by Alexa Pritchard
The Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act of 2009 was intended to reimburse the Filpino-American veterans for their brave contributions in the Philippines by awarding $15,000 to each U.S. homeowner and $9,000 to each Filipino homeowner. However, the act had not worked out as hoped. The American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, a strong and active association fighting for the rights of Filipinos that all war veterans should be given, had chained themselves to the White House fence and started petitions after expressing concern for years that the act needed to be implemented.
In 2009, Barack Obama signed the act to honor the Filipinos who had not been recognized for their contributions to the war, after visiting and getting to know soldiers at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, the headquarters for the Philippine army. Obama designated 198 million dollars to support the remaining surviving veterans. Despite being rewarded, many were still upset about the fact that for decades school and hospital benefits were denied to these veterans, putting many who risked their lives at risk or in poverty, while some still have not received the money due them at all.
Franco Arcebal, a leader of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, commented to CNN about the act that, “It does not correct the injustice and discrimination done to us 60 years ago… we were not granted school benefits. We were not granted hospital benefits. And in 60 years, several billion dollars were saved by not paying 250,000 of us.” The White House reported in defense that because the documents of who did and did not serve in the war “are not public”, it is difficult to go through the millions of applicants and decipher who did contribute from those who just wanted to collect some money.
While many were against the Act and how long it took to come about, in the publication, Pinay Guerillas: The Unsung Heroics of Filipina Resistance Fighters During the Pacific War, the author speaks almost positively about the Act. Magdalena Leones, an overqualified veteran and Filipino guerilla, got rewarded for her work with a sum of $15,000 and was later flown out for military honor and funeral in 2016. Despite Leones having a positive experience, the government still had not acknowledged other Filipinos early on who were left hopeless for years, dying with debt and fewer opportunities than many other American war veterans had been granted for decades.
As Arcebal said, many are left heated over the fact that despite George W. Bush and Bill Clinton recognizing during the late 1990s and early 2000’s that the Act needed to be established, it only came into effect after over 235,000 soldiers and other participants apart of the war efforts had already passed. Another issue that was debated was that many government officials thought it was too late and a waste of money to reward veterans who were considered very old. Like Franco Arcebal, veteran Celestino Almeda, who was interviewed by CBS News back in 2016, continued to wait for his compensation of money even reaching 99. He said that “before I close my eyes forever, I want to know that I am recognized as a veteran of WWII in the Philippine theatre of war”. Serving over 7 decades prior, Almeda had been peacefully fighting for his rights that should be granted by the United States of America.
Many Filipinos remain frustrated that even with paperwork proving evidence of serving, the rewards were not given. Also, many think that respects were being paid too late and have hence left families in shambles, unable to support themselves; because after the veteran has already passed, the spouse is unable to qualify. This meant that spouses who were getting older were unable to support themselves due to the debt that veterans had faced from absolutely no support from the government, leaving them hopeless. More than the money, it was about the acknowledgment of the hard work and dedication that the veterans had once contributed. Their lives were dedicated to the service of their country yet were never even recognized for it because the act was signed after many had already passed away.
U.S. to Pay 'forgotten' Filipino World War II Veterans." CNN. Accessed June 24, 2019. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/02/23/forgotten.veterans/index.html.
"American Coalition for Filipino Veterans Inc." American Coalition for Filipino Veterans Inc. Accessed June 24, 2019. http://usfilvets.tripod.com/.
FILIPINO VETERANS EQUITY COMPENSATION FUND: INQUIRY INTO THE ADEQUACY OF PROCESS IN VERIFYING ELIGIBILITY. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg96136/html/CHRG-113hhrg96136.htm.
Embassy of the Philippines - News. Accessed June 24, 2019. http://www.philippineembassy-usa.org/news/834/300/Filipino-WWII-Veterans-Presents-Fighting-Filipinos-Posters-to-Representatives-Bob-Filner-and-Mike-Honda/d,phildet/.
"99-Year-Old WWII Veteran Seeks Response Over Denied Benefits." NBCNews.com. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/99-year-old-wwii-veteran-seeks-response-over-denied-benefits-n582126.
ppler.com. "Obama Laments 'injustice' to PH War Veterans." Rappler. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.rappler.com/nation/56676-obama-philippine-war-veterans.
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by Hanna Bobrowicz
It has been 75 years since the Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, and 50 years since the riots at the Stonewall Inn, yet these events remain unconnected in popular consciousness. To commemorate the Normandy invasion, images of young male soldiers are abundant, and gallant stories of tragedy, danger, and heroism abound. Yet, as these young soldiers were facing danger and potential death, many were also making key discoveries about their sexual identity. As Pride celebrations continue throughout the month of June, this article will revisit the influence the Second World War had on defining queer communities in the United States.
The war provided a unique opportunity for queer men and women to meet one another for the first time. One veteran reflected; “in the recreation hall, for instance, there’d be eye contact, and pretty soon you’d get to know one or two people and kept branching out. All of a sudden you had a vast network of friends, usually through this eye contact thing...you could get away with it in that atmosphere.” It is the migratory aspect of the war that allowed a reckoning of gender conformity to occur. Upon the outbreak of war 15 million people crossed state lines, while millions of men also enlisted in the army. Independence and migration granted self-discovery and because of this many began to understand their sexuality and find communities of people similar to them.
When Lisa Ben left her small town for the larger city of Los Angeles during the Second World War, she hadn’t come out as gay. It wasn’t until she rented her own room, and began to socialize with her neighbors that she embraced her sexuality.
Lisa reflected on this time, “They asked me ‘do you like boys, or do you go out strictly with girls?’ And I said, ‘If I had my rathers, I’d go out strictly with girls,’ they said, ‘Have you always felt this way?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and they said, ‘Well, then you’re like we are’ and I said, “You mean, you’re like that?”’ This moment of similarity and acceptance solidified a larger movement of change. As people began to form bonds during the Second World War, the concept of queerness was being articulated and defined in mainstream America for the first time.
A similar occurrence of exploration and acceptance was facilitated by the American military. A soldier’s induction into the military began with a physical, in which they were asked if they were homosexuals. This question not only demonstrates how important sexual orientation was to the United States government but also forced men joining the war to label themselves. Suddenly those who were unsure of their sexuality began to contemplate their sexual identity for the first time. This, in combination with camaraderie, traumatic experiences and a release from conventional society created kinship between soldiers that were often loving.
James Lord, author of My Queer War reflects that the US army had a ‘gay world built into it.’ For example, a queer culture was created in a US camp in New Caledonia. Men who often identified as feminine would call themselves ‘belles’ and go by alternate names, like ‘sea biscuit’, or ‘Canteen Mary.’ Others simply conducted their affairs in public, refusing to live in the shadows with their male partners. It wasn’t until rumors started to spread back to the United States that the army began to forcibly remove gay men from the military. These men, known as blue angels, were discharged and often mandated into psychiatric hospitals as homosexuality was considered a mental illness.
