Guests Of The Emperor

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The truth is slowly making itself known regarding Japan's ghastly treatment of American POWs during WWII. After more than five decades of denial, prevarication and outright lying on the part of its government, its military, its historians and corporate leaders, Japan's criminal behavior has been ferreted out and documented, for all the world to see.

A case in point is GUESTS OF THE EMPEROR--THE SECRET HISTORY OF JAPAN'S MUKDEN CAMP by historian Linda Goetz Holmes (Naval Institute Press). Mukden was a POW camp in Manchuria to which about 1,500 American survivors of Bataan and Corregidor were shipped to work as slave laborers for the Mitsubishi Corporation, which was manufacturing airplane and tank parts for the Japanese Imperial Army. The Americans, most of whom were walking wounded, were "temporarily" housed in old Chinese army huts that were little better than pigpens. Mitsubishi promised to build new barracks "later."

Mitsubishi not only failed to provide decent housing and heating (in 40-degree-below weather) but fed the prisoners slops, made them work long, arduous hours, and beat them mercilessly for the slightest infraction of the rules. On top of that, many of the prisoners were forced to become guinea pigs for the infamous Japanese biological warfare team, Unit 731. Hideous experiments were conducted upon them, such as injecting them with amoebic dysentery or making them brush their teeth with infected powder.

Everything about the camp and its policies were in clear violation of the Geneva Convention, which even the Nazis made a pretense of obeying. Not so the Japanese--to this date, Japan has refused to become a signatory to the Geneva Convention. Nor did it allow the International Red Cross to have free access to Mukden. Even more outrageously, Japanese officers and soldiers stole the food and medicine that the IRC managed to deliver to the camp.

Until the publication of GUESTS OF THE EMPEROR, Mitsubishi

has always denied that it used slave labor in WWII. The CEO of the company, Kiyoshi Goko, was never prosecuted for his crimes, nor did the company (or the Japanese government) ever offer compensation to those who labored, suffered and died while in captivity at Mukden.

Appallingly, the U.S. State Department also betrayed the Mukden survivors--and all Pacific War POWs-- by filing a "Statement of Interest" with two California courts which wanted to hear the cases against Japanese corporations. This in effect prevented the cases from going to trial.

The State Department, commented author Holmes in an e-mail to me, "declined to file such a statement of interest in the Nazi cases, thus allowing those cases to be heard and adjudicated in favor of the plaintiffs."

Holmes added, "An historian friend tells me that a fellow historian remarked, 'If the German people knew that the Japanese government and companies haven't paid one dime in compensation (after German companies and government have paid billions), they would be furious.'"

In her book, Holmes goes on to say that "faced with a dead end in the courts, former POWs of the Pacific have turned to Congress in hopes of getting an ex gratia payment similar to the twenty thousand dollars authorized in 1988 by Congress to be given to each American of Japanese descent interned in the United States during World War II (none of whom performed slave labor or died from starvation or beatings; they were interned only after the Japanese had rounded up every white man, woman and child in Asia and thrown them into prisons or internment camps). Several bills have been introduced in recent years, only to be deleted by the House Senate Conference Committee at the request of the White House or by the insistence of a senator with his own agenda...In recent years the governments of Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and even the Isle of Man have offered their citizens who suffered in Japanese captivity a one-time payment of between twenty and twenty-four thousand dollars. Alone among the Allied nations, the United States has not done so."

GUESTS OF THE EMPEROR doesn't tell a pretty story, but it is a powerful, important and long-overdue one.