Monday, April 11, 2016
Kerry's Premature Visit to Hiroshima
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.