Presented at Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
2005 Spring Symposium
2255 Rayburn House Office Build
by Dennis P. Halpin
East Asian Affairs
International Relations Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Presented at Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
2005 Spring Symposium
2255 Rayburn House Office Building
May 19, 2005
This statement reflects my own views and not necessarily those of the International Relations Committee nor its Chairman Henry J. Hyde.
Sang Joo, Members of ICAS, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my honor to appear here today to address the issue of the history of the Second World War. It is a fitting time as world leaders have gathered in Moscow earlier this month to commemorate the Allied victory in Europe. We hopefully anticipate a similar commemoration of the Allied victory in Asia later this summer. It was the victory in Asia, after all, which was the final nail in the coffin of the Nazi, Fascist and militarist forces which had plagued mankind for the first decades of the Twentieth Century and which threatened to plunge the world into a second Dark Age. Still, here today, we celebrate that victory. We mourn those many victims. We cherish that history.
For, yes, history matters. It matters profoundly. This is because, as philosopher George Santayana famously noted “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But history matters not just as an insurance policy against a repetition of catastrophe. It matters as story telling, as a reflection of who we are and from where we have come.
Americans, having come from so many other places, are not particularly inclined to recall historic events, even of the recent past. At times this national characteristic of “historic amnesia” can have a healing effect. “Let bygones be bygones,” is a favorite American saying. Yet, at other times, this easy attitude about the past can lead to indifference and even carelessness, a lack of affirmation and empowerment of those who feel their stories have been either patronized or completely ignored.
This lesson on the importance of giving a voice to history was clearly demonstrated the other week when I took some relatives to visit the newly-opened National Museum of the American Indian. The orientation film there, prepared by Native Americans, explained the struggle they have had attempting to give voice to the historic record of the various peoples who inhabited two continents, North and South America, before the arrival of Europeans. The film also spoke of the stereotyping of Native Americans in Hollywood films, which led to a misperception of them as somehow having less value than other human beings. The museum’s mission is explained as follows:
[T]he museum works in collaboration with the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere to protect and foster their cultures by reaffirming traditions and beliefs, encouraging contemporary artistic expression, and empowering the Indian voice.”
Certainly such empowerment was and is necessary. When I was a child and studied American history in school, we learned a one-sided story of the White Man’s Manifest Destiny and the westward settlement of a continent as a triumph of science over nature and of civilization over the savage. There were no lessons on Andrew Jackson’s deportation of Native Peoples to west of the Mississippi River, known as “the Trail of Tears,” nor an account of the Seminole struggle to remain in Florida as “the Unconquered Tribe,” nor a retelling of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Now, if belatedly, American school children can learn the Native American story by visiting this museum in our nation’s capital. Every nation has moments of shame, but the willingness to speak with candor of that shame to future generations is one good measure of a nation’s mettle.
There is another museum in another nation’s capital. This is the Yushukan Museum of the War in the Pacific, which stands next to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The Washington Post in a recent article reported about the museum as follows:
“In a museum film, Pearl Harbor is described as a ‘battle for Japan’s survival,’ while one exhibit blames the 1937 Nanjing Massacre – in which Chinese officials say Japanese soldiers slaughtered 300,000 people — on the Chinese leaders who fled the city while ordering their men to fight to the death. After the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese, the museum noted ‘the Chinese citizens were once again able to live their lives in peace.”
A colleague from the International Relations Committee and I made a visit to this museum in January of last year. Our conclusions were contained in a report of our staff delegation visit to Taiwan and Japan, which was submitted in March of last year to the Committee’s Chairman, Henry J. Hyde. Our findings included the following:
“A staff visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and the neighboring Yushkan Museum supported reports that Japan has a long way to go before it makes peace with its neighbors over World War II atrocities . . . . The Yushukan Museum further supports the accusations of Japan’s neighbors. The museum gives an account of modern Japanese history, from the Meiji Restoration to the end of World War II, that justifies Japan’s military aggression and trivializes gross human rights abuses. While this is not a mainstream Japanese interpretation of the war, it appeals to a wide enough audience that it has been given prominence in a major museum . . . . A clear indication of the unique interpretation of history put forward at the museum is a wall near the exit containing photographs of leading Asian leaders of independence movements, most prominently being Mahatma Gandhi. The caption connected to the photographs noted that, although Japan’s ambitions for a “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” failed to be realized, various independence movements sprang up after the Second World War to continue the struggle for an end to racial discrimination and colonialism in Asia.”
Whatever profound political and ethical differences existed between Mahatma Gandhi and the British Raj, there has never been any indication to my knowledge that the apostle of nonviolence ever supported Japanese militarism as a viable alternative to India’s colonial status. And given documented Japanese cultural attitudes of racial superiority with regard to their Asian neighbors at the time, one finds the museum’s claim of support by other Asians for Imperial Japan’s concept of a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” to be ludicrous. Tokyo’s slogan of “Asia for the Asians” was a cruel deception with tragic results. Given the brutality of Japanese troops, especially of the Kempeitai (Imperial Japan’s version of the Nazi Gestapo), it is difficult to conceive of many Asians, even under the yoke of European colonialism, ever rallying to the flag of the Rising Sun.
The then British colony of Singapore is a case in point. One recollection:
“Singapore fell so quickly that most locals were stunned. It took some time before they realized that the colonial regime had collapsed. The Japanese proclaimed themselves the “liberators” of Singapore when they took control on February 16, 1942 . . . . The Europeans and the Chinese suffered the most under Japanese rule. . . . Treatment of POWs was harsh – prisoners were often tortured and forced to do manual labor at construction sites and at the harbour. It included working on the infamous Burma-Siam Railway. Few returned from this hell hole.
The Japanese were angry with the Chinese, because the local Chinese had provided help to the Chinese during the Sino-Japanese War. Their hatred ended in Operation Sook Ching – a mass killing to “purge” or eliminate” suspected anti-Japanese elements among the Chinese from Singapore.
On February 18, 1942, many Chinese were driven from their homes and assembled at five major “registration camps” to be screened. Many were dragged out of their homes at bayonet point. . . . In some centres, women and children were released while the men, and even boys, were herded into trucks and driven away, never to be seen again. In other centers the Kempeitai condemned people at will, sometimes sending entire families to their death . . . . Thousands of local Chinese died in Operation Sook Ching (“wipe out”). The official death figure was six thousand, but unofficial figures ranged from twenty-five to fifty thousand. The Japanese also forced a $50 million ‘gift’ out of the Malayan Chinese. The task of raising $10 million, Singapore’s share of the $50 million, fell on the Overseas Chinese Association.”
No less a figure than Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has written, in his memoirs, his recollection of Japanese colonial rule:
“However, once the Japanese lorded over us as conquerors, they soon demonstrated to their fellow Asiatics that they were more cruel, more brutal, more unjust and more vicious than the British. During the three and a half years of occupation, whenever I encountered some Japanese tormenting, beating or ill-treating one of our people, I wished the British were still in charge. As fellow Asiatics, we were filled with disillusionment, but then the Japanese themselves were ashamed to be identified with their fellow Asiatics, whom they considered racially inferior and of a lower order of civilization. They were descendents of the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami Sama, a chosen people, distinct and separate from the benighted Chinese, Indians and Malays.”
