When I wrote Chapter XIV of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “The Care and Nurture of a Sacred Cow,” I closed the chapter with a subsection titled “Japan’s War Crimes” (pages 286-289), for a very specific purpose. I felt it was vital to demonstrate to a wide swath of the generally uninformed American public the ghastly barbarities the Imperial Japanese military had been practicing against its perceived enemies long before Pearl Harbor, for obvious reasons.
“For those too young to understand the Japanese military’s capacity for barbarity in the several years before and during World War II,” I wrote in the original lead to the subsection, “a brief overview is instructive, because Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were among the first American victims of Imperial Japan’s war machine, an ugly fact our establishment has always been loath to admit.”
The version of “Japan’s War Crimes” that finally appeared in both editions of The Truth at Last is less than half of the original. The Sunbury Press editor saw no reason at all why a brief section on Japan’s gruesome history was necessary, and actually suggested that I drop the entire section! When I vehemently objected, the matter was kicked upstairs to Sunbury publisher Larry Knorr, whose decision to split the difference seemed to mollify both parties. Of course I didn’t lose the original subsection, which you can read now in its entirely and decide for yourself whether I went too far in describing Japan’s prewar and World War II depredations, which, in my opinion, were among the most villainous in all world history.
Here is the first of two parts of the original, unedited and unabridged version of “Japan’s War Crimes”: (Boldface emphasis mine throughout, not in original.)
In late July 2007, the Germany-based Reuters News Agency ran a small item that went largely unnoticed, but the reaction it elicited from the White House offers an instructive glimpse into the politics of the Washington-Tokyo alliance, and why this cozy relationship offers so little hope for those who seek a final solution to the Earhart case. The story, headlined “House seeks Japan’s apology on ‘comfort women,’” announced that the “U.S. House of Representatives on Monday called on Japan to apologize for forcing thousands of women into sexual servitude to its soldiers during and before World War II”:
On a voice vote, the House approved a nonbinding resolution intended as a symbolic statement on the Japanese government’s role in forcing up to 200,000 “comfort women” into a wartime brothel program starting in the 1930s.
The vote marked a rare rebuke by Washington politicians of Washington’s closest ally in Asia. An official at the Japanese Embassy in Washington would not comment on the House vote, leaving it to government officials in Tokyo.
“Today, the House will send a message to the government of Japan that it should deliver an official, unequivocal, unambiguous apology for the indignity the comfort women suffered,” said Rep. Mike Honda, the California Democrat who pushed the legislation through the House.
California Congressman Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee approving the resolution, was among the more vocal critics of Japan’s blasé attitude about its wartime comfort women program. “There can be no denying the Japanese Imperial military coerced thousands upon thousands of Asian women,” he said. “Those who posit that all of the ‘comfort women’ were happily complicit and acting of their own accord simply do not understand the meaning of the word rape,” added Lantos, a Holocaust survivor. Honda, 66, is a Japanese-American who spent his early childhood in a World War II internment camp in Colorado.
According to Reuters, in 1993 Japan had acknowledged “a state role in the wartime program, which mostly victimized Chinese and Korean women. Japan’s government later established a fund, which collected private donations and offered payments of about $20,000 to 285 women.” But this was a token gesture, as “Japanese officials including the Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, have [recently] denied there was evidence the government or military were directly involved in procuring the women.” In June 2007, the Japanese government, deeply offended by the prospect of the forthcoming House resolution, warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Honda’s resolution “will almost certainly have lasting and harmful effects on the deep friendship, close trust and wide-ranging cooperation our two nations now enjoy.”
The American media, aghast at the House’s callous breach of protocol with our closest Asian allies, ignored the story. The Bush administration, tripping over itself to assure Japan of its unconditional loyalty, trotted out mouthpiece Tony Snow the next day to send a conciliatory bouquet to the Japanese prime minister. The French news outlet, Agence France Presse, an unlikely U.S. ally, apparently was the only available messenger, but Snow availed himself of its willingness to carry the White House water. The AFP story, “US [sic] supports ‘valued ally’ Abe, mum on ‘comfort women’ row,” appeared the next day:
We support the prime minister. He is a valued and important ally, and the president supports him,” spokesman Tony Snow told AFP one day after US lawmakers voted to demand an “unambiguous apology” on the wartime issue.
But Snow declined to say whether the White House sided with the US House of Representatives or Japan’s government, which says it has addressed the criticism over the use of an estimated 200,000 Asian “comfort women.” “At this point I don’t fall on either side,” Snow said.
