Thursday, January 15, 2015

A POW views Unbroken

Fukuoka #17 Omuta
Lester Tenney, Past National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) has both read the book and seen the movie Unbroken. He is a survivor of the Bataan Death March, a Hellship, and Fukuoka #17 Omuta where he was a slave coal miner for Mitsui. Below is his reaction.

The movie Unbroken will be seen in Japan only when the Japanese in authority decides not to rewrite history.  Forgetting about one's past is like a narcotic: it dulls the senses and relieves the pain of knowing you’ve committed a wrong.

The book, and ultimately the movie Unbroken, once again verifies that society cannot escape history. The reality of what happened remains with us in the present and follows us into the future. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be un-lived, but when faced with courage, the past need not be lived that way again.

I have often been asked about the apology given to us by the Japanese government in 2009. I reply that apologies are very important. That is, if they are honest and sincere. A meaningless apology, so often expressed, is like a second insult. I do believe the apology given by Japan's Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki and the one given to the POW’s in 2010 by the Minister of Foreign Affairs was sincere and I appreciated the words and the desire to be recorded.

We POWs, however, have been hurt not just by Imperial Japanese soldiers, but also by employees of those Japanese businesses that used and abused us as POWs. We were slave laborers for the likes of Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Hitachi, Sumitomo, and Nippon Sharyo. And we want to be healed. And that can be done only with a sincere apology.

The movie Unbroken is bringing forward our story of survival and search for justice and truth.  The abuse and enslavement of American and Allied POWs did happen. If honor is important to today's Japanese, then the full and truthful story must be brought to a public forum. It can no longer be hidden.

NHK, Japan's National Broadcasting Company (similar to our PBS) called me and wanted to take me to see the movie. A producer, cameraman, and writer came to my home on December 27th and took my wife and me to a screening of Unbroken. They interviewed me right outside the theater, within minutes after we left the show. 

To be sure, I watched the movie with different reasons than most other movie-goers. My objective was to see whether the movie honestly portrayed being a POW of Japan. I told the NHK journalists that I expected a lot from the film. Thus, my first impressions, on a scale of 1 to 10, I gave the overall picture a 4; the screenwriting a 6, the acting an 8; and the directing a 3.

I found it strange that of all the POWs only one was picked out regularly to be beaten or tortured and that there was only one abusive guard (the Bird). That was not the way it was in the camp that I was in. Arbitrary and excessive punishments to all were the rule. Guards were mean, petty, capricious, and psychotic. And the war crimes records for the camps in which Mr. Zamperini was held also noted the widespread abuse. I also found odd the absence of bugs, vermin, and the deathly ill. And never was it clear how little the POWs were fed, clothed, housed, or given medical care.

When the NHK team said goodbye, I said to them that I was surprised by the interest in the movie  and book as I had not found many people curious about the history of the POWs. I wondered how many viewers understood the enormity of a near 40% death rate among the Americans held in Japanese POW camps. The movie did not capture the degradation of spirit and body that took place. Everyday was a desperate effort to survive for every prisoner, not just one.

In parting, I told the Japanese
Maybe now you can see why we POWs say 'dying is easy; it's the living that’s hard'. We survivors cannot give you any hard facts as to why we survived and others died. We keep asking ourselves, 'why me God, why me Why did I survive?' And it is this burden that has proved worse than all the abuse and torture inflicted upon us by the countless "Birds" that populated the camps. The Bird was not unusual, however, surviving was and our goal, despite all The Birds was survival.
Although the movie was not all that I wanted or expected, it does succeed in ensuring that the struggle for survival endured by all American POWs of Japan is unforgotten.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are welcome to leave a reasonable comment or additional information. We will moderate comments.