Despite being desperate for men, and exploiting the labor of gay soldiers the United States Army was only tolerant of queer behavior when it was hidden. Officially, the United States Army deemed homosexuality to be an illness that prevented effective service. Therefore, many gay men were forced out of the military and excluded from the narrative of heroism that is still celebrated today. In addition to discrimination and exploitation, gay soldiers also experienced personal tragedies that went unrecognized by the popular public. Couples were separated into different units, if they were killed in combat, gay soldiers had no legitimate means to mourn. This meant many men grieved in solitude, forced to internalize their sadness in order to prevent themselves from being outed.
Though the Second World War has been enshrined into popular culture, the narrative of the gay soldier is still not included. Instead contemporary books, documentaries, and feature films continue to portray the World War II soldier as the emblem of masculinity; straight, white and courageous. Therefore, despite the growing support surrounding Pride month, history still remains empty of queer narratives. While Pride and D-Day celebrations appear to inhabit different spheres, queer people and their stories exist in all corners of history. We at Pacific Atrocities not only want to acknowledge the brave heroes and heroines who served their country and their communities, but also to include the remarkable achievements of queer people in this narrative. They deserve to be honored and respected by their communities for the brave and courageous contributions they made to ending the Second World War.
"Coming Out Under Fire." In My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History, edited by D’Emilio John and Freedman Estelle B., by BÉRUBÉ ALLAN, 100-12. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. doi:10.5149/9780807877982_berube.9.
"Marching to a Different Drummer: Lesbian and Gay GIs in World War II." In My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History, edited by D’Emilio John and Freedman Estelle B., by BÉRUBÉ ALLAN, 85-99. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. doi:10.5149/9780807877982_berube.8.
‘Belles in Battle: how Queer US soldiers found a place to express themselves in World War II.’ The Conversation, by Yorick Smaal. Griffith University. https://theconversation.com/belles-in-battle-how-queer-us-soldiers-found-a-place-to-express-themselves-in-wwii-88019
by Nickii Wantakan Arcado
Desperately and gallantly the two brigades still east of the river fought to break through to the great Sittang railway bridge, held by their comrades, their only hope of getting their vehicles, and indeed themselves, over the six-hundred-yard-wide stream. Then came tragedy.
- Field Marshal Sir William Slim
5:22 am, February 22, 1942. Burma British forces, mainly the 17th Indian Infantry Division, were falling back against Japanese advancement. The had already given everything they had at the Battle of Bilin River. Weak, tired, and, disheartened, infantry members retreated back to the bridge admits heavy enemy artillery. But then an unfortunate decision was made; blow up the bridge before it could be seized by the Japanese. The division and other units that happened to be on the bridge found themselves stranded.
Strategic Importance of an Occupied Burma
Initially, the Imperial Empire was interested in Burmese conquest for the sake of obtaining raw materials. These included exploiting oil from fields around the city of Yenangyaung and conquering rice fields in order to provide food to Japanese soldiers.
Eventually, the Japanese soon realized that Burma’s proximity to both China and India provided an advantage to the Imperial Army’s wartime occupation strategy. Taking control of a vital landmark in Rangoon would grant the Imperial Army the opportunity to cut Allied forces from the land link to China, preventing them from providing aid via supply routes to Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces. Furthermore, the occupation of Rangoon (and Burma as a whole) would allow the Japanese to launch an attack against British forces that were stationed in India. The closest Indian state to Burma was Assam, a state that was within reach of the city of Calcutta, the residency of the British Raj aka the rule by the British Crown of India. With such proximity to the head of state, the Japanese hoped to defeat India and force the British to retreat, essentially cutting off British influence in Asia.
The Defeat of the 17th Indian Division
The Japanese were beginning to rack up several successful war campaigns, with the most recent being the defeat of Singapore on February 15 despite the country having 80,000 remaining troops. Eight days later, Japan set its sights on advancing to Rangoon. After defeating the 17th Indian Division on the Salween River (95 miles east of Rangoon), due in large part to the multiple areas that the Imperial Army was able to easily cross over to, the Japanese forced the division back to the Sittang River (now 65 miles northeast of Rangoon). With the withdraw to Sittang, the line of communications to China was cut, effectively allowing the road and railroad north out of Rangoon to come under Japanese artillery fire.
A major problem began to show fruition. None of the division’s three Indian brigades had trained at the brigade level, nor had the division trained as a division. Tactically, the British would have been better off to have concentrated their men, but strategically they needed to engage the Japanese as far forward as possible so as to gain time. The strategy took precedence over tactics.
Unfortunately for the division, they had not trained at brigade level nor division level for that matter. As such, the decision to spread troop members across multiple areas to engage the Japanese as far forward as possible proved to be detrimental when compared to the option of concentrating the men for the sake of creating a stronghold. A culmination of other events led to the division’s uneventful circumstance of being surrounded by the Japanese, those of which included the poor organization of the infantry, lack of allied coordination, heavy aerial attacks, and automotive failure during fallback. Failing to expedite a strong bridgehead* on the Japanese side, Major General "Jackie" Smyth VC ordered the bridge to be destroyed, cutting off two-thirds of his division who was still at the far side of the river. Desperate, afraid, and with no means to cross the river, they fought for survival.
The Eventual Conquest of Rangoon
As the division was the only formation between the Imperial Army and Rangoon, the loss at Sittang Bridge leads to the capture of Rangoon and parts of lower Burma. Smyth was immediately dismissed by Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Archibald Wavell. Brigadier David "Punch" Cowan took his place in commanding the remaining survivors. Smyth never received another command. The 17th Division was left with only 3,484 men, roughly 40% of their original troop numbers.
The defeat of the 17th division effectively opened the opportunity for Japan to conquer Rangoon. After actions at the Battle of Pegu, the Taukkyan Roadblock, and efforts from the Australian-British-Dutch-American Command to prevent further conquest, (ABDACOM), Rangoon fell to Japanese control in March.
Flag of the State of Burma created in spring 1942 to be a Puppet state of the Empire of Japan. On August 1, 1942, the Burmese Executive Administration was established, dedicating and engaging all civil and administrative activities to the benefit of the Japanese military administration, Source: Jaume Ollé
- Slim, William. "Defeat Into Victory (London: Cassell, 1961)." The original edition was published in (1956): 444.
by Kilian Fitzgerald
As I’ve covered in a previous blog entry, the political and cultural climate of wartime Japan was particularly censorious and controlling. Much of the Japanese political left were violently persecuted and censored, particularly newspapers that reported details that depicted the Japanese military and war effort negatively. In addition to political and news media censorship, the Japanese film industry also experienced a period of control and censorship. Japanese directors were contracted by the Japanese government to direct propaganda films about the war effort or to make films showing the ideal Japanese family. Like journalists and newspapers that reported on details and facts not approved by the government, filmmakers who strayed from depictions of the ideal Japanese family, or were critical of the war effort, were censored.