Mr. Lee also gave an eyewitness account of a public execution:
“One of my first outings was into town. . . . On the way, I saw a crowd near the main entrance to Cathay cinema. . . . Joining the crowd, I saw the head of a Chinese man placed on a small board stuck on a pole, on the side of which was a notice in Chinese characters. I could not read Chinese, but someone who could said it explained what one should not do in order not to come to that same end. The man had been beheaded because he had been caught looting, and anybody who disobeyed the law would be dealt with in the same way.”
So much for present day claims in Japan that Imperial Japan’s militaristic adventure in the first decades of the Twentieth Century was a noble crusade to free its Asian neighbors from Western imperialism and colonialism.
Americans, of course, would focus their attention first upon the claims made in the Tokyo museum about the bombing of Pearl Harbor which resulted in the largest loss of American life in any such attack prior to September 11, 2001. Every American school child should know President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s stirring words regarding this attack: Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
Please note that President Roosevelt made reference to the then Emperor of Japan in his address to a Joint Session of Congress requesting passage of a Declaration of War – the last such declaration ever passed by an American Congress. It seems clear that President Roosevelt assumed the Emperor had some culpability for the events at Pearl Harbor or he would not have evoked his title in his December 8, 1941 statement. Yet, according to the Washington Post, in an article last weekend, Japanese legislators overwhelmingly approved a controversial bill on Friday, May the Thirteenth – an inauspicious date – creating a national holiday to honor Hirohito, Emperor of Japan during World War II, a move that critics called the latest in a series of steps to glorify Japan’s militarist past. By a vote of 202 to 14, the Upper House of Japan’s Parliament passed the bill to give the country a day off on Hirohito’s April 29th birthday.
This vote reflects the depths of denial and the degree of insensitivity with which considerable portions of the Japanese government and people continue to view their nation’s imperialist past. In fairness, as the Post reported in the same article, some Japanese lawmakers did raise objections. Seiji Mataichi of the Social Democratic Party, stated that “this is inviting opposition from neighboring countries such as China and South Korea.”
Yes, and what about the United States? I have heard a number of journalists and Congressional staffers grumbling under their breaths about this callous slap in the face to the American dead in Bataan and at Pearl Harbor, not to mention my uncle who died prematurely due to his participation in the War in the Pacific. No one, however, seems to want to say anything publicly. Well, I shall.
I remember vividly that, during Emperor Hirohito’s official visit to the continental United States in 1975 (he had stopped briefly in Alaska in 1971), there was a firestorm of controversy that erupted among American veterans’ organizations. Perhaps the legislators in Tokyo assume that the WWII generation is now largely dead in the United States and no one will notice. My older relatives in Chicago, however, are still very much alive and they are incensed by this action taken by the Japanese legislature. Would the German Bundestag ever consider passing legislation enacting a Kaiser Wilhelm Day? I think not.
Symbolism is important, especially in Asia. I would hope that, at a minimum, the American Embassy in Tokyo and U.S. Consulates in Japan would remain open on April 29th each year and conduct business as usual in silent protest and in honor of the American dead at Pearl Harbor and in Bataan.
This holiday for Hirohito, however, follows a growing trend of historic revisionism in Japan. The top earning domestic film in Japan in 1998, for example, was “a controversial movie that depicts Japan’s top war criminal as a hero. . . . “Pride,” a film about World War II leader General Hideki Tojo. . . . immediately provoked an outcry from neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, which were occupied by Japanese troops. . . . The film portrays Tojo as a peaceful man who went to war in self-defense, and to liberate Asia from Western colonialism – a popular view among nationalist Japanese.”
Perhaps the Italian film industry should undertake the filming of “Il Duce and the Second Roman Empire?”. . . although I doubt it would have much box office appeal in Rome, where I once lived.
American perceptions of Tojo are naturally quite the opposite. American ire throughout the war was directed at the perceived treachery of the Pearl Harbor attack, even more than at the Nazis and Italian Fascists and their horrific human rights violations in Europe. A racially-tainted expression of that ire was the internment of Japanese-Americans, but not German or Italian-Americans, in camps after the war broke out. I had my own private affirmation of American animosity toward Japan when my grandfather died thirty-seven years ago and we went to clean out his attic. There we found the textbooks of my mother’s younger brother, who was a high school senior when Pearl Harbor was attacked. In the front of each book, he had written clearly “Remember Pearl Harbor” as well as other inscriptions which reflected the depth of his anger. He went on to fight in the Pacific and is alive today as an eighty year-old veteran of the Second World War.
If one asks older Americans when World War II ended, they will invariably reply that it was when the guns fell silent in the Pacific not the Atlantic. The month of May, despite the recent exuberance displayed in Moscow by the world’s leaders, is not the hour of reckoning remembered by the Greatest Generation. It was hearing that General Douglas MacArthur had accepted Imperial Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945 on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay that meant the war had finally ended for them. One hopes that this sixtieth anniversary will be equally celebrated for Americans this year as May 9th was celebrated for the Russian people.
Some in Washington may state that dredging up distant memories of a long ago war involving a now dying generation does not serve the national interest. But America bears a unique responsibility for both the successful execution of the war and its aftermath. It was the United States and Great Britain that led the world in defeating Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Militarist Japan. It was the United States, exercising the authority of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), General Douglas MacArthur, which shaped the drafting of the post-war Japanese constitution. This constitution, still in effect to this day, contains the historic Article Nine, the subject of much controversy and speculation over possible revision. Washington, in 1945, believed the militaristic spirit of bushido contained in the Japanese national psyche required Japan’s renunciation of war to assure peace in Asia. Many in Washington now, conversely, would welcome Article Nine’s revision or outright abolition as they seek a strategic partnership with Tokyo. Many in Asia fear such action would be a first step toward the revival of a dormant samurai spirit, which could lead an unrepentant Japan again down the path of militarism.
“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
A key question, which many in Washington raise, is: has not Japan apologized enough? Aren’t its Asian neighbors just being unreasonably stubborn? Why can’t we just move on and allow Japan to assume the role of a normal state with a sufficient military apparatus to reflect its economic power? Prime Minister Koizumi, in a Jakarta speech on April 22, stated:
“In the past Japan through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering for the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations. Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility.”
Well said. However, on the exact same day as the speech, eighty-one Diet Members visited the Yasukuni Shrine for its spring festival. The Shinto shrine honors fourteen Class-A war criminals. The Diet delegation intends to visit the shrine again on August 15th, the sixtieth anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific War.
A South Korean newspaper carried a cartoon lampooning this odd juxtaposition of events. Titled: “Is this an apology?” the cartoon showed the Diet Members at the Yasukuni Shrine. A legislator says: “The Prime Minister was not available to come here since he was on a trip.”
