Winners of the Essay Contest on POWs of the Japanese

US-JAPAN DIALOGUE ON POWS, INC., a California non-profit organization, is pleased to announce two winners of its first essay writing contest. They are:

Asako Yoshida from Saitama, Japan (Tsuda College)
Adam J. Donais from Chattaroy, WA. USA (Spokane Falls Community College)

Both winners will attend the annual convention of American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (an organization of former POWs of the Japanese) in Phoenix, AZ from May 18 to 21, 2006. They will be meeting with many former POWs and their family members, while having a dialogue between themselves on learning the POW history.

*This Essay Contest was made possible by the generous support from Dorothy and Clay Perkins.  


Here are their winning essays.
 

Asako Yoshida

In the 60th memorial summer after the end of World War II, I joined a Project entitled “Their Past, Our Future” held in Tokyo. I first came to know there about the POWs who passed away while being forced to work in Japan. Through reading their story, I realized that what I have learned about the war at school was not enough and that I had not understood what war was really like.
 

“War,” this was just events that happened in the past for me. History lessons in Japan require just memorizing as many events as possible. However, what is important is not memorizing what happened and when it happened but knowing how the people lived when each historical event happened.

By reading My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March written by Lester I. Tenney, I could know how people lived and felt in the terrible war situation. There was cruelty, anger, sadness, fear, fellowship and love. I have never experienced any war but I have experienced those feelings that human beings naturally have. Those emotions helped me to understand the war situation. I realized that when we read a book, we are not just reading letters but reading feelings and emotions that the letters convey.  

Just reading the book made me quite emotional. I could hardly believe that such terrible thing was a reality and words could not describe the agitation I felt. I found that in extreme situations such as the Bataan Death March, living in POW camp and working as forced laborers, there is no rationale. There are only a slough of despond, and torment. With the growth of civilization, not emotions but rationales helped people to develop theories or techniques in science and improved our life. However in war, being rational would never save lives and reason would never stop the war. I realize that emotion or feeling that human beings have naturally is the most important thing.

The things which tortured me the most was the fact that human beings can be so cruel. During World War II, the Japanese military took many peoples’ lives without humanity. They were not a special group of evil people but our ancestors. This made the cruelty not isolated from my own life. The young people in Japan tend to think that the wars happened in the past and its responsibilities have nothing to do with us. We even feel anger against being blamed for the war after 60 years. However, we have to remember that this can happen to us too. We can be such cruel persons once war happens. Ordinary people can be terrible soldier as the war eats away not only human’s lives, reasons but also humanities. Being damaged and killed in the war is of course the most dreadful thing but it would be equally terrible to become the one who will damage and kill the people. The cruelty that is hidden within us has been a real terror. That leads to the war, deprives us of humanity, and kills people. We have to be aware of this human nature.

I would like to make sure that I am not telling this to escape the Japanese war responsibility from World War II but for the possible danger in the future and all the war and violence happening now everywhere in the world.

It must have been very hard for Dr. Tenney and a lot of other former POWs to recall the terrible experiences from the war. If they cared about only themselves, they would not tell anything because it was too hard to remember. If they cared about only themselves, they could try to forget all the things by any means. However they didn’t. Moreover they have written about their experiences not only for themselves but for those POWs who passed away to show how they lived as they can no longer tell and also for our future. I cannot thank them enough for that.

Even if they are telling their story and warning against the madness that people could have inside, there are still wars everywhere in the world. There are wars because warmongers, politicians, and elite military cliques who don’t fight at the front start wars. They should know that they do not have any right to tell people what to do. Sending people to war is to sentence people to death.

Looking at history, there were a lot of wars. In old age, nations have a great power and people had to obey.  People lived in decided life and history, but it should not be like that. People are not living in the history. How people lived makes the history. The story written by POWs were apparently neither happy nor peaceful. The piles of tragedies of POWs cannot be a history of happiness. No war makes peace. Only a pile of each person’s happiness and peaceful lives can produce a history of happiness and peace.

Many soldiers used to go to wars to protect their family and their nation. I pay homage to all men who have died in wars. As I have written, however, all the people who went to wars were definitely not happy. After a battle, there must be revenge. That chain of violence should be stopped in the first place. To make a peaceful world, each person has to be happy. Even if we are in different countries and speak different languages, we are all human beings having one universal language. We feel sadness, happiness and fears in the same way. Cruelty or evil of the war is not the other country or other countries’ people. War itself is the evil which takes away the humanities and makes people completely changed. Enemies we have to fight are in ourselves. After all, it is human beings who start wars and who stop wars. 

Last year was the 60th memorial year after the end of World War II.  Many events wishing peace were held all over Japan. I joined an event commemorating the 60th anniversary from the atomic bombing held and supported completely by volunteers in Hiroshima. There were no negative feelings. There were just sincere prayer to the peace and people’s wills to desire the peace. Nationalities did not a matter at all. People from all over the world shared the same moment with a prayer for world peace convinced me that we human beings definitely can achieve world peace. We should show the other people not the negative feelings but a positive one and we should believe the positive power that human beings have.

Things change from time to time. Humans are also changing according to the situations. It lasts as long as we live. The problems we encounter would be very difficult and also different from age to age but we have to keep living as human beings with humanity. In this modern world, we still should be aware of the importance of humanity and should struggle to keep it.

I have read all POWs’ stories being put on a website of US-JAPAN DIALOGUE ON POWS, but I think it never get enough to understand all. It would be a great opportunity for me if I could meet former POWs and listen to their personal stories.
 


Adam J. Donais

I first became aware of Japanese WWII war crimes when I spent the previous year studying Chinese in Hangzhou, China. I noticed that several Chinese friends occasionally expressed an intense animosity towards the Japanese and upon exploring beyond the surface of these feelings I found significant events that somehow had been left out of, or at least barely mentioned in my public school education.


