Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Elections and the POWs/MIAs

If you have wondered about where the various candidates for national office stand on issues affecting the American POWs/MIAs of Japan, HERE is a list of legislation that is related to issues affecting the history and memory of those involved in WWII in the Pacific. You can thus see for yourself how your incumbent member of congress voted or the legislation he/she was willing to co-sponsor. By clicking on the highlighted bill number, you can find all the details of the legislation including who are its co-sponsors.

For those who do not think they will go out and vote, HERE is some inspiration from several former POWs of Japan, who have a special appreciation of the American freedom to vote.

Overall, the record is pretty grim. The 112th Congress (a Congress is every two years) appears to have lost its memory. For the first time, Congress did not pass a resolution honoring the memory of the fallen at Pearl Harbor. This was particular disappointing as last December was the 70th Anniversary. You can find the President’s Proclamation HERE.

The award of a collective gold medal to the first African Americans of the Marine Corps known during WWII as the Montford Point Marines was achieved only by a roll call vote. This means every member had to put him/herself on the record. Overall there has been legislation introduced honoring those of America’s greatest generation, but few members of congress have been willing to support it and almost none of the legislation has gotten out of committee for a floor vote.

Some experts believe this is because there are few veterans now in Congress. In the House of Representatives there are only 92 veterans. The simple fact is that veterans no longer represent a large voting group. To ignore their issues consequently holds no political risk.

In regard to the presidential race, it should be noted that President Obama was the first president and first administration to ask (and insist) the Japanese to honor the memory of the American POWs of Japan. The President’s grandfather was a WWII vet. Governor Romney has not said anything about the POWs. Neither he nor any of his five sons are veterans. His running mate, Paul Ryan, hails from Janesville, Wisconsin that is home of the Janesville 99. This group of activated National Guardsmen fought on Bataan and suffered the Bataan Death March. Less than half of men returned home.

Neither Romney nor Ryan issued a Pearl Harbor Day statement. It should be noted that those mentioned as advising candidate Romney on Japan are the same people in the Bush II Administration who actively blocked compensation for the POWs of Japan as well as a joint Congressional commemorative statement for the 60th anniversary of the end of Pacific War.

In pulling together the data for the above, I decided to see, as an example, how the incumbent congressional candidate for my newly redrawn home district in upstate New York Chris Gibson (R-NY-20, redrawn as the 19th) voted.

I found that although one of the few decorated Iraq war veterans in Congress, he has supported Republican vice presidential candidate Rep Paul Ryan’s budget that cuts benefits and jobs programs for veterans. The same budget reduces funds for diplomatic security, putting veterans in harm’s way, as we have seen with the deaths of former Navy Seals in Libya. Even when dollars are not involved, he ignores the history of those soldiers who came before him, especially from America’s “greatest generation.”

He, as many, loyally followed the House Republican leadership’s refusal to consider commemorative bills. Thus, for the first time in history, on December 7, 2011, Congress did not pass a resolution recognizing Pearl Harbor and its seminal moment in American history. Gibson, a retired Army colonel, was not even a co-sponsor of the bi-partisan H.CON.RES.89 introduced to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor.

However, ten days later, he allowed Speaker of the House John Boehner to ram through H. RES. 497 honoring British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his December 26, 1941 Pearl Harbor speech to Congress urging Americans to pursue the war first in Europe. The resolution even requested taxpayer money to place this foreign leader’s bust in the Capitol Rotunda.

Americans then fighting the first battles of WWII in the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and Java are less sanguine about Churchill’s successful Washington lobbying for a Europe-first strategy. The abandoned soldiers, sailors and Marines in the Pacific were condemned by this policy to hopeless battles ending in death or over three years of imprisonment in Japan’s notorious POW camps.

Colonel Gibson has also failed to support resolution, H. RES. 333, honoring those men who survived the torture, abuse, and slave labor as POWs of Japan. Nor did he co-sponsor H.RES.636 to designate April 9, 2012 to May 6, 2012, as “Bataan-Corregidor Month” recognizing one of the most historic battles of American history. And he did not stand up for H.R.3712 awarding a gold medal to those who defended Bataan in the first months of WWII. Although an Army Ranger, he also did not appear at any event held on Capitol Hill this April for the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Defense of the Philippines with survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March and Battle of Corregidor.

He is among the 204 co-sponsors of H.R.719 to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the World War II members of the Civil Air Patrol. However, he was not among the 308 (out of 435) members who cosponsored H.R.2447 to grant the congressional gold medal to the first African Americans of the Marine Corps known during WWII as the Montford Point Marines. He did carefully vote "yea" on the bill in an unusual roll call vote—bills with so many cosponsors rarely face a roll call and are passed by unanimous consent.

An official, black and white MIA/POW flag stands beside the door of Congressman Gibson’s Washington office. However, on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, September 21, Gibson, like many of his colleagues, did not issue so much as a Tweet acknowledging the day’s significance. By ignoring yesterday’s veterans, Congressmen like Chris Gibson send a discouraging message to today’s veterans. Congress is missing in action for their interests.

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