The New York Times
December 24, 2001

"Betrayed By the White House"

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Last month, Congress overwhelmingly approved a provision, added to a spending bill, that would have prevented federal agencies from opposing civil lawsuits by former prisoners of war against Japanese individuals or corporations. The White House succeeded in having the provision struck in a conference committee; the Bush administration feared it might interfere with gathering international support for the war on terrorism. A week later, on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Bush and his father paid glowing tribute to the memory of World War II veterans. The president compared the Sept. 11 tragedy to Japan's surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941, while his father announced that "duty, honor, country"
still prevail.

This behavior reveals a stunning double standard. The United States government aggressively supported claims of European victims of wartime forced labor. The end result was a $5.2 billion fund to settle claims. But for American victims in the Pacific Theater the United States has taken the side of Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Nippon Steel against the roughly 5,000 Americans still alive of the 36,000 servicemen used as slave labor during World War II.

A California Superior Court judge, Peter Lichtman, made note of this when he permitted a slave labor lawsuit to go forward under California law. Mr. Lichtman wrote that he was "greatly troubled" by this "uneven" treatment: "This policy, if it is a policy, appears to be legally unsupportable."

There is an alternative to the Bush policy. In March 2001, two California congressmen Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Michael Honda introduced the Justice for United States Prisoners of War Act of 2001 to permit American veterans to invoke Article 26 of the 1951 peace treaty between Japan and the Allied nations. This bill now enjoys strong bipartisan support and, if passed, will permit former prisoners to pursue reparations against Japanese individuals and companies in American courts without interference from the American government.

Article 26 of the peace treaty states: "Should Japan make a peace settlement or war claims settlement with any State granting that State greater advantages than those provided by the present Treaty, those same advantages shall be extended to the parties to the present Treaty." Because Japan has paid reparations to several other countries, including Switzerland and the Netherlands, it is now responsible for making equal settlements with the United States. Above all, human rights attorneys argue that the 1951 treaty cannot block private litigation even if it was intended to waive reparations between governments.

The decision of the Bush administration to wage a legal fight against its own veterans is shortsighted as well as morally insupportable. A sustained assault against terrorism will require men and women who believe their country and their commander in chief stand behind them. Americans should be ashamed that the government is now prepared to sacrifice the interests of a previous generation of soldiers in order to woo their former enemy.

Our leaders in Washington must not be permitted to sell out the men who gave so much in the fight for freedom. Otherwise, what shall live in infamy will be not only Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, but this unjust betrayal.  If we are to have another "greatest generation" we must duly honor the rights of the first one.

Iris Chang is author of `The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.''

(Special Thanks to Iris for writing the article and allowing the Battling Bastards of Bataan to publish it in our website.)

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