Can one imagine German or Italian Parliamentarians ever going to a commemorative ceremony for Nazi or Fascist leaders? How sincere is an apology given in such circumstances?
The United States and its Allies equally chastised all the leaders of the Axis for their war crimes and demanded their unconditional surrender. Washington, however, was able to render justice to only one of the three leaders of this original Axis of Evil. Adolph Hitler, as we all know, avoided the day of reckoning by committing suicide in a Berlin bunker. Benito Mussolini, fleeing toward Italy’s northern frontier, received the vigilante justice of a group of partisans who executed him and his mistress and then strung their bodies up in a square in Milan. Only Hideki Tojo, who unsuccessfully attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest, faced accountability for war crimes. A total of 1128 Japanese nationals were imprisoned to await trial before a military tribunal organized under the authority of the SCAP. Tojo, along with five other Japanese generals, as well as one civilian, received the death penalty and were hung as Class A war criminals.
It is the inclusion of the spirit tablets of Class A war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, in the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead, that has been the source of such controversy. The webpage of the Yasukuni Jinja Shrine raises questions about the impartiality of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), also known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, and ponders whether those convicted are, in fact, guilty. It states:
“This matter is drawn upon the judgment professed by the Military Tribunal for the Far East that Japan fought a war of aggression. Can we say that this view is correct? We must pass judgment on this matter in the same manner of a tribunal that passes judgment after gathering credible proof. We cannot help but feel that the possibility of ulterior motives has not been discounted. Isn’t it a fact that the West with its military power invaded and ruled over much of Asia and Africa and that this was the start of East-West relations? There is no uncertainty in history. Japan’s dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni.”
This is a clear assertion, in a circumspect Japanese manner, that the IMTFE, held under the authority of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, General MacArthur, was a case of merely “to the victor goes the spoils” without having a valid legal foundation in actual fact. The participation of Japan’s highest political leaders in ceremonies at the Yasukuni Shrine is an indication of endorsement of these views expressed by the Shrine’s authorities. Such an assertion cannot be left unchallenged. It should not be met by continued silence in Washington. Either the U.S. government should reassert the correctness of the judgment at Tokyo and the sentences rendered or Washington should offer an apology to the Japanese government and people for carrying out a crude act of political vengeance after the war.
As the Yasukuni web page notes “there is no uncertainty in history.” And there is no uncertainty that Hideki Tojo and those who collaborated with him were war criminals, the same as their Nazi and Fascist allies in Europe. This is a historic fact that the government and people of Japan should accept if Asian history is to move forward as has been the case in Europe.
What crimes against humanity did Tojo and his cohorts implement which earned them the appellation of Class A war criminals? Let us briefly examine the historic record.
Americans should have a particular interest in the crimes committed against the captured American and Allied POWs, for these were the men and women who had gone forward after Pearl Harbor to give their lives, if necessary, to protect the United States from further attack. Unlike the German and Italian military in Europe, who, despite atrocious crimes in other areas, had a fairly decent record of complying with the Geneva Convention regarding the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Imperial Japan has a shameful and shocking record during the Second World War, including, but not limited to, the Bataan Death March. Lester Tenney, from the Maywood, Illinois National Guard unit, has written a poignant and painful memoir as a survivor of that Death March:
“No sympathy, no concern for us as humans, no burials – the Japanese were treating us like animals. We had no doubt as to how we would be treated as prisoners of war. . . . All Japanese soldiers were indoctrinated to believe that surrender was the coward’s way out, and a soldier who was captured was expected to commit hara-kari at the first possible opportunity.”
Tenney went on to describe brutal, summary executions on the march, including that of Filipino civilians for their acts of compassion to the “zombie-like”men trudging past them, who had had nothing to eat and were dehydrated:
“Finally, on the fourth day, as we entered the town of Balanga, Filipino civilians stood along the sides of the road, throwing various food items to us: rice cakes, animal sugar cakes, small pieces of fried chicken, and pieces of sugar cane. . . . These Filipinos’ gestures lifted our sunken spirits to a new high. Suddenly, we heard shots ring out from somewhere in the middle of our marching group. Within seconds, the people along the side of the road scattered in all directions, for the Japanese soldiers were shooting them for offering food to us prisoners. Two of the Filipinos started to run across the field, heading for a water hole. . . . The guards then ran over to the fallen men and began hollering at and kicking them…Next, the Japanese guards fired several shots at point-blank range into the men’s prostrate bodies.”
American POWs were also executed randomly and in the most inhumane manner:
“One of the men had a very bad case of malaria and had barely made it to the rest area. He was burning up with fever and severely disoriented. When ordered to stand up, he could not do it. Without a minute’s hesitation, the guard hit him over the head with the butt of his gun, knocked him down to the ground, and then called for two nearby prisoners to start digging a hole to bury the fallen prisoner. The two men started digging, and when the hole was about a foot deep, the guard ordered the two men to place the sick man in the hole and bury him alive. The two men shook their heads, they could not do that…the guard shot the bigger of the two prisoners. He then pulled two more men from the line and ordered them to dig a hole to bury the murdered man. The Japanese guard got his point across. They dug the second hole, placed the two bodies in the holes, and threw dirt over them. The first man, still alive, started screaming as the dirt was thrown over him.”
Lester Tenney’s memoir contains over two hundred pages describing the abuse, torture and execution of U.S. prisoners of war, both on the death march in the Philippines and as slave laborers of major Japanese corporations, some of whom continue to do business in the United States. He lists at the end of his book the names of almost one hundred comrades-in-arms who did not return as a result. I received my copy of Mr. Tenney’s book a few years ago when he petitioned those on Capitol Hill to support legislation put forward by Mr. Rohrabacher and Mr. Honda to seek compensation and an apology from those Japanese corporations who made use of American POW slave labor. The legislation was not passed. State Department lawyers informed the Congress that the Treaty of San Francisco, signed in 1951, settled all outstanding war claims with Japan and precluded civil suits by Mr. Tenney and others. I am not an international lawyer and I do not know if the zaibatsu system of corporate fascism in place in Japan before and during the war inoculated these corporations from POW lawsuits. I leave that to the lawyers. One thing I do know, however. There is nothing in international law or in any peace treaty which precludes the offer of an apology. While Americans sentimentalize over “the Greatest Generation,” including construction of a memorial fifty-nine years after the end of the war, the Japanese corporations involved in slave labor of war prisoners stubbornly refuse to offer any _expression of remorse. It is time, before the last of these prisoners of war, who have suffered so much, pass away into history to offer them the apology they have requested.
