Peace and Friendship Exchange

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by Angus Lorenzen

In September of 2010, the Japanese government invited 6 American ex-POWs and two descendants to visit Japan as part of their Peace and Friendship Exchange Program. Though this program was initiated in 1995 for ex-POWs of our allies during WW II, this is the first time that Americans have been invited to participate.

There was an immediate uproar from people in the POW community who believe that Japan is using this program to assuage their collective conscience, while not giving a real apology for their brutal treatment of prisoners, nor compensation from their corporations who used the Americans as slave labor. Their very understandable position is that this is far too little and too late.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. government gave away our rights to fair recompense and gave Japan full amnesty for their atrocities in the 1951 peace treaty. While the U.S. courts have entertained all kinds of suits against the Axis powers of Europe, whose governments and corporations have paid billions of dollars in compensation to their victims, every suit against Japan and its corporations has been struck down by our Federal courts as being in violation of the peace treaty, which allowed for approximately $20 million to be paid to all Allied POWs. (American civilian POWs were paid approximately $0.86 a day for their time spent in Japanese controlled camps.)

There is no legal means to gain an apology or fair compensation from Japan and its corporations. There is only a moral obligation for our government and that of Japan, and we all know how little that really means. Our government has been less than forthcoming in its recognition of American POWs’ rights and needs, while the Japanese government has been downright antagonistic towards any individual, organization or country calling for recognition and apology for the atrocities it committed during the war.

It is therefore understandable why so many ex-POWs and their families are incensed at the token offering of Japan’s Peace and Friendship Exchange. And yet it is a beginning. Japan does not teach its students about its aggressive nature and atrocities committed during the war. Except for the older generation, they are completely ignorant about Japan’s role. Therefore the exchange program is a positive force if it helps to educate the Japanese people. And it can do this if the Americans who participate are effective ambassadors who take seriously their responsibility to educate the people of Japan.

The 2010 program is intended by Japan to be a start in the reconciliation with American war victims. We hope and expect that it will be expanded to include civilian POWs who also suffered — 11% dying in the camps and others suffering lifelong disabilities as a result of their harsh treatment. Rather than tearing down the program, let’s make it an effective force to make the Japanese recognize their culpability and bring them around to a higher moral standard in treating their worldwide victims.

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