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 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, then, is the first of two parts of the original, unedited and unabridged version of “Japan’s War Crimes“:
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. But 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 August 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 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 catalogue 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.