Postwar, the climate began to change for filmmakers. However, censorship still permeated Japanese society. After the surrender of Japan, the United States set-up a military embargo during peace negotiations. Among other things, this embargo required Japanese films to be approved before being released. Samurai films were often prevented from being released due to fears that the content would inspire rebellion and a resurgence in nationalist feelings. Post-war Japan saw historically renowned Japanese directors, such as Akira Kurosawa and Ozu, become international names. It was during this new period of political and creative freedom that Japanese filmmakers began to criticize Imperial Japan’s actions during the war. Ichikawa Kon (1915-2008) was one of those filmmakers who used cinema to criticize the actions and state of Imperial Japan. As a director, Kon is hard to define. Although known for dark comedies filled with irony, Kon had films spanning numerous genres during his prolific career. Kon was also known for adaptations of novels, including the classic Japanse novel Kokoro. In addition, Kon was a visual perfectionist, obsessing over every detail of a shot. This perfectionism often resulted in Kon going over budget and led many critics to accuse Kon of placing greater emphasis on visuals than conveying a message or world view in his films. Similar to his influences, Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, Kon became internationally known during the postwar period
Adapted from the children’s book of the same name, Ichika Kon’s The Burmese Harp (1956) is a powerful and successful film. Kon, who had described the project as “a call from the heavens” filmed the anti-war drama in Burma and Japan, utilizing a script written by his wife, Wada Notto, a staple of Kon’s films. The Burmese Harp was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1956 Academy Awards and also received praise at the Venice Film Festival, as well as in recognition in Japan. The film, remade in color in 1985, features many tropes of Kon’s work, such as impressive visuals and a less than happy ending. However, the film had an uplifting message and offers, at the time, one of the clearest and harshest condemnations of the Pan-Asianism of Imperial Japan and the death-obsessed military culture that was encouraged. Yet the film also provides more than a simple criticism of Imperial Japan. The film’s central characters, a moderate battalion of Japanese soldiers, offer a way to move past the faulty policies of Imperial Japan.
Part of the reason for the troop’s moderate status is its battalion’s beloved harpist and its predilection for spontaneously breaking out in song. In addition to being a way to keep their spirits up and remind them of what they are fighting for, the troop’s fondness for singing also helps them resolve conflicts peacefully. The troop is introduced in the film during the final days of the Burma campaign. Their love of music is quickly depicted with the troop breaking out into song and by the usage of the titular harp as a way to signal the troop. After Mizushima, the harp player of the troop, goes out scouting, disguised as a Burmese native he gets mugged by Burmese bandits, who take everything but his harp. This scene introduces how the troop cares deeply about each member and the mild racism the troop feels towards the Burmese people, reflective of the Pan-Asianism hierarchical structure practiced and reinforced by Imperial Japan, due to its status as the first modernized Asian country. Mizhsuma’s ability to disguise himself as a Burmese native would become much more relevant later in the film. Though the troop’s prejudices against other Asian cultures are demonstrated here, it’s a mild form of prejudice, merely a slight feeling of superiority over the less modern Burmese. The troop eventually rests in a Burmese village where they are led into a trap by a group of British soldiers. Initially wanting to fight back, the Japanese troop instead breaks into song while covertly retrieving their ammunition. Massively outnumbered, the troop prepares to fight to the death, a practice highly encouraged by Imperial Japan. To their surprise, the British soldiers begin singing the same song back to them. This display of shared humanity and culture convinces the Japanese troop to surrender peacefully. Kon’s depiction of universal humanism overcoming the dogma between two warring nations and leading to peace is similar to the famous 1914 Christmas Truce. The image presented here is powerful and moving and represents a rarity in Kon’s films: a message. Kon would continue this throughout the rest of the film.
Following this scene, Kon offers further criticism of how Imperial Japan placed death and violence at the front of the national identity they pushed onto the country and culture. In the aftermath of the troop’s surrender, the leader of the patrol address his concerned men, all having learned what to them was seemingly impossible, Japan’s defeat. Although worried himself, the leader instructs his troops to look to the future, where they can return to Japan in order to rebuild. Though brief, this scene is Kon’s rejection of the Imperial Japan policy of Japanese soldiers being instructed to never surrender and to prefer death over the humiliation of capture and defeat. Kon’s rejection of the way Imperial Japan encouraged death over surrender would be continued in the next half of the movie where the focus changes to Mizushima and his own journey of identity and faith. After the Japanese troop gets settled into a Burmese POW camp, Mizushima is brought before the British leading officer. Using a translator, the officer tells Mizushima of a battalion of Japanese soldiers still holed up in a mountain cave. Seeking to prevent further bloodshed, Mizushima is given thirty minutes to convince the enclaved unit to surrender peacefully. Here we immediately see how uniquely moderate Mizushima’s troop is when compared to the mountain battalion. Unlike the song loving soldiers in Mizushima’s unit, the mountain battalion is devoutly nationalistic and militaristic. When Mizushima tells the besieged unit of Japan’s surrender and the chance for peace, they angrily attack him, accusing him of being a British spy. To Mizushima’s horror, the notion of surrendering to the British is voted down, with the mountain unit loudly affirming their desire to die for Japan. Distraught at the insanity of his fellow soldiers, Mizushima goes to ask the British for more time to negotiate a peaceful surrender. Viewing his white flag as an attempt to surrender for him, Mizhsumia is assaulted as the British resume bombing the mountain. Mizushima wakes up, alive but injured amidst the countless broken and destroyed bodies of his fellow soldiers. Soldiers who if not for the relentless dogma and nationalism Imperial Japan drove could have stayed alive to help rebuild Japan for the rest of the 20th Century. It’s another powerful and emotional scene. Seeing the full results of the violent and war-obsessed national identity Imperial Japan sought to enforce on Japan and its colonies places Mizushima into an identity crisis. Initially seeking to return to his unit, Mizushima steals the robes of a Burmese Buddhist monk in order to avoid the British and discovers more of the carnage and destruction caused by the dogmatic nationalism of Imperial Japan, hundreds of discarded and abandoned corpses of Japanese soldiers who died for what turned out to be nothing. Overcome with grief, Mizushima abandons his Japanese identity and begins burying his fallen soldiers. He ultimately must abandon his unit, taking the time to say farewell to them at the end of the film as they depart back to Japan.
