Sunday, December 26, 2010

War & Educational Lapses

In November, France’s national rail company, SNCF, did what many European companies had already done--admitted its complicity in the Holocaust.

SNCF’s president apologized  for “the use of SNCF’s equipment and staff to transport 76,000 French And other European Jews to Germany, where they were then sent on to the Nazi Death camps.” He also made “a long‐term commitment to transparency, education of younger generations, and acts of Remembrance.” He pledged that SNCF will continue its efforts supporting “Holocaust remembrance memorials, education programs and museums.”

As with Germany’s Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (the German Future Fund) established in 2000, the SNCF committed itself to anchoring its role in the Holocaust “firmly in the European memory and communicating the life experience of the victims.”

By acknowledging its complex history, SNCF showed that was “eager to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the historical questions raised are examined through dialogue, historical research and remembrance.”

In contrast, how Japan will commit to acknowledging and telling the story of its war victims has yet to be resolved. The failure of both the Japanese state and its corporations to establish an ongoing program of reconciliation, outreach, and education continually manifests itself both in the misinformation appearing in the press and political platforms as well as in the government’s missteps in domestic and foreign policies.

Significant is that private French and German companies took responsibility for their actions and established the educational programs in Europe. Here again is a great contrast, as Japanese companies have great corporate wartime culpability, yet contemporary inaction. Over 60 major Japanese corporations—including Mitsui, Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Hitachi, Toshiba, Nippon Sharyo—used slave and forced labor of Prisoners of War, Chinese, and Koreans to support their war production. They have neither acknowledged nor apologized or offered any effort to preserve the memory of these unwilling laborers.

Earlier this month, an example of the need for such an educational effort on the War and, in particular, the brutal experience of the Prisoners of War held by Imperial Japan appeared in the popular Japanese magazine, Shukan Shincho.

An article notes that Japan was tricked in the Pacific War by the United States and attacks the well-documented memoir of Dr. Lester Tenney, a still-living, survivor of the Bataan Death March and a Mitsui coal mine. Like a Holocaust denier, the author distorts facts to sow doubt for a dubious political agenda.

The horror of the Death March has been recounted in hundreds of memoirs and histories. Japanese military’s use of torture has been outlined in captured manuals held in the National Archives, testimony at the war crimes trials across Asia, and in formal histories. And among the many distortions of fact, only the last 6 miles of the Death March were by train: 100 men standing per boxcar. Many died from suffocation and complications of the heat and their malnourished and sick bodies. Those that survived the boxcars were marched again for another 2-3 miles to Camp O’Donnell, which had been converted into a prison camp.

Asia Policy Point’s Senior Fellow William Brooks, formerly head of the Office of Translation a the US Embassy in Tokyo, coordinated the translation of this Shukan Shincho article so that it can be shared within the scholarly community that studies war and remembrance as well as among policy officials concerned with the US-Japan relationship. We post it below as part of our educational mission.

Bamboo Strings? 
by Masayuki Takayama
Henken Jizai column in December 23, 2010 edition of Shukan Shincho

Some time back when I took a trip to Jerusalem, nearby the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, that is, the mount of Golgotha, a pink flower was blooming. When I asked its name, my guide, who was a former diplomat, replied it was the “Judas Tree.” He said that the face of Judas had turned red when Christ pointed out his betrayal during the Last Supper.

“And so that’s the color of this flower. Of course, that’s not the name the Jews call it,” he added, chuckling.

He said Jews have no interest in either the flower or the tree, but Japanese often like to ask about it, so guides hastily prepare for such questions, happy to be helpful with their knowledge.

Jewish people are assiduous and are never slack in their studies. Eli Cohen, Israel’s former ambassador to Japan, had this similar aura about him, and so formed our image of a Jew.

That is why I felt somewhat puzzled when I learned that Lester Tenney, author of My Hitch in Hell, is also Jewish.

His book talks about the so-called Bataan Death March. Needled on by the United States, Japan was eventually provoked into a war. Tenney’s story begins when his tank battalion was sent to the Philippines in preparation for this war.

Tenney arrived at the U.S. Army post at Clark Airfield on November 20, approximately two weeks before Pearl Harbor. It was obvious the U.S. had Japan in the palm of its hand.

And so as scheduled, war broke out. Yet on the very first day, Clark air base was completely destroyed, the result of the height of incompetence of its commanding officer, MacArthur. When the Japanese landed at Lingayen Gulf, he decided to retreat to Bataan Peninsula.