The French release also cited the House resolution as “calling on the Japanese prime minister to make a public apology, urges the government to refute any claims that the episode never happened and wants future generations to be told of ‘this horrible crime.’ ”
The New York Times weighed in Aug. 1, with its Tokyo bureau reporting that the Japanese Prime Minister was not pleased by this reminder of his government’s lack of public remorse over its despicable abuse of women during the war. “Call by U.S. House for Sex Slavery Apology Angers Japan’s Leader,” the Times headline announced:
Prime Minister Shinzō Abe expressed some irritation on Tuesday at the resolution approved by the House of Representatives in Washington that calls on Japan to acknowledge its wartime sex slavery. His reaction indicated strongly that the Japanese government would not offer surviving victims an official apology. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan called a House resolution on sexual slavery “regrettable.”
“The resolution’s approval was regrettable,” said Mr. Abe, who caused a furor in Asia and the United States in March by denying that the Japanese military had directly coerced women into sex slavery in World War II. . . . This spring, Mr. Abe rejected any demand for an apology. But since then, he has avoided discussing the issue in detail.
“Japan had lobbied hard against the [U.S. House’s] resolution in Washington, warning that it could harm relations, ” the Times reported. The Tokyo office of the British newspaper Guardian Unlimited ran a similar account, but otherwise the comfort women story was ignored. The House resolution condemning Japan’s wartime abuse of women came just a few months before the first World Conference on Japanese Military Sexual Slavery, held at the University of California-Los Angeles from October 4-7, 2007. “HR 121 is the biggest reason why we came to the conference,” panelist Haruko Shibasaki of the Tokyo-based Action Network for the Military Sexual Slavery Issue told the Los Angeles Times. But the conference was a well-kept secret, and its only advance publicity came from the Web site of its sponsor, UCLA’s Asia Institute, announcing that the event would build on the “momentum of House Resolution 121 demanding the Japanese government to apologize for its war crimes against ‘comfort women.’”
While the L.A. Times supported the comfort women’s cause, running two stories during the three-day session, no other news organizations touched it. In the weeks following the event, a few college newspapers including Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, and Emory University in Atlanta, ran stories about the appearances a few surviving comfort women made at their campuses, but the 24/7 American media never mentioned the UCLA sex slavery conference.
In May 1999, The Rape of Nanking author Iris Chang told Salon.com she was “not welcome in Japan,” and addressed the ongoing phenomenon of that nation’s failure to fully acknowledge, adequately apologize for or pay restitution to its countless wartime victims. “To this day, Japan has never paid a penny in reparations to the victims of the Nanking massacre,” Chang said, “or, to my knowledge, adequate restitution to its other victims, like Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military or the American and Chinese POWs who were used as human guinea pigs for Japanese medical experimentation. . . . I find it extremely disturbing that the newly elected governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, is an outspoken revisionist of World War II history. He told Playboy magazine back in 1990 that the Rape of Nanking was a ‘lie’ and ‘a story made up by the Chinese.’ He’s enormously popular in Japan, and he won the election by a landslide.”
Chang’s comments came a week after the Japanese company Kashiwashobo announced it had canceled plans to publish The Rape of Nanking in Japan. And though her book brought long-overdue attention to Japan’s forgotten war atrocities and international fame to the driven young journalist and mother, in early November 2004 she was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in her car along a rural road south of Los Gatos, California. Chang, 36, had been battling clinical depression, and was hospitalized, treated and released five months before her death.
Whether threats and media attacks from Japanese ultranationalists and others, who, as her husband Brett said, didn’t “take kindly to what she wrote in the Rape of Nanking,” exacerbated the mental illness that precipitated Chang’s suicide, is uncertain. But as Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Iris scraped away the scar tissue of something that had been half forgotten and half healed over, and to this date, it’s still a very raw wound. She ventured into a minefield of unexploded ordnance” when she exposed Japan’s guilt in the wholesale slaughter of more than 300,000 innocent men, women and children at Nanking, China – upwards of half the total population of Nanking and its surrounding area — in December 1937.
Another appalling example of Imperial Japan’s cruelty toward her conquered neighbors can be found in the massive biological and chemical warfare program it began shortly after seizing Manchuria in 1931. In towns and cities throughout Manchuria and occupied China, at Beiyinhe, Changchun, Mukden, and even Nanking, in death pits with benign names like Unit 100, Unit Ei 1644, and Unit 565, the secret Japanese biological warfare experiments subjected countless human and animal subjects to the most deadly pathogens known to science without restraint from 1931 until Japan’s surrender in August 1945.
In Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945, and the American Cover-Up (1994), Sheldon H. Harris writes that “Japan, during its occupation, in effect, turned Manchuria into one gigantic biological and chemical warfare factory. . . . They worked with human subjects on diseases that ranged from anthrax to typhoid A and B, typhus, smallpox, tularemia, infectious jaundice, gas gangrene, tetanus, cholera, dysentery, glanders, scarlet fever, undulant fever, diphtheria, pneumonia, brysipelas, epidemic cerebrospinal meningitis, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, salmonella, frostbite and countless other diseases that were endemic to the communities and surrounding regions. . . . No one has been able to catalog completely all the maladies that the various death factories in Manchuria visited on human guinea pigs.”
The mastermind of Japan’s biological warfare program was Lieutenant General Ishii Shiro, who performed his most notorious work at Unit 731, the enormous biological warfare facility at Ping Fan, about 15 miles south of Harbin. At least 3,000 Chinese, Koreans, Russians, and other Asians died at Unit 731, where they were sent after their convictions for capital crimes, sentenced to death and sent to Ping Fan for use as “experimental material.” Outside the death factories, Japanese and Chinese scholars have estimated as many as 270,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians died as a result of Japanese biological warfare attacks, but the exact numbers are impossible to determine.
In the conclusion of “Japan’s War Crimes” we’ll examine many of the gruesome details of the Japanese atrocities at Unit 731, as well as the everlasting infamy the Imperial Japanese Military achieved by their barbaric treatment of their prisoners of war, including the worst single atrocity ever perpetuated against American POWs, the Bataan death march.
When the Almighty made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold. What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But if I had never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life. I can’t conceive of what that might be.
I read Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, for the first time in the spring of 1988, as I researched an assignment to do a news story about the so-called Earhart “mystery” as a civilian writer for the Navy Editor Service in Arlington, Va. The piece went out to the fleet worldwide, as well as all Navy bases, shore stations and Marine Corps facilities for use in their local newspapers, radio stations and other official media. I’ve always considered it extremely ironic that the first story I ever wrote about the Earhart case was supported and facilitated by the same U.S. Navy that has been so intimately involved with the cover-up and suppression of the truth, practically from the very beginning of the Earhart search.
I’ll have more to say about Thomas Devine and his contributions to the Earhart saga, as well as the strange and sometimes tenuous nature of our relationship, in future posts. But today, for those who haven’t read Devine’s extraordinary Eyewitness, this brief, cryptic chapter from the book provides a glimpse into the sometimes bizarre world of the man who once stood on the wing of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, NR 16020, at the captured Japanese Aslito Airfield on Saipan in July 1944.
As Sgt. Thomas Devine peered into the famed Electra’s cluttered interior, which he once described as “littered with broken glass” in a letter to me, he was looking into already forbidden American history, as well as a vision that would define and shape his life from that day until his last.
FROM SAIPAN TO BOSTON
Since Mrs. Odlum could not supply the dental records, I arranged to visit Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, of West Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.) I arrived at the Boston depot early on Sunday, 16 July 1961. While proceeding with a crowd of passengers to find local transportation, a man about thirty years old pushed his way through the crowd. There was nothing remarkable about him, except that he stepped directly in front of me and called a peculiar invitation to the crowd.
“Anyone here on their way to West Medford?” he asked. “I’m taking my cab to the garage and I have a ride — a free ride.”
So many quickly accepted the driver’s offer that I decided against the free ride to West Medford. Yet for some reason, the man singled me out.
“Are you going to West Medford?” he inquired. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’ll find another cab.”
“Wait right where you are; don’t go away,” he ordered. “I’ll get the cab and be right back.”
Others in the crowd persisted, but he put them off saying, “I don’t have any more room.”
The cabbie again told me to wait and amazingly he did return, and escorted me to his cab. Oddly, there were no other passengers in the vehicle. Since I expected others to be joining us, I sat in front. But when three prospective passengers arrived to claim their free ride, the cabbie turned them away!
“Turn on the meter,” I said as the driver got in. “I’ll be more than happy to pay.”
“It’s a free ride,” he countered. “I’m returning the cab to the garage. You’re lucky you ran into me because cabs don’t operate on Sundays.” Reluctantly he accepted a dollar tip, and off we drove. The driver never asked my destination; we had little conversation. Shortly after entering West Medford, he stopped.
