Opinion: Japanese bidders on high speed rail should have to apologize to World War II POWs


Opinion: Japanese bidders on high speed rail should have to apologize to World War II POWs

By Alfred Balitzer and Abraham Cooper
Special to the Mercury News

As we commemorate the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, we are reminded that while history tells a story, it does not automatically bring justice. From the Nazi death camps to the Bataan Death March to the American POWs and others who suffered at the hands of Imperial Japanese, the scale and scope of barbarities inflicted on humankind during the World War II era is beyond our full comprehension.

Many bemoan the failure of Japan to fully educate its younger generations about those terrible years, while many Asian countries have expressed concerns that democratic Japan has been slow to fully acknowledge the misdeeds of its imperial predecessor. While Japan has taken recently a bold move in apologizing to the Korean people for its colonization and suppression of its citizens, the settling of the record among the living is incomplete.

As the California Legislature passed AB 619, a bill forcing European companies bidding for contracts on the state's new high-speed rail system to reveal and acknowledge their participation in transporting innocents to Nazi concentration camps, it behooves Japanese companies to also come clean about their abuse of American and Allied POWs during WWII.

AB 619, the Holocaust Survivor Responsibility Act, raises a clarion call for the leaders of a Japanese industrial consortium seeking a piece of the lucrative high-speed rail contracts to assign outside historians to detail their companies' roles in using

27,000 American men and women in various forced labor camps during World War II -- camps where more than 1,000 American servicemen died due to unmerciful conditions and forced labor. Let us be clear: This is a moral responsibility that certain Japanese companies cannot evade.

Japanese companies lobbied the California Legislature, vigorously according to some legislators, to exempt them from the proposed law. Their efforts paid off: AB 619 targets only those companies (French) that owned or operated trains deporting Jews and others to suffering and death. By contrast, Japanese companies were not subject to this law, arguing that they did not own or operate trains that transported American POWs during the war. Those trains, it was argued, were owned and operated by the Japanese military.

Reducing the greatest moral issue coming out of World War II to an exercise in legal legerdemain must not escape the attention of political and business leaders in Sacramento, Washington and Tokyo.

Strict reading of AB 619 aside, Japanese companies that enslaved and sometimes murdered American servicemen must not be allowed to escape the scrutiny that history and common humanity demand. The American lives that were brutally cut short through Japanese forced labor will certainly compel Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California officials to demand that Japanese firms wanting a part of California's high-speed rail pie must publicly acknowledge their actions during World War II, directly apologizing to the surviving ex-POWs.

As the veil of time settles over the memory of the Second World War, only a few fragile voices are left to testify to the horrific policies and crimes against humanity that mark the period. Japanese corporations no longer have to be concerned with lawsuits from their WWII-era slave laborers. But is a handshake and respectful bow asking too much?

We believe that the overwhelming majority of citizens on both sides of the Pacific agree that now is the time to finally do the right thing. With just seconds to go before the written record replaces living memory of the period, we must unite in bringing a symbolic measure of justice to those few survivors of humankind's most brutal hour.

ALFRED BALITZER, PhD, is chairman of Pacific Research & Strategies, Inc., a Long Beach-based government affairs and public relations firm.
RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.