The Japanese army tortured and murdered American prisoners of war in the 1940’s; most people know this. But not many people are aware that Japan—in contrast to Germany, which apologized to former POWs and paid millions of dollars in reparations—refuses even to admit publicly that its military violated basic standards of decency, not to mention the Geneva Convention. This is all the more startling in light of the serious disparity between the treatment our men received in the German POW camps and that accorded to American troops interned in Japan.
According to the Center for Civilian Internee Rights, 12,526 of the 33,587 American soldiers captured by the Japanese died, a mortality rate of 37 percent. While some of these deaths resulted from malnutrition and disease, an untold number died from beatings and torture. In German POW camps, the mortality rate was one percent, even though the Nazis had 96,614 captives, nearly three times as many as their Asian allies.
Japan’s refusal to concede that any atrocities took place prompted Gilbert M. Hair, himself a survivor of the camps, to launch the Center for Civilian Internee Rights, which has filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government in an effort to win reparations and to redress what he calls the “intolerable discrepancy” between German and Japanese responses to past crimes. The center encourages all survivors of the Japanese camps and their next of kin to participate in this class action. Papers must be filed with the organization’s lawyers before August 1, 1995.