Mr. Kohken Tsuchiya

By Kinue Tokudome

I have an unforgettable memory of Mr. Kohken Tsuchiya. It was in September of 2001 when many dignitaries from the U.S. and Japan gathered in San Francisco to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty. During the same time, several NGOs, who challenged that the Peace Treaty did not solve the issue of Japan's war responsibility, also held a conference in San Francisco. Mr. Tsuchiya, who had long been working on the issue of Japan's war-related compensation and who was the lead lawyer in the Unit 731 germ warfare lawsuit against the government of Japan, was among the panelists. After reporting on the proceeding of the Unit 731 case, he told the audience that Japan must acknowledge its past wrong doings, offer an apology, and pay compensation to its victims.   

There were representatives of former Australian POWs who were abused by the Japanese military during WWII sitting in the audience. One of them asked me after Mr. Tsuchiya's presentation, "I would like to talk to Mr. Tsuchiya. Would you please be my interpreter?" I was happy to help and went to talk together with Mr. Tsuchiya. What this person said was as follows: "Mr. Tsuchiya, I have never thought that I would ever want to shake hands with a Japanese person until today. But after hearing your presentation, I really wanted to shake hands with you. I admire you. Could I shake hands with you? "

Mr. Tsuchiya of course happily extended his hand to this person. But what struck me the most was the realization that one person could accomplish so much by his sincerity and activism sustained by his determination.  

The following is the excerpt from a speech Mr. Tsuchiya gave at the "No-War College" (NGO in Tokyo) in 2004 with some additional thoughts.

Never forgetting the war I fought,
I shall keep telling the folly and the horror of a war

By Kohken Tsuchiya

Drafted and assigned to a torpedo boat squadron in Ogasawara

By the final days of the war, even college students majoring liberal arts were drafted once they reached 20 years old. If one could not decide whether he wanted to go to the Army or the Navy, he would be assigned to the Army. I thought the Navy was better than the Army and went to the Navy. 

The training I received in the Navy was rigorous, but I survived and became an officer candidate. As I was about to be commissioned as an ensign, I was sent to Chichi Jima in the Ogasawara Islands. That was January of 1945, the last year of the war. 

In early February, the U.S. forces landed on Iwo Jima. They could use the island as an air base. There were large troops of the Japanese Army and the Navy on the island, and they were surrounded by the U.S. forces trying to take the island with battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and of course transport ships.

In the end, the defense forces of Iwo Jima were annihilated. With the exception of only a handful of lucky soldiers who became POWs, the entire troops on the island fought to the death. Chichi Jima in the Ogasawara Islands is located a little north of Iwo Jima. It is about one thousand kilometers south from Tokyo, and Iwo Jima is further south by 2-3 hundred kilometers. Chichi Jima was its next closest island. There was a torpedo boat squadron in Ogasawara. It was a boat of about 20 tons and 20 meter long with a crew of 10. It was a high speed boat with two torpedoes at each side of the gunwale. It could go near Iwo Jima and launch its torpedoes against large US ships.

The U.S. forces tried to wipe out torpedo boats at Chichi Jima to protect their battleships, transport ships and landing ships. Many airplanes from American aircraft carriers flew to Chichi Jima to destroy 20 or so torpedo boats we had. We were shooting at those U.S. airplanes with guns on the ground and ships. They approached while shooting with their guns and dropped bombs. Those were rocket bombs that would go straight to the targets once they were launched. Some of our soldiers were killed and some wounded. I only had a shrapnel scrape my jaw. If it were a few inches closer to my face, my head would have been blown up. I witnessed many soldiers perished that way.

Witnessing horrific deaths made me scared  

At first, I was not scared by all the shooting. But then witnessing the horrific deaths of my fellow soldiers with my own eyes put fear into me. They were not dying with a smile on their faces or dying a beautiful death shouting "Long Live the Emperor!" They had a bullet enter from their mouth, penetrate through their head and go through their iron helmet. Their mouth opened, eyes rolled, and blood gushing from their mouth. Seeing such horrific deaths in front of me made me scared.