Tenney’s tank battalion also was aiming for the same peninsula, along the way firing on anything that moved, strafing and slaughtering whole villages. “We could not distinguish a Filipino from a Japanese,” Tenney wrote.

Records of a hearing by the U.S. Senate show that when Americans had made the Philippines into a colony forty years earlier, they massacred 200,000 people. We can imagine this was how it was being done once again.

Sequestering themselves in Bataan, the U.S. troops soon exhausted their food supplies. This was the only place where U.S. forces suffered from starvation during the war [WWII]."

Then they surrendered. Tenney was ordered to dispose of the dollar bills stored by the military, and so he hid them in the hole of a tree. Out of spite, all the trucks were destroyed so the “Japs” couldn’t use them.

What they didn’t destroy, they rode to the prison camps, without having to walk on the death march. Up to this point, the author’s tale does have some force of truth to it, but from then on, it becomes sheer nonsense.

The Death March was a total of 120 kilometers long, and half that distance they were transported by rail. The fact of the matter is, they walked the rest of the way in three days.

Since it was not known which part of the march was “death,” Tenney wrote, “An officer on horseback was cutting off the heads of the marching prisoners.” I’ve never heard of anything like that. The appearance of the POWs loafing around camp would not do, so they were tortured.

First, a prisoner’s “feet were tied to a board raised up high and he was made to drink salt water.” This is that waterboarding for witch-hunt interrogations, which the U.S. military excels at – the Japanese do not know such methods.

Next, “I was strung up by my thumbs, which were tied together with a bamboo string.” In Souls at Sea, there is a scene with Gary Cooper being strung up by his thumbs with rope.

Then again, “They bound my testicles with bamboo string, and as the string shrunk in the sun, it became excruciating.” This, too, is a scene from an old Western movie in which rawhide is used for torture.

And again, bamboo was pushed under his fingernails and then set on fire. This also comes from a movie, Beau Geste, with Gary Cooper.

There is no material even to show Japanese cruelty. So what appears to be a collection of torture scenes from Hollywood movies was published, with even Japan-hater Clinton praising Tenney’s book and writing to him personally.

I do not know how much inhumaneness of the American forces it would take to make an impression on a president, but for Japanese diplomats, they could not ignore an American president’s “deep emotions.”

Last year, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, apologized to Tenney, who was invited to Japan this last September where he received “a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Japanese government” from [Foreign Minister] Katsuya Okada.

Yet, there has never once been an investigation to see if the Bataan Death March is fact or not.

If there had been made any move to look into it on Japan’s side, pressure would immediately have been applied and the effort crushed.

Before Okada apologized, I would have liked him to ask [Tenney] at least about this “bamboo string” torture device, of which no Japanese has ever heard.

1 comment:

  1. It is sad that this is the view of a so called "scholar." I've help with work done by professors on the memory and reconciliation project between Japan and its former colonies, and it's fair to say that people with these views do exist in unfortunate numbers in Japan. But, it also must be stated, that there are numerous scholars in Japan now, and also at the time when the war ended, who were more than willing to accept the facts of what had happened under the Japanese flag during the war. The unfortunate fact is that while there may be many scholars who are more than educated in the facts of the war, those who disagree with such ignorant fervor are often those who happen to sell well, get noticed because of their views, and for the fact that people naturally like to hear good things about their own nation rather than stories which make their ancestors look like less than decent folk.

    Unlike postwar Germany, Japan never went through a period where it had a generation of "68ers" as Germany did, a generation of Germans born after the war who demanded from their parents and grandparents the truth of what happened during the war. Japan did go through a period of great anti-war literature, revealing movies and articles about the truth of the war in the immediate years after the war, as best reflected by the novel and movie, "The Human Condition," but the following economic highs of the 60s and subsequent decades gave way to the general consensus on collective avoidance of war related topics on the national and local level. While Japan's 68er generation proved to be vociferous in its opposition to the Vietnam War, comparatively little energy was placed into refocusing this fervor on their own fathers and grandparents in explaining the deeds of the war fought 30 years earlier.

    Many view on what the war in the Pacific and Asia was about exist in Japan. It is safe to say that there is little true solid consensus on what happened, or on how to explain the events with a coherent narrative. The void of a united national historical memory has given birth to many views, often many of which fall into the category of glorification or whitewashing the Imperial Japanese Army's actions in the Pacific War as expressed in the above article. Without any official mainstream narrative, or any successful effort to bring a more truthful and accurate view of Japan's actions in the war, it is not surprising at all that unlike in Germany, one may find many books expounding upon what are otherwise discredited views of Japan during 1930s and 1940s in the history sections of Japanese book stores.


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