service Organizations.

Her testimony AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR OF JAPAN: PROTECTING THE MEMORY OF WORLD WAR II VETERANS OF THE PACIFIC emphasized that reconciliation with Japan continues and needs to be further encouraged. It is far from complete.

In listing what still needs to be done, she touched on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's upcoming visit to the memorial for the atomic bombing victims at Hiroshima. Such a visit appears detached from the reality of what little Japan has done to acknowledge its own culpability for the war. She thus suggests: 
that if President Obama or his successor were to visit Hiroshima, the trip would be inappropriate without first the memorialization of POWs at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” docked and unloaded their sick and dying “human cargo,” and a remembrance for the POWs at the UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites where so many toiled and died.
Full text of the statement below

Chairmen Isakson and Miller, Ranking Members Blumenthal and Brown, Members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, thank you for allowing us to present the unique concerns of veterans of World War II’s Pacific Theater to Congress. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society (ADBC-MS) represents surviving POWs of Japan, their families, and descendants as well as scholars, researchers, and archivists. Our goal is to preserve the history of the American POW experience in the Pacific and to communicate its enduring spirit and inspiration to future generations.

Today, I would like to review the history of the American POWs of Japan, describe some of the incredible progress that we have made, and show what still needs to be done.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of America’s entry into World War II. It began in Asia.

As Japanese bombs rained down on Peal Harbor on December 7, 1941, so they also did on the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, Howland Island, Midway, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Shanghai. On December 8th nearly 300 American Marines, sailors, and diplomats stationed in China became the first American POWs of Japan.

By the beginning of 1942, there were more than 2,000 American POWs. In March 1942, over 900 sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines were captured in Java—survivors of the sinking of the USS Houston CA-30, a Texas-based U.S. Army Field Artillery battalion, and a U.S. Army Air Corps squadron. On April 9, 1942, another 10,000 Americans became POWs with the surrender of the Bataan Peninsular in the Philippines. And in early May 1942, over 11,500 Americans were surrendered on Corregidor, a fortress island in Manila harbor, and in the Southern Philippine Islands. The surrender of American and Filipino forces on the Philippines Islands was the largest surrender in United States military history. Over 26,000 Americans were ultimately held as POWs of Imperial Japan. Nearly 11,000 died in squalid POW camps, aboard fetid “hell ships”, or as slave laborers. Tragically, only 15,000 returned home to their families.

To remember all our veterans
Last year, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the leaders of both Japan and the United States recognized the American POWs and their contribution to the steady relationship between two countries. In his September 2nd VJ day statement, U.S. President Barak Obama remembered “those who endured unimaginable suffering as prisoners of war.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his war anniversary statement on August 14th recognized “the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military.”

Yet, there was no recognition from the U.S. Congress. The ADBC-MS was dismayed in 2012 when none of the 70th anniversaries of historic battles at the beginning of World War II were officially recognized. Surprisingly, December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” has not been commemorated with a Congressional resolution for many years. Nor have the April 9, 1942, Fall of Bataan and the start of the infamous Bataan Death March been remembered as in past Congresses. And few in Congress note the annual Prisoner of War Remembrance Day in April or the National POW/MIA Recognition Day in September.

We hope that future Congresses will correct this oversight and not forget our POW veterans. We hope the events that started American involvement in World War II will be remembered with resolutions memorializing the simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines Islands. We would like to see the Battle of Wake Island commemorated. For nearly two weeks in December 1942, 400 Marines and 1,500 unarmed civilians held off an invading Japanese armada—the defense of Wake is still taught in our military academies as an example of brilliant tactics, heroic command, and tenacious effort. We hope too that the 98 Americans, who the Japanese kept on Wake as POW slave laborers, only to massacre them on October 7, 1943, before American forces liberated the island, will be memorialized.

Meet the special needs of all veterans
We applaud the efforts of all the veterans’ service organizations to fight for adequate medical care and disability benefits. We support the DAV’s efforts to pass S. 425, the Veterans Homeless Programs, Caregiver Services and Other Improvements Act of 2015, which contains provisions to make veterans of all eras eligible for the VA’s Comprehensive Caregiver Support program. Surviving POWs of Japan know well that their caregivers—their families—were instrumental in their reintegration into their communities and their ability to achieve the highest levels of recovery and quality of life. Family caregivers are critical members of every veteran’s health care.

