Interview with Mr. James Parkinson
The author of Soldier Slaves:  Abandoned by the White House, Courts, and Congress
 
(Naval Institute Press, 2006)

Amazon. com describes Soldier Slaves:

Decades-old war abuses are given up-to-the-minute relevance in this book about World War II American soldiers seeking restitution from Japanese companies that used them as slave laborers during the war. Their tale is told by the lawyer representing them, James Parkinson. With the help of a well-known journalist, Parkinson ties the present to the past by interspersing horrific war narrative with modern-day dramas played out in courtrooms and congressional hearing rooms as lawyers, judges, senators, and congressmen debate the merits of a case now known as the JPOW case. In the process, wartime brutality confronts peacetime prosperity, and economics, not military might, determines the outcome.

Using the personal history of one of the veterans he represents--a munitions mechanic from the Army Air Corps named Harold Poole—to illustrate what happened, Parkinson traces a path that began with the infamous Bataan Death March of April 1942 and three and a half years of forced labor, followed by years of silence forced on the veterans by their own government and lingering medical and emotional problems. Readers will be drawn into the case as the extent of the abuse meted out by the Japanese is revealed and the POWs’ effort to be compensated unfolds. While Parkinson agrees that there might be legitimate debate over whether the soldiers are entitled to back wages from the Japanese corporations who benefited from their labor, he is adamant that their story be more widely known. With the support of influential senators like Orrin Hatch and Joseph Biden and the publication of this book, he is reaching thousands of Americans.

Senators Orrin Hatch and Joe Biden wrote in the foreword:

"The Battling Bastards of Bataan, and all others who paid a dear price for freedom as Pacific Theater prisoners-of-war, deserve – and need – to be remembered. Not just for them, but for us."  

Tom Brokaw wrote:

"This long overdue story of great courage and great suffering rewarded with great injustice should be required reading for every member of Congress. It is a tale to make you at once proud and angry."
 

Excerpts from the book:

...Over time I came to realize what most of the men really wanted were two things: acknowledgment and consideration, even after all these years. For a good many of them, I got the distinct impression that a simple, heartfelt apology from the Japanese government and the companies that enslaved them would have ended their lawsuits then and there.

"You know, an apology would be nice, " I remember Harold Poole telling me in my office. "I don't hold any animosity toward the Japanese people, none whatsoever, but I would like to see an acknowledgement that what happened, happened, and that it wasn't right. I would like to see some recognition of what went on so it doesn't ever happen again."
PP. 80-81.

It was hard to watch. Not because of the men; the men would be all right, no matter what. What was hard to watch were the leader of the United States government dong nothing for the POWs. They could not do anything about the problem in 1942, and they could not do anything in 1951, either. Back then, their hands were tied. But now? A country that found $1.25 billion for the Japanese Americans it interned during World War II, that purposely stayed out of the German Holocaust fight so nearly two million wartime civilian slaves could split up $8 billion, that was spending billions of dollars in Iraq, that government could certainly afford to recognize and offer a token compensation to the men who held the Alamo in the Philippines, who stayed the course, fought the fight, and then saw their civil rights sacrificed for the public good at war's end. P. 234.)     

                                                       
Interview with Mr. James W. Parkinson

Why did you want to write this book?

I knew when I first met the men of the 20th Pursuit Squadron that I wanted to represent them and prosecute their case to the full extent of my abilities.  After the case began and I got to know the men better and understood the lawsuit better, I decided that no matter how the lawsuit came out, the story of the men had to be told. 

The  American people need to know the truth about what happened in World War II.  They also need to know the truth about what happened when the veterans returned to America and how the courts, Congress and the Bush Administration treated them.

What do you think are the problems left unresolved after the dismissal of POW forced labor lawsuit against Japanese companies?

The Japanese corporations that used the American soldier as slave labor have never acknowledged that fact, nor have any of the companies publicly apologized.  I think the companies will regret not doing that.  Not only because to do so would be the morally correct thing to do, but also because it will be a public relations nightmare for them once my book gets read and a movie gets made.

A simple apology and an acknowledgment that “what happened happened” would be a great first step.  That’s what the Japanese corporations need to do.  I think that the Bush Administration  will regret the fact that it did nothing for these great American heroes.  Once the American public reads my book and finds out that the treaty blocked the lawsuits by the men against private Japanese corporations, the public will be outraged that the United States Government didn’t step in to solve the problem.  Clearly, there was an unconstitutional taking of the men’s rights to file a lawsuit if the treaty is interpreted as the courts have found.

Tom Brokaw, the author of the best selling book, The Greatest Generation, wrote in his recommendation for your book, "It is a tale to make you at once proud and angry." Do you think American people will be angry to learn from your book how former POWs' efforts to obtain justice were resisted by the Japanese defendant companies, the Japanese government and the U.S. government?

Absolutely.  Unfortunately, the truth of what has happened to these American heroes is a well kept secret.  When my book is read and the American people fully understand what the Japanese government and the United States government did, they will be outraged.  I believe that there will be a significant reaction to the Japanese companies’ refusal to even acknowledge what happened happened.

After  9/11, some people, including former U.S. Ambassadors to Japan, seemed to argue that maintaining good relations with Japan was more important than revisiting the issue of wartime POW forced labor. Do you think American people feel that way today? 

No.  This case was never against the Japanese people or against the Japanese government.  The lawsuit was against the Japanese corporations that profited from slave labor during World War II.  There is a fundamental difference between suing Japan and suing the companies.  Obviously, everybody in America wants to have good relations with Japan.  Japan is our ally and a wonderful trading partner.  Nevertheless, the wrongs committed by the Japanese corporations need to be acknowledged.

Do you think that the situation has changed since you wrote this book?

Since the book was written and published, the United States has gotten itself into a rather significant war in Iraq.  The Bush Administration is remarkably unpopular for what it has done in Iraq.  The question that is currently not answered is how the Bush Administration will treat the soldiers when they return from the Iraqi conflict.  Will the administration treat the veterans from the Iraqi war with the same lack of respect that it treated the men from World War II?  I think the administration needs to be extraordinarily careful in how it handles this problem.  First of all, it is morally indefensible for an administration not to take care of its war veterans.  That is true whether the war veterans are coming home from the most recent war or from a war 60 years ago. 

What do you think can still happen and should happen for former POWs of the Japanese? I understand that there are only several thousands of them still alive today.

Recently Congressman John L. Mica of Florida introduced a bill to compensate the men who were on the Bataan Death March.  That is a first step that potentially could lead to the Hatch / Biden Bill being re-introduced in Congress.  There appears to be some support for that.  Unfortunately, time is running out.  There are very few veterans left and more are dying with each passing day.  Time is clearly of the essence.


(Interviewed by Kinue Tokudome)