A declassified U.S. government document on this issue, discovered by author Linda Goetz Holmes, indicates a degree of discomfort by American officials over the exclusion of American citizens from war compensation. The American Embassy/Tokyo memorandum, dated June 9, 1955, states:
“Although there is nothing that can be done about it, it may be a little awkward for us to explain to American civilians who were interned by the Japanese in the Far East why they should receive no compensation if the Dutch Government succeeds in getting some compensation from Japan for Dutch civilian internees. You will recall we had a lot of explaining to do to American prisoners of war about their being cut out of the Article 16 fund. We were able to remind prisoners of war that the United States Government provides compensation to them out of Japanese assets in the United States. But the United States Government has not provided any compensation to American civilians who were captured outside of the Philippines or other United States territory.”
There was a massacre of American prisoners of war in the Philippines that surpassed even the events documented up to this point. December 14, 1944, Puerto Princesa Prison Camp, Palawan, Philippines was a second date of infamy for the Japanese military. The event, as described by author Hampton Sides, was as follows:
“A third air-raid alarm sounded. . . . Reluctantly the American prisoners did as they were told, all 150 of them, crawling single file into the poorly ventilated pits. . . . They waited and waited but heard not a single American plane, let alone a hundred. . . . Then, peeking out of the ends of the trenches, the men saw several soldiers bursting into the compound. They were carrying five-gallon buckets filled with a liquid. The buckets sloshed messily as the soldiers walked. With a quick jerk of the hands, they flung the contents into the openings of the trenches. By the smell of it on their skin, the Americans instantly recognized what it was – high octane aviation fuel from the airstrip. Before they could apprehend the full significance of it, other soldiers tossed in lighted bamboo torches. Within seconds, the trenches exploded in flames. The men squirmed over each other and clawed at the dirt as they tried desperately to shrink from the intense heat. They choked back the smoke and the fumes, their nostrils assailed by the smell of singed hair and roasting flesh. They were trapped like termites in their own sealed nest. Only a few managed to free themselves.”
Hampton Sides, in his riveting work Ghost Soldiers, proceeds from the description of this massacre to a description of how a few survivors escaped to warn the U.S. military of the retreating Japanese army’s plan for a mass murder of POWs to cover up their war crimes in the Philippines. The heroic story of the rescue of American POWs by a group of hand-selected U.S. Army Rangers, with the assistance of Filipino guerrilla forces, is the main focus of the book. I have heard that Sides’ book may be made into a movie. Such a film could provide Americans with a visual reminder of the horrors of the War in the Pacific similar to that provided by the Spielberg film Schindler’s List regarding the War in Europe.
Americans, however, were not the only victims of Japanese militarism. The agony of Japan’s neighbors, in both length of duration and scale of suffering, would make the American experience pale by comparison.
The Korean people not only endured a formal occupation of thirty-five years but a systematic attempt to wipe out their culture, language, and their very identity as a people. Americans heard some of this story at the recent dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, where an eleventh-grader from Potomac, Maryland was chosen in a nationwide essay contest to present a written expression of Lincoln’s ideal of freedom. President Bush and Speaker Hastert were among the dignitaries who attended the dedication and heard the Korean-American school girl’s words. Mihan Lee spoke of her great-grandfather, Jung In-seung, who was arrested and sent to a prison camp for writing a Korean dictionary when use of the Korean language was forbidden by the Japanese occupiers. Mihan summarized the values she learned from both Lincoln and her great-grandfather as follows:
“I believe that freedom in the 21st century means the liberty of individuals, regardless of age, race, gender, or class, to express themselves in their own words, and to use those words to shape history.”
Koreans were subjected to one of the world’s most brutal colonial experiences, with tens of thousands transported as slave laborers to Japan and Manchuria. The Korean-American writer, Richard Kim, in his work, Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood, poignantly describes the brutality of the Japanese occupation between 1932 and 1945 from a child’s point of view, where teachers beat students for any utterance of the Korean language. The New York Times’ Book Review stated that: “Lost Names is not a poem of hate, but a poem of love. . . we see the cemeteries full of Koreans apologizing to their ancestors for having lost their names.” The attempted denial of both national and family identity for such a proud, ancient, Confucian people is hard to forgive. As one example of the thoroughness with which Tokyo authorities sought the cultural annihilation of Korea, the Government-General, upon the formal annexation in 1910, conducted a nationwide search for books on Korean history and geography and, in one of the greatest book burnings of all time, destroyed between 200,000 and 300,000 volumes.
Resistance to Japanese rule, of course, predated the Second World War. Most notable was the March 1st Movement of 1919. This nationwide explosion started in Seoul’s Pagoda Park where thirty-three intellectuals, gathered during a period of public mourning for the recently deceased last King of Korea, Kojong. Kojong promulgated a petition, the Declaration of Korea’s Independence, just prior to his death.
The former King and many Korean nationalists had been inspired by President Woodrow Wilson’s words regarding “self-determination” at the Versailles Peace Conference, not realizing that those words were directed only to peoples living under the yoke of old Empires within Europe and not to Asians and Africans. At least half a million Koreans took part in nationwide demonstrations over the period of the two months following March 1st. At the end, the number of dead protestors was in the 7,500 range. In the cruelest act of suppression, Japanese police locked protestors inside a church and then burned it to the ground.
In 1929, in Kwangju, a city whose name would later be written in blood in Korean history, a group of student demonstrators, shouting “Long live Korean Independence!” headed in procession toward the Japanese governor-general headquarters. So Chong-ju, then a thirteen year-old boy, wrote in a poem what happened next:
“Mounted police drove us like sheep into a corner. From the police station yard, one by one we were dragged into a room, stripped to the waist, beaten fifteen, twenty times with leather straps. Those who had been followers were turned loose, though for days after I could not lie down in bed, for soreness, each day angrier, I muttered at them, “Butchers! Bastards! Just you wait.”
The Kempeitai, mentioned earlier in reference to Singapore, were fully engaged, with collaborators, in the repression of the Korean people. Sodaemun (“West Gate”) prison in Seoul was built by the Japanese authorities in 1907, even before the formal annexation of Korea. It was used to imprison and torture Korean patriots, stands today as a museum giving empowerment to the voices of those who suffered and died there. The footprint of Imperial Japan’s institutions still lies heavily on Korean soil. The U.S. military base at Yongsan, soon to be turned over to Korean authority, was first built as the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army in Korea. The U.S. naval base at Chinhae and the USFK Army base at Camp Hialeah in Pusan are likewise legacies of the Japanese military – Hialeah having been a racetrack before it became a base. The former KCIA headquarters on Namsan, the Draconian symbol of South Korean military rule, was likewise reportedly originally a Japanese government facility. The Japanese footprint even reached to Rajin in the far northeastern corner of the Korean peninsula. When I attended a UN conference in that North Korean city in 1996, a group of westerners went to a dinner at an old hotel. One of the western professors in attendance, a Korean expert, told us that the hotel had once served as headquarters for Kempetai operations against Korean guerrilla forces in the border area and across in Manchuria. I could almost hear the cries of the dead as we ate our sober meal.
