Japan is responsible for teaching

Japan is responsible for teaching

By Alfred Balitzer and and Abraham Cooper | Guest columnists

December 3, 2010

Karen Rae, deputy administrator in the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration recently spoke in Orlando to a group of companies that have expressed potential interest in bidding for a proposed high-speed-rail project.

Among the participants were Germany's Siemens, Canada's Bombardier Inc. and China's High Speed Rail. The multibillion-dollar project would create a link between Tampa and Orlando and then add a connection to Miami with trains reaching about 168 miles per hour. "This is the beginning of a revolution. You are the foot soldiers," she told the business leaders.

But before Floridians are asked to pay for tomorrow's infrastructure, they have the right — legal and moral — to demand foreign companies seeking the lucrative contracts to own up to past horrors.

Time does not heal all wounds. Sixty-five years after the end of the Second World War, 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 remain beyond our full comprehension.

And there are direct links from the barbarities of WWII to the proposed Florida high-speed-rail project. In response to Holocaust survivors and groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, officials of one potential bidder, SNCF, the French railway company that was paid by the Nazis for each Jew it delivered to the gates of the infamous Auschwitz Death Camp, have publicly declared they will do more to deal with that dark legacy.

Meanwhile, Americans may know little of the trail of brutality from the Asia Pacific theater during World War II, but Imperial Japan's atrocities remain an emotional third rail issue. The failure of Japan to fully educate its younger generations about those terrible years, has led many Asian countries to express 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.

It behooves the consortium of 11 Japanese companies led by Central Japan Railway Company (JR Tokai), which includes Mitsubishi and Sumimoto, to come clean about their abuse of American and Allied POWs during WWII.

In recent months, the California Legislature passed AB 619, the Holocaust Survivor Responsibility Act. While the bill was not signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it sent a bipartisan clarion call that European and Japanese companies need to address the past before speeding us toward the future. The leaders of a Japanese industrial consortium seeking a piece of the lucrative high-speed rail contracts need to do two things:

First, they should meet with the surviving ex-POWS and through them apologize for the blood and tears of their fallen comrades.

Second, the Japanese companies must assign outside historians to detail their companies' roles in transporting and using 27,000 American men and women in various forced labor camps during World War II - - camps where over 1,000 American servicemen died due to unmerciful conditions and forced labor. This is a moral responsibility that Japanese companies cannot evade.

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 is chairman of Pacific Research & Strategies, Inc., a California-based government-affairs and public-relations firm. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

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