Clark Field air raids
On December 8, 1941 we were awakened by our first sergeant informing us that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and that we now were at war. We all proceeded with our assigned duties at the flight line until lunchtime when we returned to our barracks for lunch. Leaving the mess hall at 12:30 p.m., the sky over Clark Field in the Philippines was clear and cloudless blue and to our surprise, we heard the sound of airplane engines. Someone shouted look at the large group of Navy planes. Another answered, Navy hell those are Japanese bombers. They glistened in the bright sunlight at an altitude of approximately 20,000 feet. They flew in perfect precision as though they were on a review.
There had been no warning of their immediate approach, and the first wave was almost at the release line when they were sighted. The bombs were dropped in a train diagonally across the field. They began falling on the northwest corner, hitting the row of officer quarters, causing much destruction and heavy casualties; then the bombs proceeded to hit the nearby P-40s headquarters building, shops, and hangar areas. I did not have sufficient time to seek an air raid shelter so I laid down in a small drainage ditch while the explosions thundered throughout the area. As soon as the explosions subsided, I hurried away from the airfield for better protection sensing that there was more to come.
Behind them, they left the field blazing. Most of the buildings had been hit, and many were afire. The men could do little to save them, for there was no fire apparatus. The cries of the wounded sounded through the smoke from all over the field.
Kawasaki air raids
On November 1, 1944, I was assigned with many others to a slave labor detail unloading a coal boat at the dock area of Nippon Steel. While shoveling coal into a net to unload the coal ship, we heard short bursts of the known air raid sirens in our area. If the siren kept on for a lengthy time it meant there were enemy aircraft approaching while short bursts meant that an air raid might be imminent. All of us evacuated the ship and as we looked toward the Tokyo area we could see a large airplane flying over the city. Japanese anti-aircraft fire was directed toward the plane, however, the bursts were nowhere near the plane. At that time, we did not know the type of plane that we were gazing at. However, within a short time, we learned that it was a b nijuku (B-29). This was the first American aircraft we had seen for several years. It was very exciting to us since we now knew that the Japanese were vulnerable to air raids in the near future which to us could mean the end of our internment and freedom once again. This was just the beginning.
On November 24, 1944, at 12:30 PM the air raid siren sounded once again. We were able to see a flight of B-29s heading for Tokyo. From that date on, the air raid sirens sounded almost every day warning us of the approach of American B-29s. Then starting in the year 1945, the B-29s started to fly right over our camp quarters (Tokyo Area Prisoner of War Camp # 2, Kawasaki, Japan) heading for Tokyo.
The most severe bombings were in March 1945. Once again, the B-29s flew directly over our camp area toward Tokyo. We heard the thundering explosions of the bombs as they went off and witnessed the tremendous fires that practically destroyed Tokyo by fire bombs. We attempted to look at the planes through the windows, however, the Japanese guards threatened to shoot us if we persisted in gathering at the windows to see the bombing raid. The resultant fire raids of Tokyo lit us the sky and it was just like day light outside for us as we knew of the devastation that was ensuing from the B-29s. We were excited and happy, knowing that the bombing meant a shorter period for us in a prisoner of war camp, however, we also were a little aghast that so many innocent lives were being lost during the fire bombing.
On May 24th, 1945 B-29s hit our camp area without any air raid warning being sounded. . We immediately jumped out of bed, took what clothes we could get on and headed for our shelters at the Mitsui dock area. Then on May 29th, I was on the Mitsui dock slave labor detail, carrying 120 lbs sacks of rice into railroad box cars. The general alarm siren blasted at 7 AM, however, we continued work detail at the Mitsui dock and warehouse area. At approximately 9:00 AM, the short siren blasts sounded, indicating that a bombing raid was imminent. However, we were force to continue or work on the Mitsui dock area despite the short blast warning. A little after 9, we heard the sound of airplane engines and looking toward Yokohama, we saw a large number of B-29s over the city. We heard the sound of explosions as the bombs hit the city. Soon, we saw large clouds of smoke over the area which was bombed and we knew that much devastation and loss of life had occurred. As the planes left the Yokohama area, they proceeded to fly directly over the Mitsui dock area where we were working. Our Japanese overseers would not permit us to seek protection in an air raid shelter during the raid.
We had been informed that all of the prisoners of war at the Nippon Steel camp had been evacuated to a less dangerous area. However, the Japanese authorities continued to keep us in the Tokyo Area Camp # 2 area and refused to evacuate us to a safer area. One note of importance here is that all of the Japanese workers who were employed and worked beside us at the Mitsui dock area had began to leave the area and refused to work at the Mitsui facility due to the fear of the B-29 bombings. Americans were the only work force available currently available at the Mitsui dock area detail.
On July 25, 1945, B-29s hit our area and caused much devastation and death. The planes made a direct hit on our quarters and destroyed the building. Twenty-two prisoners of war were killed by a direct hit on their air raid shelter outside of the camp building. There were 11 Japanese guards and 4 of the camp staff also killed during this air raid. The following day we were assigned the task of picking up the pieces of flesh of our comrades that were killed during the bombing raid. Subsequently, we were then quartered in the nearby Nishing Flour Mill POW facility which had been recently vacated.
