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Japanese-American legislator spearheads state resolution to force Japan to recognize its silenced WWII record

California opens a new front for internee rights

Tags: World War II

SACRAMENTO / TOKYO - California's state legislature unanimously has waded into one of the most sensitive legacies of the Second World War and international politics by reminding Japan it still has to tidy up unfinished business from fifty-five years ago.

The not so subtle reminder came at the same time that a United Nations subcommittee on human rights in Geneva decided that Japan is obligated to compensate women who had been compelled to live as sex slaves in WWII military brothels. Also, the Allied Joint Claim of internees against Japan will have its first hearing before the Japanese Appellate Court this month.

The non-binding California resolution which since has been signed into law, demands that Japan apologizes to its wartime internees and pays compensation for atrocities committed by its troops. The measure by Japanese-American Mike Honda who himself was interned in an American camp during World War II, coincides with the claims of a number of international organizations which are suing Japan for natural justice.

The resolution which supports internee groups wants Tokyo to apologize and compensate former U.S. prisoners of war, Asian women forced into sexual slavery and other people victimized by "the atrocious war crimes committed by the Japanese military during World War II."

New front

California State Senator Tom Hayden sponsored a bill which grants claimants the right to sue Japan for compensation in California courts. Analysts suggest that this right is not restricted to California citizens.

The initiatives spotlight a growing movement which seeks restitution from Japan for the effect of its sordid wartime policies. (Because Japan thought it would win the war in the Pacific, it abandoned the obligations it had assumed when it earlier signed international conventions - the Hague and Geneva - relating to Conduct of War.) The California drive for justice locally has a pan-Asian coalition of Chinese, Korean, Filipinos, and others confront Japan while the state's Japanese-American community is strongly split on the issue.

The California moves culminate years of activism by local Asian-American, prisoner-of-war and civilian internee groups that believe Japan should copy the United States, which in 1988 apologized and offered reparations to Japanese-American civilians interned during the conflict. Canada settled a similar issue with Japanese-Canadians.

The Honda resolution cites a string of Japanese atrocities, including the Rape of Nanking, in which Japanese troops slaughtered some 300,000 Chinese, and the Battle of Manilla in 1945, which claimed a reported 100,000 victims. It also mentions the legions of "comfort women" - mostly Chinese and Korean women, pressed into sexual servitude by the Imperial Japanese Army - and U.S. servicemen who were held in Japanese camps.

While Honda's initiative opens a new front in a global push to force Tokyo to atone for wartime crimes, fellow Japanese-American Legislative Democrat George Nakano was its staunchest opponent. Nakano warned of stirring up the same sort of sentiment that led to his own internment during the war.

The California measures locally has brought together various Asian immigrant groups who all "experienced the war in a way Americans did not," according to an Asian-American analyst. Honda lately achieved a celebrity status among many Asian immigrant communities.

Japanese companies

International internee groups in Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the U.S.A. are considering commencing litigation against Japanese companies and their predecessors who used slave labour in WWII. The groups do not rule out to include the U.S.A. in the action, to nudge them into enforcing the provision of Article 26 of the 1952 San Francisco Treaty. As well, the groups who have hired a veteran lawyer of Holocaust-cases, are urging Japan to release its documents on war-related issues. They are particularly pressing Japan on information about businesses which used slave labour and cite the example of Germany where documents were released that revealed the involvement of 500 firms in the Holocaust.

In California, former slave labourers have launched the first lawsuits against Japanese companies, Mitsui & Co. and Nippon Steel Corporation.

Meanwhile, citing severe health problems caused by exposure to radiation, a Chinese man who was in Hiroshima in 1945 when the atom bomb was dropped already has launched a compensation claim of 25 million yen against the Japanese government and a trucking company which employed him as a slave labourer. The lawsuit also demands a formal apology to be printed in major newspapers in China and Japan.


The Florida-based group, The Center for Civilian Internee Rights, Inc. (CFIR) which has several other legislative objectives, currently is trying to get a bill introduced in Congress to declassify documents held by the U.S. Government pertaining to the WWII Pacific atrocities by the Japanese. Last year, Congress declassified similar documents on the Nazi war crimes in Germany.

The internee groups particularly are concerned that Japan although it lost the war, by ignoring its wartime past in fact is rewriting history. Statements by Japanese political leaders frequently claim that their country also was a victim of WWII - using the dropping of atom bombs as an example - while its aggression and war crimes are ignored, especially in the country's history text books used in schools. Internee groups say that Japanese policies of silence make it difficult for the victims to close the book on WWII since their collective history (of suffering) and outstanding grievances are being denied.