The Burmese Harp is one of the most powerful anti-war films. In the film, Kon harshly criticizes the foreign policy of Imperial Japan and the national mindset it encouraged by showcasing the end results of both, needless carnage. Kon’s depictions of Mizushima's personal journey of burying each body showcases a Japan that needs to repent for its actions and forge a new identity. However, Kon does not intend for Mizushima to embody that. Mizushima has forsaken his Japanese identity in order to stay in Burma and bury the dead. His unit, relatively moderate depictions of Japanese soldiers who don’t want to kill themselves for a lost cause, is meant to signify what Japan needs to do in order to heal: create a new national identity focused on peace and the future rather than one occupied with death and war. Ultimately, while The Burmese Harp was written for a very specific era, its message of the need for rejecting dogma and nationalism will seemingly always be relevant.
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by Sammy Quach
As the name itself implies, The Rape of Nanking is no light subject. It is one of many of Japan’s extended list of war crimes committed by commanders and their troops during World War II. Throughout the seven-week pillaging of what was once Nanking, an estimate of 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women raped and forced into a life of prostitution as “comfort women”, and 50,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians were brutalized and savagely murdered. Despite the fact that the massacre was carried out by the Japanese, the Chinese government could partially be blamed as well, due to the Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-Shek’s inadequate handling of the event, and Communist leader Mao Zedong’s following coverup. The Rape of Nanking has been a topic of debate for historians in the past few decades as no one can seem to pinpoint the exact amount of people decimated, the extent of the acts committed by the Japanese Imperial Army, and whether it was comparable to the Holocaust.
The controversy of the event lies between the traditionalists, who strictly adhere to the idea that the Rape of Nanking was a brutal massacre of 300,000 Chinese civilians committed by the Japanese Imperial Army, and the revisionists, who believe the numbers were fabricated and in some instances the Rape did not occur. The stark contrast in viewpoints, as well as the Chinese mishandling the event, could be attributed to why the Japanese government never completely apologized to China and the victims of Nanking.
The siege of Nanking occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese War, a war that consisted of China fighting against Japanese mass colonization– which explains the heavy anti-Japanese sentiment that still permeates within Chinese society today. One of the first major battles during the Sino-Japanese War was the Battle of Shanghai in 1937, in which the Japanese Imperial Army defeated the Chinese Nationalists in a three-month stint, with a loss of 300,000 soldiers combined. With the death of Chiang’s best troops in battle and the disorganization and inefficiency of the Nationalist Army, Chiang was left to reinforce his army with unfit auxiliary soldiers. As the Japanese advanced to Nanking in early December of 1937, the ragtag group of Chinese Nationalist soldiers attempted to hold their ground but withdrew after two days of fighting. In a cowardly move to preserve his troops and save his own life, Chiang left the civilians of Nanking defenseless to the Japanese Imperial Army. To make matters worse, in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War, Chiang Kai-Shek chose to heavily persecute Chinese Communists instead of Japanese prisoners of war who were active participants in the atrocity. Alongside Chiang Kai-Shek’s actions that exacerbated the event, the Communist government of China (that ended up defeating the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War) under Mao Zedong also made it worse as they failed to acknowledge and hold Japan accountable after the war. During Mao’s long reign over the PRC, not a single academic textbook covered the massacre given that it did not coincide with Mao’s agenda. Not only did the massacre make China seem weak in comparison to Japan and other Asian countries, but also as Nanking was Nationalist territory at the time, Mao already viewed the victims as traitors to the Communist Party. Without Mao’s recognizance of the Rape of Nanking, the tragedy was buried amongst all the other war crimes of World War II, largely forgotten within Western society, and leaving Japan without the burden of responsibility. Contrary to the thought of most traditionalists, the blame can no longer be placed solely on the Japanese Imperial Army. It is critical that the Chinese government acknowledge its role in the Rape of Nanking before asking Japan to do the same.
With an issue as complex and nuanced as the Nanking Massacre, there are sure to be numerous opinions especially as concrete evidence is hard to come by. The biggest divide stems between the traditionalists and revisionists, which are essentially pro-Chinese versus pro-Japanese stances. In spite of their differing beliefs, traditionalists and revisionists alike have heard of the book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, written by Iris Chang; for it was her book that made the West aware of the atrocities in Nanking. To the traditionalists, she was revered as an amazing and courageous historian who was not afraid to speak the truth in revealing the monstrosity of Japan (during the Sino-Japanese War). However, to revisionists, she was an anti-Japanese liar, seeking to destroy the national image of Japan by spewing lies about the war. Iris Chang’s book infamously covered the event itself, the aftermath, and why Japan’s refusal to acknowledge their wrongdoing led to the “Second Rape of Nanking”. Chang examined the psyche of the soldiers and the implications of their actions through a sensationalized and hyper-emotional lens; she exaggerated the death count of the massacre with no concrete evidence, as well as placed all the blame on Japan and their refusal to apologize. Although her book was not a perfect rendering of the Rape of Nanking, Chang effectively imprinted the horror of the massacre amongst readers, and bravely took on the backlash of seasoned historians and Japan’s far right.
Out of the thousands of Japanese WWII revisionists, one of the most infamous revisionists, in complete opposition to Chang’s traditionalist thought, is Masaaki Tanaka. His book, What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth explicitly details how and why the Rape of Nanking never could have taken place. Tanaka seems to pose a concrete argument through stating that there were no credible witnesses at the event, explaining how there was no evidence to prove the high death count, and referencing the diary of General Matsui Iwane, Chief General of the Japanese Imperial Army responsible for the Battle/Rape of Nanking. However, after the publication of the book, it was revealed that Tanaka had been Matsui’s secretary during the war, and fabricated several hundreds of his diary entries. Even in regard to this, Tanaka’s book still gained widespread attention and was used by revisionists alike for the basis of their arguments. What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth became a huge step backward for Japan on their road to an apology.
Keeping in mind the dual Japanese and Chinese involvement, and the contrast between traditionalist and revisionist thought, the Rape of Nanking is a complex, multifaceted issue, leading to the question of which country and to which degree should be apologizing. Within the decades following the atrocity, Japan issued multiple apology statements for their involvement in the event, from the 1993 Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono’s Statement, apologizing for Japan’s comfort women, to 2015 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Statement, apologizing for Japanese war crimes and promoting the idea of long-lasting peace between the Asian superpowers. Yet, none of these apologies ended in financial reimbursement for the victims and their families of the Rape of Nanking. Efforts at reconciliation are marred by far right, high-level politicians adamantly refuting the occurrence of the event.
While Japan hasn’t issued a comprehensive apology to the Chinese victims yet, neither has the PRC on behalf of Chiang and Mao’s actions. Until both sides have provided sincere apologies, given joint financial compensation to the victims, and can co-author a universal account on the Rape of Nanking, then can the issue finally be on its way to resolving the issue. Even with the possibility of resolving the issue on the horizon, the Rape of Nanking will remain a complex part of Sino-Japanese relations, a source of bitter disagreement between both traditionalists and revisionists, and a painful reminder of Japanese transgressions during WWII.
Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. Basic Books, 1997.
“Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Konoon the Result of the Study on the Issue of ‘Comfort Women.’” MOFA, www.mofa.go.jp/policy/women/fund/state9308.html.
Tanaka, Masaaki. What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. Sekai Shuppan, Inc., 2001.
Fingleton, Eamonn. “70 Years Later, Struggle for Nanking Massacre Justice Continues.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 26 May 2011, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/70-years-later-struggle-for-nanking-massacre-justice-continues/239478/.
Yamamoto, Masahiro. Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. Praeger, 2000.
Editors, History.com. “Nanking Massacre.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/japan/nanjing-massacre.
Fish, Isaac Stone. “Why Did China Downplay the Nanjing Massacre?” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 23 Feb. 2012, foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/23/why-did-china-downplay-the-nanjing-massacre/.
“Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister).” Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, japan.kantei.go.jp/97_abe/statement/201508/0814statement.html.
Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashi. The Nanking Atrocity, 1937-38 Complicating the Picture. Berghahn Books, 2017.
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by Yesenia Olmos
When speaking on immigration it is important to differentiate the experiences of all peoples. American Social Studies curriculum for example, only presents the topic of immigration as a ‘unified or monolithic experience.’ These different spectrums of experiences are not taught in schools and therefore some believe in the idea of, “Freedom For All”. Yes, this experience may have been the case for many European immigrants, however, Asian, Latino, African immigrants, and even Native Americans experience were anything but the “American Dream”. To some, the ‘Statue of Liberty’ represented entrance to “Mother Liberty” aka The United States, a place of refuge and freedom. However, the harsh reality is, “minority” groups would never see ‘The Statue of Liberty’. With to the point words such as ‘Indians’, ‘Orientals’, ‘Hispanics’, and ‘Other’, America tried to assimilate the groups into something otherwise known as the “Melting Pot”. This assimilation was more geared towards European immigrant groups traveling and arriving at Ellis Island (1892-1954) in New York, where Mother Liberty greeted them. Angel Island (1910-1940) however, would be made in accordance with the law that had been passed in The United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 would be in place, this would be the first immigration law to exclude people based on their race. The Act would be renewed in 1902 and repealed in 1945. Chinese immigrants would be held at Angel Island, in San Francisco as detainees for up to two years. Angel Island was built on the principle of exclusion rather than the entrance. Left behind on Angel Island are the vast amount of poems written by Chinese immigrants left behind describing their sorrow, despair, and hope. Chinese immigrants crossing through Angel Island, for example, would sometimes be sent back to their country without first being registered. Asians, Latinos, Blacks, and Natives would become the minority groups in the country, those who would be hard to blend in the melting pot.
There is a notion that immigration takes place on the basis of the push-pull theory. The push being war, for example, and the pull being jobs and an economic boom, but ultimately hope for a better life. Although this also may be the case for some, there does not always have to be a pull factor hovering over the push. Also, this is a very stagnant approach, one that does not analyze the problems of all immigrants, and rather criticizes the countries from which immigrants come from. Especially when discussing the history of immigration is it important to realize that in this area one must take a multiple perspective approach.
Despite the Chinese being very much racialized in this US during this time, they would be the first asian country to immigrate into the US. The Chinese would pave the way for many other Asian countries to do the same. This was not the easiest path to clear, but it would be made possible. The Chinese created a new American culture, one that did not assimilate but rather created radical communities, also known as Chinatowns. Many are unaware that at first Chinatowns were created to exclude the Chinese from the American culture, deeming them “a danger to the good order of American culture.” Just like the Jewish ghettos in Germany the US also created ghettos against the Chinese. The exclusion of these details in US history books is troubling. The amount of first generations students not being taught their history is not something new, but it is something that needs to change. The growth to rely less and less on immigrant problems is a continuing disregard for history.
Since 1965 there has been mass immigration from Asian countries into the US, totaling only from China at least nine million people. However, this was not always the case, and this is why immigration, as theory, should be taught contemporarily, historically, and methodologically. Chinese, like African Americans and Native Americans, were marked inferior by law in the US. Take for example Tape v Hurley (1885) which was a civil rights court decision that said: “Chinese children must receive public education.” The first school would open in San Francisco. Still, however, there would be slurs spit everywhere saying, “The Chinese must go”, and “no place for a chinaman.” America was built off the labor of the working class, the immigrant, the conquest of stolen land, racialized laws, masculinity, war, and so much more.
In America, the first asian immigrants would come from China. Many of the Chinese within their first years of living in the US would be lynched, expelled, segregated, and massacred, and yet Chinatowns are everywhere. Chinatowns first began as ghettos, they were places in which the US segregated the Chinese and later more Asians, and Asian-Americans. Chinatowns were looked down upon and they lived in constant fear of being removed or banished. Today, chinatowns have become touristic, and for this reason, many are aware of the history behind these establishments or the grueling facts.
Immigration is certainly more than a push pull theory. It requires one to first question ‘why does integrational migration take place?”. One must take into account the individual, the society, the country, and the migration history of their ancestors. Also, we must remember that we all come from Africa. There were a place and time in which our ancestors immigrated to an unknown territory. Immigration is a very broad topic, and it can be very Eurocentric. The topic of Pangea does not come up. All immigration stories are valuable because they are a part of everyone's history. Experiences differ, the vast difference between Angel Island and Ellis Island, for example, is proof. Two immigration stories with two very different sides.
Although immigration may seem like a problem to some, history shows us that America was built on the slave labor and production of immigrants. There are so many problems that need to be solved in order to help the race move forward. Earth itself is not stagnant so it is impossible to think humans would be. There is a duality in everything that we do, one thing needs the other. So when we fail to include other stories there is disruption. Let us change the way we see each other and register our surroundings. Our knowledge of everyone's culture is important because it all relates back to us somehow. Cultural tolerance is key.
Ciardiello A. Vincent. "Is Angel Island the Ellis Island of the West? Teaching Multiple
Perspective-Taking in American Immigration History." Social Studies 103, no. 4
Pfaelzer Jean. “ ‘Driven out’, The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans”, Random House,
New York, 2007.
Philip Q. Yang. "A Theory of Asian Immigration to the United States." Journal of Asian
American Studies, 2010, 1-34.
Walz Eric. “Nikkei in the Interior West: Japanese Immigration and Community Building,
1882-1945.” University of Arizona Press, 2012.
by Hanna Bobrowicz
The fortune cookie factory in San Francisco's Chinatown is often characterized as an emblem of the past-the last of its kind. Located in a crowded alleyway, tourists gather to see the meticulous folding of the tiny cookie, over and over again. The repetition, the machinery all provide an allure of the past. The fortune cookie factory continues to be a symbol of Chinatown, Chinese-American food and Chinese culture, despite decades-old research complicating the narrative of the fortune cookie by introducing its Japanese origins.