The incidence and intensity of post-traumatic stress for American POWs of Japan is believed to be the greatest of any World War II veteran and possibly of any American war. These veterans had to survive the sordid POW camps, unimaginable and capricious torture, “hell ships” to Japan or its colonies, and years of brutal imprisonment and slave labor. Upon returning from the Pacific War, they found a government reluctant to recognize and treat the mental and physical effects that were consequences of the deprivations suffered while POWs of Japan.

At the time, PTSD was not yet a medical category and VA doctors limited the POWs’ access to disability benefits by dismissing the after-effects of years of abuse, disease, and malnutrition. That should not happen to any veteran, and thus, we strongly support the legislative goals of our fellow veterans service organizations to ensure medical and mental health care, as well as to expedite disability claims, to provide rehabilitation, and to establish job-training programs for all American veterans. The American POWs of Japan and their families know intimately the difficulty of re-incorporation into civil society with little support.

Progress Toward Remembrance, Reconciliation, and Preservation
An important aspect of showing respect and acceptance to returning service men and women is to ensure that they are not forgotten. This is the mission of the ADBC-MS. To this end, we have had a number of significant achievements.

In 2009, the Government of Japan, through its then-Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro FUJISAKI, and again in 2010, through its then-Foreign Minister Katsuya OKADA, officially apologized to the American POWs of Japan. These Cabinet-approved apologies, first established as a Cabinet Decision on February 6, 2009, were unprecedented. Never before had the Japanese Government apologized for a specific war crime nor had it done so directly to the victims.

The Japanese Government further initiated the “Japan/POW Friendship Program” that sponsors trips for American former POWs to visit Japan and return to the places of their imprisonment and slave labor. Thus far, there have been seven trips, one each in the fall of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and two in 2015. In all, 43 former POWs, all in their late-80s or 90s, have been able to travel to Japan along with three widows and two descendants.

On July 19, 2015, the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation (MMC) became the first Japanese company to officially apologize to those American POWs who were used as slave laborers to maintain war production. The historic apology was to those who were forced to work in the mines operated by Mitsubishi Mining, Inc., the predecessor company of MMC. This apology was followed by a $50,000 one-time donation to the National American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor (ADBC) Museum, Education & Research Center in Wellsburg, West Virginia.

Success should encourage more action
The benefits of these long-awaited acts of contrition have been immeasurable for former POWs and their families. The visitation Program is a great success. It has given the participating veterans a peace of mind and strengthened the bonds between our two countries. A former POW who was forced to be a miner in a dangerous, Mitsubishi copper mine declared it “a glorious day” when he accepted the company’s apology.

But we are concerned about the future. There is no formal agreement between the U.S. and Japan to continue the visitation program and Japan’s Foreign Ministry must request annually a line-item budget for it. One cannot help but get the impression that some in Japan count on time and the POWs advancing years to end the program. We view this as shortsighted.

The Program should not end with the ability of the nonagenarian POWs to visit Japan or with their deaths. A POW’s captivity has multigenerational effects on families. The wives, children, and siblings of those who died suffered irreparable loss. The families of those who survived suffered from the long-term physical and mental health problems caused by the ex-POW's years of cruel captivity. The original understanding was that the former POWs, their widows and their descendants would be invited to participate. Widows, children, and other descendants have all been profoundly affected by the POW experience of their relatives, and they too should be eligible for future programs.

We want this program to include funds to create visual reminders of history through educational groups and monuments. We want national memorials to the POWs who slaved and died on Japanese soil and territories as well as aboard the “hell ships.” We want to see a Japanese government-funded memorial at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” delivered their sick, dying, and dead human cargo to the Japanese mainland.