The most reprehensible colonial policy of all, however, was the sexual enslavement of between 100,000 and 200,000 Korean young school girls and women as “comfort women” for the Japanese Imperial Army’s combat troops (lesser numbers of Chinese, Filipina, Taiwanese, and Dutch women from Indonesia were also so enslaved.) I was the Embassy coordinator for the Fourth World UN Conference on Women held in Beijing in the summer of 1995. The Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) conference was moved out of Beijing to the town of Huairou, supposedly because then Chinese Premier Li Peng had experienced an unpleasant confrontation with NGOs at a UN conference in Europe. While the Chinese authorities placed their own “comfort women” activists under house arrest for the duration of the conference, the South Korean NGOs, together with their sisters from the Philippines, spontaneously organized a series of events and demonstrations centered on the unresolved issue.
The “comfort women” issue should be a subject of concern for the U.S. government which, over the last decade, has made the “trafficking in persons” issue a top foreign affairs priority. It would seem impossible then to ignore an unresolved issue which involves the most extensive case of government-organized trafficking in women in the entire Twentieth Century. That injustice is compounded by the Japanese government’s continued insistence that the trafficking was carried out by private contractors without the specific sanction of the Japanese Imperial Army. The continuing refusal to offer apologies or to compensate the now elderly victims should be a source of national shame. The fact that it took decades for these women to come forward, long after World War II settlements were reached between governments, should not be an issue. The psychological scars must be immense and the sense of shame, especially for women from socially conservative Asian cultures, must be overwhelming.
One woman of conscience, a former Japanese teacher at a Korean middle school during the colonial period, returned to Korea when I was American consul in Pusan a decade and a half ago. She visited her old school and, with tears of remorse, she examined old school records, remembering the virginal young Korean school girls who were taken away to be “comfort women.” This Japanese woman was the exception to a general attitude of denial and disdain. Please note the following:
“On March 29, 2001, a Japanese court overturned the first and only compensation award ever ordered for former World War II sex slaves or ‘comfort women.’ Hiroshima’s High Court reversed the landmark April 1998 ruling by a lower court under which the Japanese government was to pay 300,000 yen (2,440 U.S. Dollars) each in damages to three South Korean women.”
I have been given a declassified U.S. government document from 1945 which challenges Japanese official claims of lack of involvement of the Imperial Army in the recruitment of comfort women. An interview by the U.S. military with a prisoner of war, a civilian brothel owner in Burma, confirms official Japanese involvement:
“A prisoner of war, a civilian brothel owner, captured with his wife and twenty army prostitutes near Waingmaw on 10 August 1944, stated: “Prisoner of war, his wife and sister-in-law made some money as restaurant keepers in Keijo, Korea, but, their trade declining, they looked for an opportunity to make more money and applied to Army Headquarters in Keijo for permission to take ‘comfort girls’ from Korea to Burma. According to prisoner of war, the suggestion originated from Army Headquarters and was passed to a number of similar Japanese ‘businessmen’ in Korea.”
The Japanese public is rightly concerned about the abductions of its citizens by agents of the North Korean regime a number of years ago, including a young girl. The abduction of another young girl many years ago, now grown old, should be a cause for equal concern. This is her story: One of the surviving comfort women, Ok Seon Lee, spoke as a guest of the Korean-American Students Association of Brown University in the autumn of 2002. . . . At that time she was seventy-five years old. For the previous two years, she had been living in a charity home operated for surviving comfort women in South Korea. Before that, she lived in China, where she had resided for almost five decades after three years of enslavement as a Japanese military ‘comfort woman.’ Ms. Lee’s story:
‘One day when I was out on an errand in town, I was captured by a Japanese man. I tried to fight him off, but my resistance had no effect. He took me down the road and threw me into a truck. On the truck there were five other girls – six including myself. We had all been captured and were held against our will . . . . Eventually, because we each began to fight and yell, demanding to be let go, they stuffed our mouths with cloth. I had actually arrived in China but did not know this until one year after my arrival . . . . The youngest girl was fourteen years old. I was fifteen. The oldest was seventeen years old. The Japanese soldiers there had no mercy or compassion. They beat us all the time, until we bled, saying we were bad workers. We would resist and try to fight back to the best of our abilities, telling them we wanted to go home…They took in young girls who had no knowledge and fed them almost nothing besides the food they gave to pigs, and they expected us to serve up to thirty or forty soldiers per day.”
Imperial Japan’s conquest of China was just as brutal as that of Korea. And China endured the longest war of all. If you ask an American when World War II began, they will inevitably reply: “December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor.” Ask a European, and they will state: “September 1, 1939, the invasion of Poland.” But if you ask a Chinese, they will say: “July 7, 1937 at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing.” To paraphrase the former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, “all wars are local.” Western historians say as many as 8 million Chinese civilians died during the period between 1937 and 1945, and perhaps 2.5 million Chinese soldiers. Chinese sources claim up to 30 to 35 million died. Whatever the final number of casualties, it was a horrific loss for China and her people.
China’s resistance to Japan, however, can be traced at least as far back as May 4, 1919. Just as Koreans had been engaged earlier, on March 1st of that fateful year, China’s young people were enchanted by the siren song of “self-determination” coming out of the mouths of Western political leaders gathered to make peace in Versailles after the devastation of the First World War. Self-determination, however, was really intended only for Czechs and Poles and not for Chinese or Koreans. When Chinese students learned that the final Peace Treaty at Versailles had granted the former German concessions in China to Imperial Japan, rather than returning them to Chinese sovereignty, they felt a sense of betrayal and erupted in massive demonstrations in Beijing and other cities. And so China was engaged in its long twilight struggle against Japanese militarism.
China and the United States ultimately joined hands in the common struggle. Major General Clare Chennault’s “Flying Tigers” daringly flew over the Himalayan “Hump” to resupply embattled Chinese forces. When Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle called for air crews to launch a raid on Tokyo in April 1942, to lift American spirits in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the eighty men who piloted 16 B-25 bombers knew that it was a possible suicide mission. There was not enough fuel to return to American-held territory. Crew members captured in the raid were either executed or interned in POW camps, where one died of malnutrition. The crews of eleven of the bombers bailed out over China or crash landed there, however. Most of these men were rescued by friendly Chinese guerrilla fighters or local Chinese peasants.
Of all the horrors inflicted by Japanese Imperial troops during their march toward empire, first in Manchuria and then in the rest of China, none can surpass for savagery what occurred in the Chinese city of Nanjing: After Nanjing fell, on December 13, 1937, the Japanese military ran amok in the city and surrounding areas until February 1938, when relief garrison forces finally relieved the frontline fighters. Until that time, the soldiers continued with acts of arson, torture, murder, and rape on a scale that has few parallels in history. Buildings were looted and burned. Tens of thousands of presumed Chinese soldiers were rounded up and summarily executed. Civilians of all ages were tortured and executed. Women were raped by the thousands. The late author, Iris Chang, originally from Illinois, wrote the definitive work on the Nanking Massacre. Her discovery of eyewitness accounts in the West, from American missionaries who were in the city at the time, as well as from the diary of the Nazi Party member John Rabe, provided definitive evidence that a wholesale massacre of Chinese people took place in the city during those two months.