In the last ten years, a movement of cultural authenticity has persistently questioned America’s ‘melting pot’ ideology by unveiling the often uncomfortable history of the treatment of Asian immigrants in the United States. Fortune cookies carry such a history, with their origins connected to the Chinese exclusion act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans in the Second World War. It is with a renewed cultural specificity, that the merging of Japanese-Chinese cultures within the fortune cookie must be reexamined. Is the fortune cookie an example of the melting pot in it’s best form?
The fortune cookie was first re-assessed with the 2008 publication of Jennifer Lee’s The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, a book that discusses the cultural and social impacts of American Chinese cuisine. In her analysis, Lee utilizes the research Yasuko Nakamachi published which situated the origins of the fortune cookie in Kyoto, Japan. These two publications encouraged a flurry of articles all of which analyzed the multicultural roots of the fortune cookie. Yet, when standing outside the Fortune Cookie factory or going to the Japanese tea garden, little has changed in explaining this fusion of cultures into one cookie.
The history of the fortune cookie is linked to the Asian immigrant experience in the United States. With the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (the only law in US history to explicitly forbid a specific group of people to immigrate) those Chinese immigrants already living in San Francisco had to adapt to a non-threatening position in society. Lee explains that the act coordinates to the opening of Chinese laundries and restaurants, “cleaning and cooking were both women’s work, they were not threatening to white laborers.”
Similar behavior was adopted by Japanese immigrants when they arrived in San Francisco. They often worked in Chinese restaurants and somewhere along the way introduced the fortune cookie to Chinese-American cuisine. It was then that Japanese bakeries like Benkyodo and Fugetsue began to manufacture the cookie on a mass scale. Yet the Japanese influence on the fortune cookie deteriorated after President Roosevelt issued order 9066 and interned all citizens of Japanese descent 1942 following the Pearl Harbor attack. It was under these circumstances that many Chinese Americans began to incorporate and manufacture their own fortune cookies.
The cultural integration of Japanese-Chinese cultures in the creation of the fortune cookie was not a consenting collaboration of ideas, but rather due to the oppressive circumstances in which they lived. By facing discrimination and attempting to integrate into non-threating roles in American society both the fortune cookie and Chinese American cuisine flourished. But should the oppressive conditions or the multi-cultural persistence be remembered? Lee concluded that ‘the Japanese invented them, the Chinese popularized them, but the Americans ultimately consumed them.’ Whereas, Makoto Hagiwara’s great great grandson, Doug Dawkins, and owner of the Japanese Tea Garden, stated that ‘the fortune cookie wouldn’t have taken off if it hadn’t been popularized in such a wide venue.” In 2008 the consensus was to let this ugly history remain in the past and to instead celebrate the survival of the cookie.
Where does the fortune cookie fit in 2019? An age where history is being re-examined, hidden and uncomfortable truths are being spoken about on a national level-yet fortune cookie continue to be consumed, its history unquestioned. American culture is at a crossroads of transformation, the idealistic ‘melting pot’ is being problematized revealing an enlightened and socially conscious population. Therefore, Lee’s publication in 2008 was just the beginning of a larger and more extensive social discussion on race and cultural traditions in America.
It is this thought that Dawkins closing remarks remain relevant, ‘new cultures arise from old cultures in combinations.’ Despite the unfortunate history of this cultural merging, the fortune cookie represents America's past and future. Despite the cookie’s links to racial discrimination and exclusion, the Japanese and Chinese immigrants came to the United States and created an American hybrid. Therefore the fortune cookie represents a uniquely American evolution; by attempting to blend into American society, a new culture was created, unique to the Asian immigration experience. The fortune cookie continues to be served in both the Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown and the Japanese Tea Garden, representing the cookies story, complexities and all.
Lee, Jenny. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: an Adventure in the World of Chinese Food. Hachette Book Group, 2008.
Mao, Luming. Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie: The Making of Chinese American Rhetoric. University Press Colorado, 2006.
Racho, Suzie. Unwrapping the California Origins of the Fortune Cookie. The California Report, 2016.
Lee, Jennifer. Solving Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Cookie. The New York Times, 2008.
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by Nickii Wantakan Arcado
"Learning that the superstitious Japanese feared sharks, the ingenious Yanks painted the snout's of their P-40s to represent grinning heads of 'tiger sharks.' The A.V.G. pilots called themselves 'Tiger Sharks' but it was not long before the admiring Chinese troops changed it to 'Flying Tigers' the tiger being regarded as a minor deity in some sections of China."
-Source: WAR HEROES, No. 2| October-December 1942
On May 22, 1942, at his headquarters in Kunming China, General Claire L. Chennault called for a meeting with his American Volunteer Group known as the “Flying Tigers”. Chennault wanted to launch an attack against the Japanese Air Force in northern Thailand as at the time, due to its close proximity, the Japanese were using this strategic Thai base to attack Britain’s RAF (Royal Air Force) Base. Chennault proposed that the P-40s (the designated fighter planes of the flying tigers) would fly from Kunming to Loiwing, China, refuel, and continue to fly towards the airstrip at Nam Sang in Burma. From there, the planes would be within a close range of Chiang Mai, where they would stay overnight and strike early morning. General Chennault would not have predicted, however, that that would be the last time he saw one of his best pilots, William McGarry, for the next three years.
William “Black Mac” McGarry joined the Flying Tigers before the beginning of the U.S.’s involvement in the war in 1941. He first learned to pilot planes for the U.S. Army Air Forces at Selfridge Field (now known as Selfridge ANGB Airport), Michigan. With 10 victories under his belt, McGarry set off for the Chiang Mai mission on May 23, hoping to provide top cover for his other four military men. Check out more about the history behind the formation and operations of the Flying Tiger in another one of our articles here.
On March 24, 1942, while flying over Chiang Mai, Thailand to attack the Japanese Air Force, McGarry's plane was shot down by the anti-aircraft fire. Taking quick action after the attack, McGarry parachuted into a clearing over Chiang Mai jungle. After wandering the northern Thai jungles for three weeks, he was finally caught by the Thai police patrolling the area. McGarry was quickly turned over to the Japanese government, who imprisoned him under a compound in Thammasat University. What the Japanese didn’t know, however, that the compound was in the line of sight to the leader of the Free Thai Movement: Pridi Phanomyong.
