Better late than never

As the 70th anniversary of Imperial Japan’s surrender that ended World war II, a member of one of the many divisions of the large Mitsubishi conglomerate, the Mitsubishi Materials Company, issued an apology to American POW’s who were used as forced laborers for its predecessor company, the Mitsubishi Mining Company. It was a move long-awaited by former prisoners of war of the Imperial Japanese Empire, likely including some Bataan survivors. Mitsubishi Materials was the first private company to make such an apology, though the Japanese government has apologized on several occasions.

In a ceremony held in Los Angeles, on Sunday, 19 July 2015, Senior Executive Officer Hikaru Kimura, told an audience at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles that “In keeping with the spirit of our company’s mission statement, today we apologize remorsefully for the tragic events in our past, and expressed our profound determination to work toward a better future.”

Hikaru Kimura bows in apology at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles on Sunday. James Murphy, a 94-year-old forced labor survivor, is far right. (Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP, via The Guardian)

Hikaru Kimura bows in apology at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles on Sunday. James Murphy, a 94-year-old forced labor survivor, is far right. (Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP, via The Guardian)

Kimura then bowed deeply. Adjacent to him was one of those former POW’s, 94-year old James Murphy, the only one of two US survivors left now who was able to attend the ceremony. An Army Air Corps NCO, at the start of the war he was the chief radio operator of base communications at Nichols Field. During the Bataan campaign, he served as chief radio operator for General George Parker, commander of the II Corps. A Death March survivor, he worked at the Mitsubishi Mining’s Osarizawa Copper Mine, near Hanawa, north of Tokyo.  (Note:  The POW camp site is near modern-day Kazuno, a city in the northeast part of Akita Prefecture well north of Tokyo on the island of Honshu.  There is no longer a Hanawa town. In 1956, towns of Hanawa, Towada and Osarizawa, and the village of Hachimantai were created and in 1972 they were merged to create the city known as Kazuno today.)

“I’ve listened very carefully to Mr. Kimura’s statement of apology and found it very, very sincere, humble and revealing, and this happens to be the first time that we’ve heard those words and they really touch you at the heart,” Murphy said. He added: “This is a glorious day…For 70 years we wanted this.”

James Murphy, a 94-year-old veteran and POW who survived working at Mitsubishi's Osarizawa Copper Mine and the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines, reacts after a Mitsubishi press conference apology in Los Angeles July 19, 2015.  (REUTERS/Mariko Lochridge)

James Murphy, a 94-year-old veteran and POW who survived working at Mitsubishi’s Osarizawa Copper Mine and the infamous Bataan Death March in the Philippines, reacts after a Mitsubishi press conference apology in Los Angeles July 19, 2015. (REUTERS/Mariko Lochridge)

Murphy had earlier recalled and described his slave labor experience in Japan: “We were subjected to perilous working conditions and strenuous physical labor beyond belief. The guards and officials were trained to be barbarous and savage in their day-to-day exploitation and control of us. The egregious act against us by the Japanese included beatings with clubs, rifles, shovels, picks and other objects. We were struck with fists and kicked with booted feet causing gashes, contusions and ulcers.”

“Even though our conditions of malnutrition, starvation, disease, and illnesses were plainly evident, the Japanese did nothing to remedy these. We were not fed; our illnesses and diseases were not treated; but they continued to work us harder and harder to increase copper mine production.”

According to nonprofit research center Asia Policy Point, the Mitsubishi Mining Company ran four sites that at the time of liberation in 1945 held about 876 American prisoners of war. Twenty-seven Americans died in those camps.

Former POW's gfreet their liberators at the Sendai Camp #6-B A.K.A. Hanawa POW Camp, after the war.  James T. Murphy is indicated by the arrow.  (Courtesy Mansell.com)

Former POW’s greet their liberators at the Sendai Camp #6-B, A.K.A. Hanawa POW Camp, after the war.  Bataan survivor James T. Murphy is indicated by the arrow. (Courtesy Mansell.com)

In all, six prisoner-of-war camps in Japan were linked to the Mitsubishi conglomerate during the war. These camps held 2,041 prisoners, more than 1,000 of whom were American, according to Asia Policy Point.

Around 12,000 American POW’s were shipped to Japan on the infamous “Hellships.” They were forced to work at more than 50 sites to support Imperial Japan’s war effort, and about 10 percent died, according to Kinue Tokudome, director of the U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs, who has lead a lobbying effort for the companies that used slave labor to apologize.

We should remember the other POWs from Allied countries also forced to labor for Imperial Japan, such as Filipino, British and Australian servicemen. Also, many Chinese and Koreans were forced to labor for the Japanese Empire. For a pertinent view of how the British feel about this matter, see “Mitsubishi offers historic apology to Western PoWs,” at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/11748575/Mitsubishi-offers-historic-apology-to-Western-PoWs.html

But for now, at least something meaningful has taken place in the days approaching the end of the Pacific War. Hopefully more positive things will happen to the survivors of the Bataan Campaign, American and Filipino, and for the memory of those who fought and died on Bataan, as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
References

Mitsubishi Material, Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_Materials

Mitsubishi, Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi

“Mitsubishi Materials apologizes for using U.S. POWs as slave labor,” Reuters story by Ms. Mariko Lochridge, at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/20/us-usa-mitsubishimaterials-apology-idUSKCN0PU02620150720

“Mitsubishi apologizes to WWII Japanese prisoners of war,” CNN story by Mr. Will Ripley, at: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/19/asia/mitsubishi-japan-pow-apology/

“Mitsubishi Materials apologizes for using US prisoners of war as slave labor,” at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/20/mitsubishi-materials-apologizes-for-using-us-prisoners-of-war-as-slave-labor

“Seventy years after World War II, Mitsubishi finally apologizes for forcing 900 American POWs into its horrific Japanese labor camps,” UK Daily Mail, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3167688/Mitsubishi-apologizes-94-year-old-American-World-War-II-prisoner-war-forced-slave-labor-copper-mines.html

“Mitsubishi offers historic apology to Western PoWs,” by Julian Ryall and Colin Freeman, The The Telegraph, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/11748575/Mitsubishi-offers-historic-apology-to-Western-PoWs.html

“The Bataan Death March and the 66-Year Struggle for Justice,” by Ms. Kinue Tokudome, at: http://japanfocus.org/-Kinue-Tokudome/2714/article.html

“Japanese Company Says Sorry to U.S. Vets,” AP News article by Mr. Matthew Pennington, at: http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/07/15/70-years-on-japanese-firm-to-apologize-to-us-wwii-veterans

U.S.-Japan Dialogue on POWs, at: http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org/

POW Story of James T. Murphy, at: http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org/

Sendai Camp #6-B, A.K.A. HANAWA, at: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/sendai/hanawa/sendai_6_main.html

James Murphy biography, at: http://philippine-defenders.lib.wv.us/html/murphy_james_bio.html

Mitsubishi WWII POW Hanawa Camp, at:  http://www.mitsubishisucks.com/slave-labor/camps/hanawa/