One of the eyewitness accounts which Iris Chang recorded was provided by American missionary Minnie Vautrin, aged fifty-one at the time of the massacre. Vautrin attempted, with other missionaries, to establish a “safety zone” around her Ginling College’s campus. Iris Chang recorded:
“That evening Vautrin saw women being carted away in the streets and heard their desperate pleas. A truck went by with eight to ten girls, and as it passed she heard them scream, ‘Jiu Ming! Jiu Ming! (Save our lives!)’ …As she accommodated the stream of wild-eyed women, she heard stories of the Japanese raping girls as young as twelve and women as elderly sixty, or raping pregnant women at bayonet point.”
Another American eyewitness was missionary surgeon, Dr. Robert Wilson, who had been born in Nanjing. He was raised in China, where he learned geometry from Pearl Buck. After receiving a degree from Harvard Medical School, he returned to the city of his birth to practice medicine at the University of Nanking Hospital. Iris Chang records Dr. Wilson’s account:
“One of the worst scenes Wilson saw in Nanking – a scene he would remember for the rest of his life – was a massive gang rape of teenage girls in the street. A group of young women between the ages of fifteen and eighteen were lined up by the Japanese and then raped in the dirt, one after another, by an entire regiment. Some hemorrhaged and died, while others killed themselves shortly afterwards. But the scenes in the hospitals were even more horrifying than those in the streets. Wilson was mortified by the women who came to the emergency room with their bellies ripped open, by the charred and horribly disfigured men whom the Japanese tried to burn alive, and by numerous other horrors he barely had time to describe on paper. He told his wife that he would never forget the woman whose head was nearly cut off, teetering from a point on her neck.”
The Japanese Ambassador to Washington at the time of publication of Iris Chang’s book, Kunihiko Saito, did not display the usual culturally expected Japanese reticence and politeness in verbally attacking Chang’s work as “inaccurate,” “distorted” and “erroneous.” Ms. Chang responded by challenging the Ambassador to a televised debate. (On The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Iris challenged Ambassador Saito to apologize to the victims of the Nanking Massacre. He declined.)
I was living in Beijing at the time and remember that the debate was widely broadcast via cable television. I have a very close personal friend, a Chinese-American businesswoman, a partner in a major U.S. corporation, who is usually extremely cool-headed, conducting business in Japan and elsewhere in a highly professional manner. She rushed over to see me a day or so after the debate, however, to ask me rhetorically “Would the German Ambassador to Washington ever dare to criticize a Jewish writer who published a work on the Holocaust?” She was shaking with rage.
A site of particular concern in this era of renewed interest in chemical and biological weapons is the infamous Unit 731. Located just outside of the Chinese city of Harbin, this is where biological and chemical weapons experiments were carried out on Chinese, Korean, Russian, and other nationals, including American POWs, between 1938 and 1945. My children and I visited the Harbin museum, which records the 731 war crimes, in 1997. The biological weapons experiments conducted on helpless prisoners there included anthrax, an agent with which we on Capitol Hill are now familiar.
One description of what happened there:
“The noise was like the sound when a board is struck. On the frozen fields at Ping Fang, in northeast China, chained prisoners were led out with bare arms, and subjected to a current of air to accelerate the freezing process. Then came the noise. With a short stick, the arms of the prisoners would be struck to make sure their limbs had indeed frozen. In the gruesome world of Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army, experiments with frostbite on human subjects became a favorite in a macabre litany of cruelty. . . . Apart from the frostbite experiments, prisoners were infected with diseases including anthrax, cholera, and the bubonic plague. To gather data, human vivisections were performed. Whole villages and towns were infected with the plague and cholera.
In the end, at least three thousand prisoners, mainly Chinese, were killed directly, with a further 250,000 Chinese left to die through the biological warfare experiments. It is called the Asian Auschwitz and, in terms of inhumanity and horror, it certainly warrants this description. Yet there remains a fundamental difference with the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews. While Germany has shown deep contrition and remorse, the leaders of the country that spawned the evil of Unit 731 still struggle to come to grips with what occurred.
This week (August 2002) in a Tokyo court, the world was again reminded of Japan’s inability to deal with its march across Asia. In courtroom 103, three judges of the Tokyo District Court rejected a claim for an apology and compensation by one hundred and eighty Chinese, either victims or the family of victims of Unit 731. . . . The judges claimed all compensation issues were settled by a treaty with China in 1972.”
Yes, your honors, and what about the apology part? What is so hard about saying “We are sorry for what you suffered?’ A Japanese man of conscience, Yoshio Shinozuka, came forward in 1997. A former member of Unit 731, he gave testimony and declared his remorse. Some of his harrowing testimony:
The Chinese victims were known as “logs” and it was Shinozuka’s job to scrub them down before the vivisection. “I still remember clearly the first live autopsy I participated in,” he recalled. “I knew the Chinese individual we dissected alive because I had taken his blood once before for testing. At the vivisection, I could not meet his eyes because of the hate he had in his glare at me.” The victim had been infected with the plague, and was totally black. Shinozuka was reluctant to use the brush on the man’s face. “Watching me, the chief pathologist, with scalpel in hand, signaled me to hurry up.” He recalled. “I closed my eyes and forced myself to scrub the man’s face with the deck brush.”
The museum in Harbin, which I visited, pointed out an embarrassing fact for Americans: those Japanese commanders, including “the brutal psychopath” Lieutenant-General Shiro Ishii, the Doctor Mengele of the Pacific Theater who ran the infamous Unit 731, were never brought to justice by the United States at the IMTFE in Tokyo. Ishii and his cohorts in torture and mass murder got off scot-free. They received immunity from prosecution in return for supplying their research to American scientists.
In his work Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45, and the American Cover-up, Sheldon Harris points out that the matter was raised only once at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal of 1946-48:
An American counsel assisting the Chinese, David N. Sutton, stunned the war crimes tribunal by saying: “The enemy . . . took our countrymen as prisoners and used them for drug experiments. They would inject various types of toxic bacteria into their bodies, and then perform experiments on how they reacted. . . . this was an act of barbarism by our enemy.” …The presiding judge, Australia’s Sir William Webb, said “How about letting this item go?” Sutton replied: “Well, then, I’ll leave it.” The issue never surfaced again. . . . ”
No account of Japanese war guilt would be complete without a description of what happened in the Philippines, the nation where the Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Henry J. Hyde, served as a young naval officer under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur is remembered to this day for keeping his pledge to the people of the Philippines, made on the eve of the fall of the island fortress of Corregidor: “I shall return.” The Philippine people had a long, if somewhat conflicted, relationship with the United States of America. The documentation of their fidelity to the American people during the brutal Japanese occupation is stunning and one of the greatest but largely untold stories of the entire war. Hampton Sides records it in his book on the U.S. Army Rangers’ perilous mission through the Philippines countryside to rescue American POWs:
“Captain Prince nervously craned his neck to learn what the delay was. He heard something strange, a chorus singing softly in the twilight. The tune was hard to make out at first, but then Prince caught it – “God Bless America,” the familiar stanzas rendered in thickly accented English, the melody charmingly curdled with the occasional stale note. At the entrance of the town a few dozen teenage girls dressed in white gowns were singing in sad, sweet voices. . . . The town was planning a feast. People were slaughtering their chickens and cows, building fires, stirring vats of stew. The villagers had prepared a classic Filipino fiesta. . . . Many of the Rangers welled with tears. That the people of Platero were throwing this kind of reception in the midst of war’s misfortunes made their generosity all the more stirring.”