“This is as far as I go,” he said.
“Thanks. Do you have any idea where Vernon Street is?”
“This is it, right up the hill. It’s that corner house,” he said, pointing.
“Oh, I’m looking for number one,” I remarked absently. “That’s it, the corner house on the hill, where Amelia Earhart’s sister lives.”
“Thanks again,” I replied.
Completely baffled by this whole encounter, I walked up the short hill and was greeted by Mrs. Morrissey. Her husband [Albert Morrissey, who died in 1978], a former Navy man, had hoped to be there, but he had to work. She had advised the Navy of our appointment, she said, but had received no reply. I was curious why she had contacted the Navy, but I didn’t ask.
Mrs. Morrissey was charming and gracious. The resemblance to her famous sister was so striking that she could be taken, for Amelia herself. We enjoyed an amiable discussion for several hours. She said she knew of my efforts, and was interested in the real solution to her sister’s mysterious disappearance. I related the information I had concerning the gravesite on Saipan, as well as a summary of my efforts to obtain a dental chart. Mrs. Morrissey said both she and her sister had dental work done in Boston many years before, although she could not recall the name of their dentist. Later, I spent many hours in Boston attempting to locate Earhart’s dental chart, but to no avail.
Mrs. Morrissey said she had sought information about her sister’s fate from the Japanese government, but her requests went unanswered. Their mother [Amy Otis Earhart], who was bedridden and living in the Morrissey home, believed Amelia was on an intelligence flight* for the United States government when she and Fred Noonan disappeared. I could not corroborate Mrs. Earhart’s belief, but I assured Mrs. Morrissey, “I am certain of the events that occurred while I was on Saipan. I only want an opportunity to bring forth the proof, and your sister’s dental chart would be of prime importance in doing so.”
Mrs. Morrissey mentioned that she had been visited recently by Paul Briand [Jr.], who was associated with Joseph Gervais and Robert Dinger. Briand, she said, was writing a thesis about Earhart which he hoped would evolve into his second book.
Over the years, she said several people had brought information to her, which they irresponsibly claimed would solve the Earhart mystery. These sensational disclosures had put a tremendous strain on the family. I hoped Mrs. Morrissey was not classing my investigation with those. After years of investigative failures, she said she had accepted the 1937 report that Amelia Fred were lost at sea near Howland Island.* I pointed out that no physical evidence substantiated this conclusion. I reviewed how the gigantic sea and air search for Earhart and Noonan had failed to turn up one scrap of wreckage or equipment.
We both enjoyed our conversation, but an odd thing happened as I was preparing to leave. Mrs. Morrissey went to a window where the shade was pulled. She raised and lowered the wind shade its full length, then made a remark about protecting the room from the effect of the sun. Saying she would be right back to see me off, she excused herself to look in on her mother. After Mrs. Morrissey left, I peeked out the window. A short distance from the house, I saw two men. One was the cabbie who had driven me from the depot. I did not recognize the other, who was shorter and stockier.
Saying goodbye, I left the house and walked down the hill. The two men were nowhere to be seen. As I rounded the corner, looking for transportation to Boston, there was the cab driver! Without the slightest awkwardness, he directed me to a stop on the MTA which would shuttle me back to Boston. While I was waiting for the local train, I noticed the man who had been talking to the cab driver, standing a short distance from me.
Back at the depot, I stopped for a quick lunch. Except for two people at a table, the restaurant was empty. Presently two men and a woman entered the restaurant and claimed a table. The woman then walked behind the counter where I was seated, and went into the kitchen with my waiter. I caught only a portion of their whispered conversation, but she asked him for an apron. I paid no particular attention to the woman, who was apparently serving the two men at the table behind me. Suddenly she said, “You’ll have to sit at one of the tables, or I can’t serve you.”
Since I was nearly finished, I said nothing, but the woman persisted.
“You’ll have to sit at one of the tables.”
Contemplating another cup of coffee, I agreed to move. Turning, I saw the cab driver and the man who had been talking with him outside the Morrissey home. I pretended not to recognize them and took a seat a few tables away. They seemed oblivious to me. After I was seated, the two men began a real show. The woman encouraged me to speak to the men about their foul language, but I declined; then they pretended to argue. “Here I invite you in for a drink,” the cab driver roared, “but you don’t reciprocate!”
I stole a glance at their table and saw three full beers in front of the man. Again the woman prodded me to speak up, but I refused.
