Farewell to America’s ‘Unbroken’ Hero
11:40 AM, Jul 9, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
Two of the companies for which Louie and his fellow prisoners were forced to labor, Shinetsu Chemical and Nippon Stainless, continue to exist today. A number of these corporations which used slave labor also continue to do business in the United States. As former POW Edward Jackfert pointed out in a recent article in the National Interest, Sumitomo, Kawasaki, and Mitsui, all of which used POW slave labor in their wartime factories, have sold rail cars which run on Virginia’s VRE rail line. Yet, unlike German corporations which used slave labor, these corporations have never offered an apology to our old soldiers who are slowly fading away.
In 2000, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to a “multi-million pound compensation package” for former British prisoners of war in Japan in recognition of their “appalling” experiences—ex gratia payments from the UK government. As a result of Blair’s example, legislation was introduced in Congress which instead sought direct compensation for America’s POWs from Japanese corporations rather than from the U.S. taxpayer—the “Justice for the U.S. POWs Act of 2001”—with bipartisan sponsorship from two legislators from Louis Zamperini’s home state of California, Dana Rohrabacher and Mike Honda. The bill was designed “to preserve certain actions in Federal court brought by members of the United States Armed Forces held as prisoners of war by Japan during World War II against Japanese nationals seeking compensation for mistreatment or failure to pay wages in connection with labor performed in Japan to the benefit of the Japanese nationals.” The legal bureau of the State Department, however, supported the Japanese government’s position that all such claims were settled by the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, so the proposed legislation got nowhere. There has thus been no formal U.S. recognition of the debt owed our POW slave laborers.
Former Ambassador of Japan to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, did take an important step in offering his government’s first official apology in 2009 to survivors of the Bataan Death March at their organization’s final national convention in San Antonio, Texas. Ambassador Fujisaki stated, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News, "As former prime ministers of Japan have repeatedly stated: The Japanese people should bear in mind that we must look into the past to learn from the lessons of history. We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people, including prisoners of war, those who have undergone tragic experiences in the Bataan Peninsula, in Corregidor Island in the Philippines and other places.”
Perhaps the passing of the “Unbroken” Louis Zamperini will be an occasion for Japanese corporations involved in slave labor to join in extending their apologies to the dwindling number of America’s World War II POW veterans. Is saying sorry so hard? “Lucky Louie” certainly wouldn’t think so.
Dennis P. Halpin is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Korea and a former adviser on Asian affairs to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins) and a consultant to the Poblete Analysis Group.
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