On the sixth of August, we heard from the local Japanese citizenry that a B-29 had dropped some kind of a large land mine on Hiroshima, causing the death of thousands of Japanese citizenry. We could see the fear in their faces as they informed us of the disaster. We had no idea that it was an atomic bomb until Japan had capitulated. Even after the atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the B-29s and fighter planes continually bombed and strafed the areas where our camp was located.
On the15th of August, we were informed of the surrender speech by the Emperor of Japan. All of us were ecstatic and overpowered with emotion at the though that we had survived the war and were on our way to freedom. We painted large PW signs on the roofs of the building in our compound. On August 27th, several B-29s discovered our camp area and dropped a few tons of food, clothing, and medical supplies. We devoured the food and began to gain weight immediately. What a wonderful feeling-going home.
Message to the Japanese people
It has been 59 years since the end of World War II and there is a certain ill-feeling by many individuals in the United States and other parts of the world continues to exist against Japan for the many atrocities committed by its armed forces during that period. No one holds the current Japanese residents responsible for what happened during World War II. The Japanese people are just like any other individuals throughout the world- they are hard working, want to raise a family and have the good things in life. However, there is a serious need to get involved.
Many in the United States believe that the Japanese government has not gone far enough in overcoming the problems their country developed from certain military abuses during World War II. These problems can and must be resolved. First, we believe that the Japanese government should make an official worldwide apology to those individuals and nations that were victims of their aggressive policies. Secondly, we believe that those industrialists that utilized many of us as slave laborers should pay some sort of compensation because of their abuse of prisoners of war under their jurisdiction.
There should be an outcry by the Japanese population to resolve such matters. The Japanese nation belongs to the people and not to the governmental bodies that make the decisions. This can be accomplished by voting for public officials that relate to the resolution of such matters. Also, the Japanese media can be of great assistance in this matter by publicizing the truth relating to events of World War II and insisting that Japan recognize its obligation to those nations and individuals that suffered under its jurisdiction during World War II. Then we can live in peace without animosity between nations and their nationals that has lingered too long. Indeed, this would make our world a better place to live in.
Japan needs a political settlement on its past
The greatest achievement of the San Francisco Peace Treaty to which Japan
owes its postwar independence, democracy and prosperity is the renunciation of
claims for war reparations from Japan. It not only accelerated
However, since China, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) were not invited to the conference and the Soviet Union opposed the treaty, Japan's peace with neighboring countries was put off and Japan has neglected to settle its past. The peace treaty is nothing more than a legal solution between governments. As such, reconciliation with individual victims and moral solution were pushed back.
Japan's failure to properly deal with the situation for a half century has led to a global movement of victims of Japan's aggression to demand compensation. Former U.S. prisoners of war have sued Japanese companies one after another for wartime forced labor and the U.S. Congress passed bills to support them. Asian Americans and Europeans are also joining the movement.
Meanwhile, a trend to seek moral and humanitarian redress "to settle the past'' is gaining momentum around the world. In 1990, the U.S. president apologized to and compensated Japanese-Americans for their internment during the war. In 1995, the French president apologized to the Jewish people who suffered persecution. The Pope also did so in 2000. Last year, 1 million Australians took part in marches to signify their apology to the Aborigines.
Thanks to freedom of information, history that had been covered up is being exposed based on "present standards of justice'' and is moving victims to demand an apology. In response, the present-day leaders and citizens are apologizing for these acts of the past.
Japan, which refuses to listen to such demands saying it has legally settled the claims of former U.S. prisoners of war with the peace treaty, stands out in international society that it is running counter to the trend. I hear that it's not money that the former prisoners of war are demanding. What they want is an apology to heal their psychological wounds so that they may live the remaining years of their lives in peace.
Although the U.S. government is officially supporting Japan's legal position, it is unhappy with Japan's inability "to settle its past'' as seen in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Apart from its official stance, it really wants Japan to take the initiative to make a political settlement.
A new trend to recognize individual claims is also emerging. Some scholars say that the peace treaty does not necessarily deny such claims and a few district courts ruled that the Japanese government is responsible for bringing Chinese and Korean people to Japan against their will during the war.
When former U.S. soldiers sued German companies for subjecting them to forced labor, even though the court ruled in favor of the companies, the German side established the "Remembrance, Responsibility and the Future" fund and reconciled with the plaintiffs. Furthermore, it had the U.S. and German governments accept the settlement as final. Japanese companies would also probably win in court but they will have to pay a high price for their inflexible attitude in the form of boycotts and public outrage.
It will be 50 years in April next year since the peace treaty took effect and I wish to take this opportunity to make the following proposals:
1) Companies involved should get together to reach an out-of-court settlement;
As a director of the International MRA (Moral Re-Armament) in Switzerland, I initiated a seminar titled "An Agenda for Reconciliation'' at which conflicting parties meet there each year to hold dialogue. Through this process, I came to realize that reconciliation starts from settling the past and establishing justice.
In response to the terrorist attacks on the United States, Japan is urged to stand up to terrorists based on law and justice and endeavor to eradicate terrorism by nonmilitary means such as fighting poverty. Also in order to make such contribution effective, I think Japan needs to settle its past once and for all and win international trust.
*The author is a member of the Upper House of the Japanese Diet.
-- posted Nov. 2004