The cab driver pounded on the table, threatening to beat up the other man. They rose and left. Amazingly, the woman urged me to go out and intervene, but I had seen enough of this ridiculous charade. I was not about to be relieved of my briefcase. Instead, I left the restaurant by another door. Shortly, who should I spy amidst a group of passengers in the depot but the cab driver! As I looked toward him, he turned his head. Finally my train arrived, and I boarded, but there was the cab driver, also boarding. Thoroughly unnerved, I walked to the last car and stepped off just as the train started moving.
Unfortunately, there was a long interval before the next train to New Haven. I wandered around in the railroad station until I found myself back at the restaurant, deciding to risk a cup of coffee.
The same waiter was behind the counter, but I did not see the man.
“Where’s your waitress?” I asked.
“She left,” was his only response. After several cups of coffee and a little conversation, I boarded the next train and arrived home without out further incident.
In 1963 when I visited the Hartford station of the Office of Naval Intelligence, I read a confidential report on the location of Amelia Earhart’s gravesite. Later I made a second visit to the facility to determine if the ONI were still active in its investigation. I was ushered into an office where two men and a woman were seated. One of the men opened the safe to get the Earhart file, shuffled through some of the pages, and pointed out certain passages for the woman to read. She was obviously acquainted with the file and understood the significance of the noted passages. During this exchange, the second man left.
I was haunted; the woman looked familiar to me. Slowly, I came to the astounding realization that this woman was the “waitress” in the Boston depot! The woman must have sensed that I recognized her, for she immediately excused herself. Hastily, the remaining ONI agent informed me that there had been no further investigation of Amelia Earhart’s grave. I left the meeting convinced that the people who had accosted me in Boston were agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Why their presence in Boston on the day of my visit with Mrs. Morrissey? I cannot say. Mrs. Morrissey did tell me that she had informed the Navy of my intended visit. But why would the ONI trail me to West Medford? I don’t know. What was the purpose of the ONI agents’ peculiar antics in Boston? That I do not know, either. Perhaps they were trying to frighten me into curtailing my investigation.
Although Mrs. Morrissey was unable to assist me in locating her sister’s dental charts, I was pleasantly surprised to receive from her a portrait of Amelia. On the back of the photograph, Mrs. Morrissey graciously wrote:
To Thomas Devine,
who is genuinely and unselfishly interested in
Amelia’s fate, I am happy to give this
photograph of her.
Muriel Earhart Morrissey
August 19, 1961
Devine’s Notes to Chapter 7
*Mrs. Morrissey said her sister used a new plane for her second attempt. Supporters of the spy theory contend that this faster, more sophisticated aircraft would have enabled her to deviate from her flight path and avoid detection. Mrs. Morrissey herself never believed that her sister had been sent to spy on the Japanese Mandates.
*Fred Goerner claims Mrs. Morrissey abandoned the belief that her sister had crashed near Howland Island after hearing his progress report in September October, 1961, and after his second expedition to Saipan. By 26 June 1962, however, Mrs. Morrissey had returned to her original conclusion. She wrote to me somewhat bitterly, “The claims of Captain Briand and the CBS have been shown to be completely false and unsubstantiated, so why continue the discussion? Amelia’s plane went down near Howland Island [and] because of a radio failure – the Coast Guard Cutter could not home her in.” (End of Chapter 7.)
Editor’s Note: To my knowledge, no Earhart researcher or author has ever been physically harmed by any U.S. government agency or operative while pursuing information in the Earhart disappearance, but the foregoing situation might have produced a different result had Devine behaved with less caution. Sixteen years earlier, in August 1945, Devine was probably even closer to serious harm when he was ordered to board a Navy plane by a man who was likely an Office of Naval Intelligence agent, who told Devine, “You can’t go back. . . You know about Amelia Earhart!” (See pages 64-66 in Eyewitness or 70-71 in Truth at Last.)
In February 1991, while I was visiting his home in West Haven, Conn., Devine told me he was “flabbergasted,” with the situation he faced in August 1945. “I don’t know what they were going to do with me,” he said. “Was I going to be interviewed? Would they have offered me a government position or something for silence? Because I think that might have happened to [Pfc. Paul] Anderson. The thought persists that if I had boarded the plane at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan in 1945 at the insistence of the ONI agent, I might never have arrived at any destination.”
Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey died in her sleep on Monday, March 2, 1998 at the age of 98.