Throughout my high school classes I do not recall ever being taught about the Rape of Nanjing in 1937 in which according to sources such as Iris Chang's book "The Rape of Nanking" more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were raped, tortured and mutilated by the Japanese army. Similarly, I feel my awareness of American Prisoners of war of the Japanese was severely lacking. Napoleon said, "History is a set of lies agreed upon." I'll venture to agree with that statement, but I'd prefer to choose for myself which set depicts reality rather than the set seeking political correctness by glossing over morbid details in order to replace them with cold watered down facts. I find it disappointing that someone chooses such history I am expected to become acquainted with and I wish the content of history classes was designed more to inspire awareness, respect and a desire to understand the past.

The situation seems to be similar in Japan. I recently talked with a Japanese friend about what sort of information regarding American Prisoners of war he remembered studying during high school history courses in his country. He said he couldn't remember any mention of such events towards any nation by his own, and that WWII history lessons usually focused on America's bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe some students really aren't interested in history, but I have often read about the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology intentionally omitting such events from school textbooks that show the harsh reality of Japanese war crimes.

An incident deserving of more awareness is the Bataan Death March, in which after formally surrendering to the Japanese in 1942, thousands of US soldiers were forced to endure disease, malnutrition, and the sadistic treatment of their Japanese guards. Former POW Lester Tenney mentions that during his experience on the Bataan Death March he witnessed a POW with severe malaria buried alive along with another who was shot for refusing to bury his fellow POW.

Another former POW, Louis Read, states that during his experience enduring the Bataan Death March he witnessed a random POW being tied to a tree and used as bayonet practice, and the Japanese soldiers tossing the body into a clump of bamboo and then washing the blood off the bayonets with water from the hydrant Mr. Read was about to get water from. Both Mr. Tenney and Mr. Read were forced into becoming slave laborers. Mr. Tenney shoveled coal in a mine owned by the Mitsui Company for 12 hours a day for over 2 years. During this time he and the other prisoners often received severe beatings, and to this day he and other former POWs have yet to receive a formal apology and compensation from the Japanese government and corporations that were responsible for enforcing such inhumane treatment.

Mr. Tenney and other former Prisoners of war have filed lawsuits demanding that Japan acknowledge and apologize for the atrocities they are responsible for and deliver compensation. So far all these lawsuits have been dismissed by authorities, saying the Peace Treaty signed by Japan and the U.S. barred former POWs from making any claims. A similar event occurred in 2002, when a lawsuit filed against the Japanese government involving 180 survivors and relatives of victims of Japan’s mass biological warfare experiments in China demanded Japan acknowledge their involvement in germ warfare, apologize, and provide reparations. The Japanese court determined that a 1972 treaty between China and Japan denied china’s right to seek compensation for damages from incidents of the war. The terms of treaties are not decided upon by the victims of wartime abuse. Japanese officials seem to employ these treaties as an excuse to manipulate their way out of apology and compensation for Japan’s past cruelties.

Those who endured and suffered by the Bataan death march, dealt with subhuman conditions in POW camps, and whose rights as human beings were violated when forced to be slave laborers for Japanese companies deserve the dignity and honor that would be restored upon a simple apology and the acknowledgement of past transgressions against humanity. An apology would be a step towards ensuring such atrocities never occur again.

In Louis Zamperini's book Devil at My Heels, he describes the inhumane circumstances the Japanese subjected him to after his B-24 crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean. After drifting on a rubber raft for forty-seven days he was captured by the Japanese. In describing an incident that occurred while imprisoned at Kwajalein Atoll Mr. Zamperini says: "One morning I heard a commotion and many voices. Suddenly soldiers lined up in front of my door. Was this it? My last day? Luckily -or- unluckily no. This was a submarine crew in for refueling, supplies and shore leave. On a sub you never see the enemy; what a treat when they heard two POWs were on the island. Perhaps eighty men lined up as if at a movie theater. Phil and I were the feature. As each sailor passed he cursed us, spit, threw rocks, jabbed us with sticks, and treated us like caged animals. I thought I was already in the worst shape of my life, but this dehumanization and torment had proved me wrong."

He was later transferred to the Ofuna prison camp near Yokohama, a secret interrogation camp of the Japanese Navy. Ofuna was hidden from relief agencies which meant no Red Cross supervision and prisoners were not registered as official prisoners of war with the Geneva POW convention. I believe the existence of such installations condoning obscene dehumanization of fellow human beings serves to show us the importance of abiding by basic morality, especially while engaging in war. I believe history classes in both America and Japan should place more emphasis on the moral lessons we can learn from atrocities of this nature and their relation to understanding each other as human beings. In my opinion, placing such events outside of prescribed history lessons just leaves an empty space for them to occur again. Open discussion of such atrocities should be a means of promoting a moral understanding of each other. This is evident in Mr. Zamperini's ability to forgive the Japanese for the treatment he received. He realized how detrimental to American and world society it would be to perpetuate such animosities.

"What I feared most was that my generation would teach the hatred and resentment I was learning at the hands of the Japanese to our own children and the cycle of disaffection and violence would never stop."

I believe young people in the United States and Japan should be well aware of such events and that understanding and promoting open discussion of these topics is paramount to enhancing peaceful connections between our nations. Japan does not need to be embarrassed by its past, but would find itself deemed more amiable by its neighbors if it were to encourage the students in its education system to gain insight from the past so that they may be better equipped to correctly deal with the future.

The American prisoners of war dealt with a great deal of morbid circumstances and I feel tragedies of such caliber do not disappear by being ignored and should be addressed through understanding dialogue. I would be glad to openly approach and discuss this and many topics with the chosen Japanese student while meeting with former POWs in the event I am given the opportunity to do so.