Pridi Phanomyong and the Thai resistance movement was already well established in communications with Allied forces. They reported on Japanese movements, important logistical bases, weaponry stock, and in this situation, the names of people imprisoned by the Japanese. As the resistance movement was operating largely underground, maintaining cover was of utmost importance to Pridi. Thailand, on the surface, was to present itself in alliance to the Japanese, while the resistance movement worked to channel crucial information to its Western Allies. When Pridi became aware of McGarry’s imprisonment, he informed the Free Thai members that the coalition would do whatever they can to rescue him and bring him home.
Several years later, when Free Thai agents were fully established in Bangkok, Nicol Smith—the OSS officer who headed US-Thai operations—contacted Chennault to inform him of opportunities to have his soldiers infiltrate Thailand once again. Chennault asked Smith of the possibility of one of his pilots, McGarry, being alive. Within four days, Smith reported that McGarry was well and alive. McGarry was still kept inside the POW camp, but the guards were Thai police who were headed by General Adun Adundetcharat. Adundetchara, a resistance member himself, worked to keep POWs out of Japanese hands, all while coaching the captured soldiers how to respond while being interrogated by the Japanese. When asked if McGarry was well enough to attempt an escape, Thai resistance members quickly confirmed.
Left: Adun Adundetcharat, Source: Seripharb Magazine #2/2538
Right: Pridi Phanomyong, Source: Southeast Asia Global
Removing McGarry was a considerable risk, as the Japanese official regularly inspected the POW camps. After internally debating on multiple scenarios to fool Japanese officials, Adun and other resistance leaders came up with a risky scheme; report that McGarry died in captivity and smuggle his “lifeless” body out of the camp via a makeshift coffin. Adundetcharat assigned a Thai policeman to remove McGarry from his cell. Should the Japanese catch up with the policeman’s lies, Arun would disclaim that the order was forged and declare that he would take swift actions against the crime, further preserving his reputation with the Japanese while secretly working undercover for the Thai resistance movement. McGarry would then be taken to the Customs Department boat in the Gulf of Siam where he would board the OSS PBY Catalina to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka).
McGarry was imprisoned for nearly three years before escaping with help from Free Thai Movement members. After the war, McGarry completed law school and, still holding on to his appreciation and honor, practiced law with U.S. military service. On April 13, 1990, he passed away from cancer at the Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda, California. McGarry’s release and exfiltration from Thailand is a great example of the operations of the Free Thai movement during World War II; creating a political and societal front of Japanese-Thai allyship while obscuring Free Thai and OSS activities underground. This strategy of duality would evidently allow both Thais and the Allies to win the war in Southeast Asia.
Ford, Daniel. Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group in Burma and China, 1941-1942, www.warbirdforum.com/mcgarryx.htm.
Reynolds, E. Bruce. Thailand's secret war: OSS, SOE and the Free Thai underground during World War II. Cambridge university press, 2005.
Oliver, Myrna. “William McGarry, 74, of World War II Flying Tigers Fame.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 13 Apr. 1990, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1990-04-13-mn-1245-story.html.
“OSS in Asia.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 28 June 2008, www.cia.gov/library/publications/intelligence-history/oss/art09.htm.
Raschke, Phil, and Julie M. Collison. “76th Anniversary Salute to the Famous WWII 'Flying Tigers'.” The Suburban Times, 7 Oct. 2017, thesubtimes.com/2017/07/19/76th-anniversary-salute-to-the-famous-wwii-flying-tigers/.
Bigfella. “The Air Force Museum, Chiang Mai.” Ride Asia Motorcycle Forums, 8 Nov. 2015, www.rideasia.net/motorcycle-forum/threads/the-air-force-museum-chiang-mai.7486/.
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by Kyle Catarata
As President Trump and First Lady Melania visited Japan last week as the first state guests in the Reiwa period, we decided to do a review of the history of the US-Japan relationship after WWII.
The San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT) was an agreement, made by 48 nations, that came into effect on April 28, 1952. This treaty was a bilateral decision that inevitably helped secure the enduring relationship between the United States and Japan. The treaty included the termination of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Allied occupation in Japan, and detailed territorial as well as postwar mandates Japan had to follow in order to conclude the nation’s gloomy past (citation). It was a way to create a form of international rules not through conflict and terror, but through peaceful dispute and deliberations.
After the conclusion of the Pacific Theater, America occupied Japan to rebuild the nation through assistance and instilling Democratic ideals. Though grateful for the latter economic miracle Japan gained thereafter, Japan was still disgruntled. Not because they lost the war, but due to the western occupation. Flashback to a half a century prior, even during the conclusion of the Edo period, when Tokugawa opened the ports to the west from the pressure coming from Matthew Perry. He did so conscientiously as he feared Japan’s occupation by Western imperialism like the other Asian countries. From the moment Japan opened its doors, the nation was in a hurry to demonstrate that Japan could become an equal power to the Western nations. He wanted to illustrate that Japan did not need coercion nor occupation, as seen in China by Britain, as Japan was well ahead of its neighboring countries. The SFPT helped to establish just that. It solidified and declared Japan’s sovereignty from America’s post-war quasi-occupation.
Out of the 51 participating countries that were included in the SFPT, only 48 signed and ratified the document, with a few countries creating their own bilateral agreements for reparations with Japan. These countries agreed with the SFPT included: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam and Japan. Just by looking at the list, you may see a predominant Asian country that is missing from the signatory list – China, specifically the People’s Republic of China (China) and the Republic of China (known as Taiwan). Both Taiwan and China were excluded from the agreement as arguments arose regarding which nation is legitimate China. Thus, the Treaty of Taipei was created and signed into date hours before the SPFT. The Treaty of Taipei was later rescinded and by the Japan-China Joint Communique, signed in September 29, 1972.
However, China was never included in the peace treaty after the war. During the signing of the treaty, the Secretary of the United States at the time, John Foster Dulles expressed deep regret to not include the Chinese. “China suffered the longest and deepest from Japanese aggressions,” he stated.
In addition to the exclusion of the ROC and the PRC, Korea was not included in the creation of the SFPT. Likewise, North Korea was never included, South Korea was considered in the treaty, however John Dulles, former Secretary of State and co-author of the SFPT, decided that South Korea’s deep, rooted, history with Japan’s imperialistic history would greatly affect and disrupt the conference, moreover America’s plan in the Pacific.
From an educational stance, since the United States was going to war with the USSR, via Communist China and North Korea, the inclusion of both Koreas into the SFPT would simply make the war against Korea inconceivable as the country itself would be included into the peace treaty. Likewise, the inclusion of the PRC into the SFPT would be redundant as the United States would be fighting not only communist Russia and Korea, but China. By excluding China and Korea, as well as passing the SFPT, the United States was able to build an alliance with Japan, which would ultimately help them justify their involvement in the Korean War.