I knew we could not win this war. You may ask then why I did not run away, but the draft system in the Japanese military would not allow such a thing. If one deserted the system, he would be shot or put in a prison. You could not run away even if you wanted.

Who starts a war?

It is not we (ordinary people) who start a war. It is capitalists, warmonger politicians, and elite military cliques. There are capitalists in the United States today who want war. There are many people who would benefit from war and it would vitalize the whole economy. That is one reason for war. Another is war for oil. In addition, they try to challenge nations whose system they do not like with the mantra of "spreading democracy" as the U.S. history vis--vis socialist nations shows. These are the reasons behind war.

It is weak people who suffer once a war is started. They are sent to the front lines or killed in bombings as innocent civilians while those in power benefit from the war and survive. That is how war is. No matter how it is called--"war for justice," "war to defend one's country," or "war to achieve peace"--there is no such war. It is war itself that is evil and it is always ordinary people who will be drafted to fight in such evil war.

I was ordered to execute an American POW

While I was at the Ogasawara Islands, I was ordered to execute an American POW airman who had parachuted down. Since I held level 2 certificate for Kendo (swordsmanship) and knew how to handle a Japanese sword better than other people I could not refuse the order to kill. In addition, the mood among us was such that we might as well do anything because we would not be able to go home alive anyway. There were about 10,000 soldiers on the island and no civilians. Everyone knew that we would all die in the end and that we were allowed to do anything while alive. We did not want to do bad things. But we did not think that killing an enemy was a bad thing. It was something we would gladly do. I myself did not like killing people, but I did not have a strong hesitation either. If ordered, I would kill. That was what a war was about, after all.

However, another soldier who had level 4 certificate in kendo came forward on the day before the execution. Commanding officer said, "If Tsuchiya is level 2 and the other one is level 4, let that person kill." This person gladly carried out the execution. The POW had his head cut off and fell to the pool of his blood. There was a large applause from soldiers who were watching the execution. The person started to walk proudly from that day forward. He was now a hero on the island. He was all right while the war was going on.

Then the August 15 came and the war ended. We came home in December. While on board the repatriation ship, this person asked, "Please everybody, don't tell anyone about the execution. Please keep it secret." We all assured him, "Of course." It could have been me. We all thought that we had to protect this person. Yet, although we did not talk, the U.S. military somehow found out. MP and local police visited this person's hometown to arrest him. By then, he was a college student in Tokyo, like myself. He learned by a telegram or something that he would be arrested if he went back to his hometown and committed suicide by slicing his carotid.

Learning his death, I felt very sorry for him. He died in my place. I visited his gravesite many times. Then I stopped some time ago because I began to think that he might not be pleased by my visit.  But for a while, I was so sorry for him. These were the things I experienced.

As for the POW who was executed, I was the one who took care of him for a few days after he had been sent to our unit. We were both 22 years old. I remember he told me that he had been to a teacher's college, had no girlfriend, and his mother was waiting for his return in his hometown. I was the officer on duty the day he was to be executed. When I showed him a paper where I explained briefly that by the order of the highest commanding officer on Chichi Jima we must carry out the execution, he became tense momentarily. But he quietly stood up setting aside a book on Martha Washington that he had been reading. He let me blindfold him and I took his hand as we walked  to the execution spot. After the commander of the torpedo boat squadron read the execution note, he whispered, "Goodbye, Mother."

I still remember how dignifiedly he met his fate. Death should have been my fate. I considered that I died once and have lived my life thereafter mustering courage. I have never forgotten the name of this American POW to this day.

About the Unit 731 germ warfare lawsuit

Japan occupied a part of China to advance its own interest and set up a puppet government in the Japanese colony called Manchukuo (Northeast region of China). In Manchuria, there was a town called Ping Fan near Harbin and the Japanese Army occupied a huge area where they built a testing facility. It was for human experimentations. They captured Chinese people who they did not like or who they alleged were spies and put them in prison. Since these people would be executed anyway, the Japanese Army decided that they might as well experiment on these people.