Hampton Sides also recorded from veterans the attitudes the Filipino villagers expressed toward the Japanese occupiers:
“Of course, they despised the Japanese with a countervailing passion. . . . At the start of the war, the Japanese thought they could easily win over the countryside with their “Asia for the Asiatics” rhetoric. They declared: ‘We’ve come to free you from the bonds of Western colonialism. Join us in a new day. . . . ‘ It didn’t help that the Japanese military police, the Kempeitai, had sent any number of provincial villagers off to dungeons in Manila. Nor that pimp contractors for the Emperor’s Army had come and drafted pretty Filipino girls, often under false pretenses, to serve as “comfort women” in crab-infested bordellos over in New Guinea or the Solomon Islands. . . . Japanese soldiers were prodigious slappers. They slapped to discipline, to scare, to convey a point. . . . But the slap clashed fundamentally with a basic rule of Filipino etiquette. One of the worst ways to insult a Filipino is to slap him in the face. . . . You do that to a Filipino and you have a deadly enemy for life.”
The sacking of Manila was brought to my attention when, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I went down to the Philippines from Korea in the winter of 1972 to find a little warm weather. Our tour guide in Manila, who took us through the Intramuros, the “Walled City”, a jewel of Spanish colonial architecture constructed in 1571, had tears in her eyes as she spoke of the Japanese Imperial Army’s wanton destruction of churches and monuments as they withdrew from the city. It was as if American occupying forces would have sacked Kyoto, that gem of Buddhist architecture and the cultural center of Japan. And it was so unnecessary as the war was by then clearly lost.
Even as devoted a follower of the Emperor as General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” who had led the blitzkrieg down the Malayan peninsula to capture Singapore in early 1942, must have recognized this. General Yamashita took command in the Philippines in October 1944 and soon concentrated his efforts in a defense of the main island of Luzon. Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, the 31st Naval Special Base Force Commander, had operational control of Manila. . . . Yamashita ordered a retreat but by this time the United States had cut off Manila and the admiral could not break out. In Iwabuchi’s battle of desperation that followed, his naval force engaged in an orgy of rape, torture and murder of a civilian population for which Yamashita would be legally held accountable. It is estimated that eight thousand civilians were killed and at least five hundred women were raped during this period. . . . Yamashita was served on 26 September 1945 with a generic charge of war crimes. . . . Yamashita was brought before a Military Commission. . . . Significantly, the court brought down its verdict of guilty on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1945 and sentenced the accused to death. He was hanged in Manila on February 23, 1946, the first Japanese official to be executed for war crimes. The hastiness of the trial raised questions about its legitimacy, with some claiming Yamashita had no knowledge of the actions of Iwabuchi and his troops. It should be noted that the people of Guam maintained their loyalty to the United States and the American people during a bitter encounter with Imperial Japan similar to that suffered by the people of the Philippines. The nearly three year period of brutal occupation followed an invasion of the island territory by Japanese imperial forces in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ms. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, the Member of Congress serving as the Delegate from Guam, has introduced legislation, H.R. 1595, The Guam WWII Loyalty Recognition Act, which addresses these issues and which would implement the recommendations of the Guam War Claims Review Commission.
Ms. Bordallo, in her May 17th letter to Members of the House regarding the legislation, stated:
“Sixty-four years ago the people of Guam awoke to a calm peaceful morning. The date was December 8, 1941, and they gathered in their churches to pay homage to their island’s patron saint, Our Lady of Camarin. Their services and prayers were interrupted with the sounds of air raids and the noise of heavy bombardments…Subjected to death, rape, internment, forced march, and forced labor, the people of Guam remained resolute in their loyalty to the United States Flag in the cause of freedom. On July 21, 1944 the Americans returned to Guam: the liberated met their liberators.”
There is a final, compelling issue which I wish to address. There are those who would raise the American nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as cases of moral equivalency with what Imperial Japan did during the war. I visited both Japanese cities during the nineteen seventies. I observed the peace ceremony in Hiroshima in August 1972 and saw the melted girders of the memorial dome left standing since the day of the attack. I saw, in January 1973, the stone statues of saints and angels with melted faces at a Catholic church in Nagasaki, where Mass was being said near ground zero on the morning of the blast. Many Americans have a sense of disquietude, even a degree of guilt, over our country being the first and only nation to use a nuclear weapon in conflict. Perhaps that is one reason we are so tolerant of Japan’s official silence on the war crimes committed by its armed forces.
Back in high school, I read an assigned book in history class, the John Hersey classic on the subject titled Hiroshima. It led to an often heated and very candid debate of the moral issues involved, with pacifist views very pronounced in that nineteen sixties suburban Catholic high school classroom. Such debate is often worthwhile. Perhaps, instead of only the approved and often controversial history textbooks available in Japanese schools, high school students in Japan should be assigned to read Iris Chang’s work, The Rape of Nanking, or Hampton Sides’ book, Ghost Soldiers. As a result, there might be a greater and clearer understanding by future generations of Japan’s role in the Second World War and greater expressions of compassion for the victims. It is just a thought. Hersey’s account is wrenching:
As Mrs. Nakamura stood watching her neighbor, everything flashed whiter than any white she had ever seen. . . . Timbers fell around her as she landed, and a shower of tiles pummeled her, everything became dark for she was buried. The debris did not cover her completely. She rose up and freed herself. She heard a child cry, “Mother, help me!” and saw her youngest – Myeko, the five year-old, buried up to her breast and unable to move. As Mrs. Nakamura started frantically to claw her way toward the baby, she could see or hear nothing of her other children.
I was very critical of the American atomic bombings, even though my World War II era father and uncles insisted these actions were absolutely necessary to swiftly bring the war to an end and save American lives. Last year, however, in preparation for a staff delegation visit to Okinawa, my first visit to the island, I read George Feifer’s work on The Battle of Okinawa: The Blood and the Bomb. I learned that the battle of Okinawa was the largest battle of the war in the Pacific, and surpassed even the D Day landing in Normandy in the scope of its operations. Feifer states that it was “the site of the largest land-sea-air battle in history.” More people died during this battle than those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including 12,000 Americans, 107,000 Japanese troops and Okinawan conscripts, and about 100,000 Okinawan civilians. Many of the civilians committed suicide by jumping off cliffs out of fear of what Japanese government propaganda had said the Americans would do to them if captured. The fanaticism of the Japanese defense – which we could see again in a future battle with North Korea – included the use of suicide kamikaze pilots who willingly gave their lives to the Emperor in exchange for sinking an American ship and killing or maiming its crew.
