WASHINGTON – A group of U.S. World War II veterans and their relatives say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should only be invited to give a speech to Congress if he admits Japan’s historical responsibility for its wartime conduct, according to a legislative source.
The group sent a letter to influential lawmakers saying Congress should only allow Abe to speak during his planned visit to Washington this spring if they are assured he will acknowledge his country’s past deeds, the source said Tuesday.
The plan was revealed as Abe’s remarks and behavior over the interpretation of Japan’s wartime aggression are being closely watched ahead of the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to U.S.-led Allied forces.
Abe “has a unique opportunity (to) acknowledge Japan’s historical responsibilities,” the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society said in the letter to lawmakers, including the chairman of the veteran affairs committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The group expressed wariness over Abe’s past remarks that questioned the legitimacy of verdicts by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which convicted Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other Japanese as war criminals.
“His past statements rejecting the verdicts of Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal that serves as the foundation of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan trouble us,” the letter states.
Members of the group headed by Jan Thompson include American soldiers who surrendered to Japan on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines in1942 and their family members.
The Japanese military transferred the U.S. and Filipino POWs to a camp more than 100 km away from the battlefield and up to 20,000 people are said to have died due to malnutrition and abuse by Japanese troops in the incident known as the Bataan Death March.
The group said it wants Congress to only invite Abe “to speak at the podium of Roosevelt and Churchill if they are assured that he will acknowledge that Japan’s defeat released the country from the venom of fascism and the inhuman goals of a criminal regime,” the group said.
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a speech in the U.S. Congress’ plenary room after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The group also said the American POWs and their relatives are asking Japan to “keep its moral obligation” to them even though the war ended 70 years ago. “They do not want their history ignored or exploited,” it added.
The Japanese and U.S. governments are arranging Abe’s trip to the United States in late April or early May. If he speaks in Congress, Abe will be the first Japanese prime minister to do so in more than 50 years, according to Japanese officials.
House Speaker John Boehner has the final say over whether Abe can speak.
Abe challenged the convictions of Japanese wartime leaders at the Tokyo tribunal during a Diet session in October 2006, when he last served as prime minister. Abe stepped down the following year and then returned to power in 2012.
Regarding the Bataan march, Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki offered an apology in 2009 and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada apologized to American POWs the following year in a meeting in Japan.
Meanwhile, a group of Korean-Americans took out a full-page ad in The Hill, a Washington newspaper that focuses on congressional issues, to demand that Abe apologize over the “comfort women” issue, a euphemism referring to those who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
The Korean American Civic Empowerment group sponsored the ad in Wednesday’s edition.
“Mr. Abe must apologize to the victims of military sexual slavery by Imperial Japan” during World War II, the ad says, calling on him to “accept responsibility for Japan’s war crimes before addressing (the) U.S. Congress.”
The group also demanded Abe not visit Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead.
Americans of Korean descent are one of the fastest-growing communities in suburban areas of Washington. Some are actively involved in political matters. Many former comfort women came from the Korean Peninsula when it was under Japan’s colonial rule before and during World War II.