Concerns with moving backwards
To our dismay, there appears to be backtracking in Japan regarding the American POWs history. It was not until last month that the 2014 biographical film Unbroken about American Olympian and aviator Louis Zamperini’s ordeal as a POW was shown in Japan. It was preceded by a venomous campaign of misinformation and slander denouncing the scenes of abuse and torture and declaring them impossible. In contrast, surviving POWs believed the film to not show the full depravity and squalor of their imprisonment.

We are concerned by last year’s inscription of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In five of the eight new World Heritage areas there were 26 POW camps that provided slave labor to Japan’s industrial giants including, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Aso Group, Ube Industries, Tokai Carbon, Nippon Coke & Engineering, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Furukawa Company Group and Denka. Californian Lester Tenney, the American POW of Japan who was honored at the President’s Veterans Day Breakfast last year, was a slave labor at one of the new UNESCO sites, the Miike Coal Mine.

Japan stated on July 4, 2015, that it “is prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others [emphasis added] who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.” However, we do not know how the Japanese government interprets “others” and U.S. government officials have not asked. Frankly, we have not seen any effort toward including the history of the 13,000 Allied and American POWs held at the UNESCO sites.

Ironically, a prefectural government recently reported plans to submit records from a POW camp to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register as a token of bilateral friendship. The Bando Camp in Tokushima Prefecture, however, was where German soldiers were treated humanely during World War I. It stands as a stark contrast to all Japan’s POW camps during WWII. Not far from the remains of Bando is the World War II Zentsuji POW camp that held Allied officers and enlisted men from Guam and Wake, including five U.S. Navy nurses and an American woman with a newborn.

What we ask Congress
We ask Congress to encourage the Government of Japan to hold to its promises and responsibilities by preserving, expanding, and enhancing its reconciliation program toward its American former prisoners. We want to see the trips to Japan continued and extended to include widows and descendants. We want Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicize the program, its participants, and its achievements.

We ask Congress to have Japan turn its POW visitation program into a permanent Future Fund supported by Japanese government and industry for research, documentation, reconciliation, and people-to-people exchanges that are not subject to the Japanese government’s yearly budget review. This Future Fund would spearhead the creation of visual reminders of Imperial Japan’s war history through museums and monuments. These would include national memorials to and public exhibitions about the POWs who slaved and died on Japanese soil and territories as well as aboard the “hell ships.”

We ask Congress to encourage the U.S. State Department to continue to vigorously represent the interests of the veterans’ community. It is only the U.S. government that can persuade Japan to continue the visitation program, to create a Future Fund, and to ensure that the stewards of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution take seriously the UNESCO mandate to produce meaningful educational materials at the Heritage sites that will include the history of forced and slave labor during World War II.

In April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to become the most senior American official to visit the memorial for the atomic bombing victims at Hiroshima. It is rumored that this will prepare the way for President Barack Obama’s journey to Hiroshima in May. We suggest that if President Obama or his successor were to visit Hiroshima, the trip would be inappropriate without first the memorialization of POWs at the Port of Moji, where most of the “hell ships” docked and unloaded their sick and dying “human cargo,” and a remembrance for the POWs at the UNESCO World Industrial Heritage sites where so many toiled and died.

High price of freedom
The American POWs of Japan and their families paid a high price for the freedoms we cherish. In return for their sacrifices and service they ask that their government, even after 70 years, keep its moral obligation to them. They do not want their history ignored or exploited. They do not ask for further compensation. What they want most is to have their government stand by them to ensure they will be remembered, that our allies respect them, and that their American history be preserved accurately.

The ordeal of the American POWs of Japan is not just another facet of war history. Nor is it simply another saga of WWII suffering. It is a history of resilience, survival, and the human spirit, good and bad. And it has become an example of a path toward mutual understanding and justice between Japan and its former victims.

We ask Congress for support and to help our veterans in their unique quest for justice and remembrance.

In the United States this history is being forgotten, and in Japan it is being revised. We cannot let this happen, on either side of the Pacific.

Thank you for this opportunity to address your committees.

Ms. Jan Thompson
President
American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor Memorial Society
Daughter of PhM2c Robert E. Thompson USN, Bilibid, Fukuoka 3B, & Mukden, POW# 2011