President Truman, seeing the results from Okinawa, was presented with an untenable choice, a need to render a decision that even King Solomon in all his wisdom would find difficult to determine. He could end the war quickly and save countless American and Japanese lives, or prolong it for six more months with a bloody attempt to occupy the Japanese home islands which would make the Battle of Okinawa look like only a dress rehearsal. It is not a decision any of us would want to face.
However, people on both sides of the Pacific must realize that it was Hideki Tojo, perhaps in consultation with others, who opened the genie’s bottle and released the winds of war by the sudden and unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. The tempest of those winds wailed ceaselessly for almost four long years before bringing a nuclear tsunami which crashed down on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, taking tens of thousands of innocent lives. This was part of the bargain which Tojo and his militarist cohorts unwittingly made in their pact with the god of war on December 7, 1941.
As we commemorate this sixtieth year of the end of the greatest war of all time, remembrance of things past will have profound significance. The conflict in the Pacific involved the United States in a major way. It was our fight too. Can we ignore the sacrifice of the Americans, and our British and other Allies, who died to rid the East of fascist militarism? Can we ignore the suffering of our POWs in Bataan? Can we so easily forget the sailors eternally interned at the bottom of Pearl Harbor? Can we ever forget the brave Filipinos who suffered or died because of their fidelity, in the face of grave danger, to their American friends? Can we ignore the warm-heartedness of those Chinese people who risked their lives to save the survivors of Doolittle’s Raid? I sincerely hope not.
I fear that the sounds of footsteps entering a shrine will disturb the tranquility of a summer’s morning. The echoes of those footsteps will resound across the water reaching distant places, north to Seoul, west to Beijing, south to Manila, and east to Honolulu. I fear that the lessons of history will then rise in the air like wisps of incense from that shrine, blowing in the summer breeze, but then gone with the wind. I fear that the bows by dignitaries toward the tablets of those who caused such pain will disturb the final repose of the spirits buried in Nanjing, in the American Cemetery in Manila, (which contains 17,206 graves), near Unit 731 in Harbin, and in the sunken frame of the battleship USS Arizona lying at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. And then all hope for a more harmonious tomorrow in Asia will vanish with the fading sounds of the retreating footsteps.
Some in Washington are dreaming an impossible dream. They wish for Japan to become the Great Britain of Asia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and a partner of the United States in securing the peace in Asia and beyond. We Americans, at least, would like to see this happen. But without an honest accounting of its history, as was done in Europe, Japan can never become a Great Britain. Japan, despite its immense generosity in the funding of international organizations, can never secure a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Japan will be excluded and marginalized unless Tokyo makes some great historic _expression of remorse, like that of German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1971 kneeling at a memorial in Poland to the victims of the Nazis. Without such a sincere act of contrition there is very little Washington can do to help Tokyo achieve its diplomatic goals. For Japan must first help itself.
Confession, as the Catholic Church teaches, is good for the soul. But a true confession requires both contrition and penance toward those who were offended. Only then can historic sins finally be forgiven.
Those who contend that the discussion of historic legacy issues regarding Japan’s role in World War II is simply manipulation by hostile neighboring governments or an expression of fanatics who will never be appeased demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the perceptions of the peoples of East Asia. I have lived among the Korean people for eleven years and the Chinese people for four years. Their feelings about what happened to their people are deep and genuine. Americans have proclaimed that we will not forget what happened on September 11, 2001, presumably not even after sixty years have passed. How can we then ask others to be less true to their historic national tragedies than we ourselves are?
That is not to say that there is not any manipulation or fanaticism. The rulers of Beijing, especially, when they demand a historic accounting for past atrocities, should remember June 4, 1989. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. John Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation has pointed out that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao misspoke to an American audience in 2003 when he told them that his family home near Tientsin was burned by “Japanese aggressors.” Tkacik reports that the family home was actually destroyed in January 1949, long after the Japanese had departed, in a fight between Communist and Nationalist forces.
In South Korea, fanatic nationalists reportedly recently broke into the shrine of Nongae. This was a place I had the honor to visit as the U.S. consul in Pusan to express America’s admiration for this Korean heroine. Nongae was the gisaeng who made a suicide leap off a cliff clutching a Japanese general during the Hideyoshi invasions of the late sixteenth century. These South Korean “Red Guards” reportedly tore down her portrait because it was allegedly painted by an early twentieth century Korean artist who was too accommodating to the Japanese occupation.
But the manipulation of some and the fanaticism of others do not negate the fact that there must be a day of reckoning for what happened in the Pacific as well as what occurred in the Atlantic. Are the two hundred thousand Korean and other Asian women, imprisoned and brutalized as sex slaves by the Imperial Japanese Army, of less value than the millions who suffered and died in the Nazi Death Camps?
Are the three hundred thousand Chinese men, women and children slaughtered in Nanjing of less human worth than the twenty-seven million Soviet citizens who died in the Nazi onslaught? The historic accounting of atrocities must be color blind. In any event, we will not be able to forget. Over seventy million Koreans will not let us. Nor will 1.3 billion Chinese. Then there are the Singaporeans and the Filipinos who also will not be silent.
In this sixtieth commemorative year of the Second World War, Japanese government officials and Diet Members who go to the Yasukuni Shrine to pay homage to the memory of war criminals hurt the feelings of the families of their victims. If the Yasukuni Shrine is to be a national memorial to a nation’s war dead, like Arlington Cemetery, then the spirit tablets of Tojo and the other Class A war criminals should be removed.
Otherwise, such acts of veneration will continue to disturb the tranquility of the Chinese people, the Korean people, the Philippine people, the Singaporean people, the people of Hong Kong, and the Indonesian people. I cannot speak for all American veterans of World War II, but I can say that venerating Tojo is offensive to Jack Lannan, 88, of Des Plaines, Illinois, a World War II veteran of the Pacific and my uncle; it is offensive to Tom Foley, 80, of Glenview, Illinois, a World War II veteran of the Pacific and my uncle; it is offensive to Ed Halpin, 95, of Park Ridge, Illinois, a World War II veteran of the Atlantic and my uncle; and it is offensive to Tom Halpin, 87, of Glenview, Illinois, another World War II veteran of the Atlantic and my father. Both Ed and Tom lost their brother, Nick, prematurely from a disease he contracted while fighting in the Pacific War. Thus, my father’s and my uncles’ message is simple and direct to anyone willing to listen in Tokyo:
“Don’t bow before the convicted war criminal Hideki Tojo. We well remember Pearl Harbor even if some Americans have historic amnesia.”
To conclude with a quote from the title of Senator Obama’s autobiography, this paper, in reality, represents dreams from my father. Thank you.