The San Francisco Peace Treaty was a way to not only recognize Japan’s sovereignty, rescind American occupation in Japan, terminate Japan’s imperialism, but also created a solid, long-lasting relationship that would assist both economies in future wars, such as the First Indochina War and the Korean War. The treaty was more than a sign of peace and rebuilding for Japan, but a step toward not only the military industrial complex for the U.S., as seen with the Korean and Vietnam War, thereafter, but also as a way to contain the sphere of Communism, prevalent in East Asian countries during the war.
For more information, please check out our latest project: sfpeacetreaty.org where we outlined the treaty.
“TOKYO HIGH COURT, JUNE 12, 1980.” Taiwan Basic, taiwanbasic.com/insular/tokyo-1980.htm.
“Treatment of Takeshima in the San Francisco Peace Treaty.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan , 30 July 2015, google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjS7s-vur_iAhUjMX0KHWBpCMcQjRx6BAgBEAU&url=https://www.mofa.go.jp/a_o/na/takeshima/page1we_000062.html&psig=AOvVaw1Ig36xeHAuX9doGnuVuJjA&ust=1559175194045673.
“Treaty of Peace with Japan.” WayBackMachine, WayBackMachine, web.archive.org/web/20010221045459/http://www.taiwandocuments.org/sanfrancisco01.htm.
“What Was the San Francisco Peace Treaty?” SF Peace Treaty, Pacific Atrocities Education, www.sfpeacetreaty.org
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by Yesenia Olmos
The euphemistic “comfort women” were a group of women and girls from 13 different Asian countries who were tricked into becoming sex slaves during WWII, conducted by the Japanese Imperial Army. These “comfort women” were used as tools by the Japanese army to raise the morale of the troops, maintaining discipline, preventing looting, rape, arson, and sexually transmitted diseases, which is what the “comfort stations” claimed they were doing. Ironically, the “comfort stations” were put in place to prevent the events that were concurrently happening. It is estimated that around 200,00 women were “comfort women”, however, 75% of them would die or mysteriously disappear after the war. Women were taken from China, Taiwan, Philippines, Burma, Indonesia (Dutch East Indies), and other neighboring countries. Many of the women would even “cut their hair short and dress like men” in order to combat being taken and forced to work as a “comfort woman”. In a way the Japanese were trying to emasculate men for different Asian countries, claiming they could not protect their women.
According to a letter written by Japanese-American US soldier Alex Yorichi, “A ‘comfort girl’ was nothing more than a prostitute or ‘professional camp follower”, this letter was stamped “SECRET”. It was also hard to communicate with the girls since many did not speak the same language and could not advocate for one another. The letter also revealed that the women “lived in luxury” which was not the case for many of the “comfort stations”. The Japanese military systematically imprisoned thousands of women in order to expand a utopian overseas empire.
Many of the women taken were from poor villages with promises of work and compensation. Unfortunately, little or no pay would be given to these women for their “service”. Each soldier was granted one ticket per day to enter the “comfort stations”. It was reported that “comfort women” were forced to have sex with as many as sixty men in a day, and were given little to no days off. Accordingly, it was considered dishonorable when a soldier had a sexually transmitted disease, therefore many tried to conceal it by allowing it to spread and infect many of the “comfort women”. By 1944, 12,487 men were infected. This shame would carry on over to the “comfort women”, who even after the war were afraid to speak up because of the shame and dishonor that surrounded being a “comfort women”. Many suffered ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’, unable to rehabilitate back into society. Many were also shamed by their families and for fear of revealing the truth they stayed quiet. Fortunately, the 21st century would be a time in which “comfort women” could begin to speak about the atrocities committed to them. The first “comfort women” to speak was in 1991, which initiated the ‘redress movement’. Korean activist and past “comfort woman,” Kim Hak-sun spoke out against the Japanese government, this then led to the hundreds of “comfort women” who later came forward testifying about the horrors of the “comfort stations”. The Japanese government however to this day does not acknowledge this ever happened, many Japanese students are not taught about this part of history, most of WWII is censored. However, since the “comfort women” have spoken out there have been many statues made around the world commemorating the “comfort women”. This just comes to show that history can be mended if there is will.
There are many issues of controversy surrounding the “comfort women”, the Japanese government to this day will not apologize for these atrocities committed almost a century ago. The Japanese government continues to deny this ever happened, and claim these women were “prostitutes”. There is so much controversy that the “comfort women” monument that was unveiled 2017, in Manila, Philippines was shamefully removed in 2018. A day after the removal Osaka mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura tweeted the following: “... I want the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to put forth an effort to remove the Comfort Women Memorial Statue, which has been set up in one city of the United States with which Japan has an alliance.” The city which Yoshimura speaks of is San Francisco. In 1951, Japan signed the ‘San Francisco Peace Treaty’ along with forty-eight other countries including Canada. This would end the American- Allied occupation in Japan, however, topics of negligence have resurfaced and the Japanese government under Shinzo Abe refuse to cooperate. The statue of the “comfort women” in San Francisco right on California Street is very important, it symbolizes revolution and antiquity. Many are unaware of just how much history this statue holds, along with the problematic governmental issues surrounding its location.
Along with the “comfort women” statues a renowned statue that really caught my attention was ‘The Peace Girl’, it is a statue that sits next to an empty chair, which invites one to think “What if it was me?”. Like the one pictured above, I sat in the empty chair, and as I sat I thought about what it would be like if I was in one of the “comfort women's” shoes. I went home and thought of a poem that could most describe how I felt.
Poem by Yesenia Olmos
“What if it was me?”
As I sit in the empty chair, I think “what if it was me?”
What if it was me who at the age of eleven was taken from my country
What if it was me who had to forcefully sell my body, only to be recognized as a “prostitute”
What if it was me who was forgotten amidst the modernization of WWII
The girl next to the empty chair must be filled by you and me, woman or man
The girl represents peace, she represents solidarity, she represents atrocities
Those women were forgotten and denied an apology by the Japanese government
This girl is you and me, she represents humanity
We must remember solidarity
We must remember forgotten history
We must remember humility
We must remember hope
Hope for an apology
Hope for improved history lessons
Hope for the next seven generations
Hope for the majority to rise up from being the minority
History teaches us how to correct past wrongs, it teaches us how humanity is connected no matter race, gender, ethnicity, or stature. The “comfort women” are only one of the many atrocities committed in our world today. The continuation of human rights violations is still very present. The “comfort women” teach us that no matter what obstacles stand in your way, if you persevere history, it can begin to correct itself.
Sung Sohn. “ ‘Comfort Women’ History and Issues Teachers’ Resource Guide 2nd Edition,”
Education for Social Justice Foundation, 2018.
Yoshiaki Yoshim. “ ‘Comfort Women’ Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during WWII,”
Columbia University Press, 1995.
ALPHA. “The Search for Global Citizenship: The Violation of Human Rights in Asia,
1931-1945,” Canada ALPHA, 2005.
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