The Japanese killed 3,000 people by human experimentations. They tested plague pathogen on humans and observed how many days it would take for human to develop the disease. They also recorded how humans would suffer from the disease. For example, how long it would take for human to die from frostbite, how the color of a hand would change when exposed to sub-zero temperature, how long it would take for gangrene to set in, and how long humans could survive without water, or only with water but without food?  These were the experimentations that were carried out on humans.

In addition to these evil and diabolical actions, the Japanese Army in Manchuria also spread fleas infected with pathogen over innocent civilians in town or peaceful villages in Zhejiang Province and Hu'nan Province. These people had no idea why there were sudden outbreaks of diseases. As a result, tens of thousands people died. It was Unit 731 that did all this The Unit 731 germ warfare lawsuit seeks that the Japanese government acknowledge what Unit 731 did, admit that it was wrong, and pay compensations to victims.

Theory of "State irresponsibility"

I am the lead lawyer for this lawsuit, which we have been fighting for 7 years. (As of 2004) At the trial level, presiding judge acknowledged the historical fact. But he did not recognize the legal responsibility of the Japanese government. Why? Because there was a law in those days that, when seen by the international standard, is a very despicable and outdated. The theory is called, "State irresponsibility. " It said that the government could not be held responsible for actions it took in exercising its authority.

But it is our mission as the legal team to compel the government to take responsibility. In order to make it happen, we traveled to China and met with local people. They also came to Tokyo to testify in the court. The trial court acknowledged the facts, but ruled that the government did not have the legal responsibility based on this "State irresponsibility" legal theory. It is truly a shame.

Now, "Being silent" is a serious crime!

A Japan that blindly follows the U.S. and a Japan that willingly offers troops. This is a violation of the Japanese Constitution. The Prime Minister himself is leading the campaign to revise the Constitution. We should be proud of our Constitution. We should especially appeal to the world the importance of Article 9, with which we denounced war. The country that suffered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now trying to change Article 9... There is nothing more shameful than this. That is how foolish our current government is.  

Having lost the war, we swore that we would never make the same mistakes again. Yet today, there are hardly any mainstream newspapers that write critically. They don't speak out against war although they are perfectly capable of doing so now. The general population has become quiet too. While we are silent, our reality is changing rapidly. Therefore I even claim that being silent is a serious crime.

Why didn't wise men speak out against the last war? They should have, but they were not able. There was the "Security Preservation Law" and those who spoke out would be punished. Today, we can say anything without worrying about being punished. Yet we don't speak out. It is indeed a shame.

If you remain silent and a new war were ever to start, your children and grandchildren would surely be angry for your not having spoken out. I am compelled to say, "It is now a serious crime to be silent."

The surest way to construct peace

There is a straightforward approach to construct peace that is assured and long-lasting, and won't cost a dime. What could that be? It is to directly face the mistakes in the wars past and to apologize for them from the bottom of our hearts. We should ask for forgiveness. It is up to the victims to decide if they will forgive. Nevertheless, an apology is due.

There is a person I know who belonged to Unit 731. Although he was in the lowest rank, he admitted in front of Chinese victims his wartime involvement with tears in his eyes. He confessed in front of many people saying he was sorry. Then families of Chinese victims who were visiting Japan all gathered around him and wanted to shake his hand. Seeing his genuine sincerity, they forgave him. But if the government of Japan is to apologize, it cannot do so empty handed. These issues must not be dealt with only from Japan's perspective. We should be in the shoes of our victims and understand their perspectives.

I am determined to devote the rest of my life to "Anti-war," " Peace, " and "Anti-Constitution revision" activities.

Kohken Tsuchiya (Attorney): Graduate of Tokyo University, Faculty of Law
                                              President of the Japanese Bar Association (1994-96)
                                              Lead lawyer for the Unit 731 germ warfare lawsuit

Mr. Tsuchiya passed away on September 25, 2009.