|Secretary of State Kerry bows at Hiroshima, April 11, 2016|
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.
Past National Commander, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor