Unfinished Business

For 65 years, Japanese corporations have escaped responsibility for abusing American POWs during World War II.

BY CHRISTIAN CARYL.

Lester Tenney entered World War II as a strapping 21-year-old, weight 180 pounds. By the time he emerged from Japanese captivity in 1945, he was a shattered, emaciated cripple. His left arm and shoulder were partly paralyzed due to an accident in a coal mine where he’d been sent as a slave laborer. His overseers there — civilian employees of the Mitsui Corp., not members of the Imperial Army — had knocked out his teeth in repeated beatings with hammers and pickaxes. At war’s end, he weighed in at 98 pounds. It took him a year in U.S. Army hospitals to regain something like a semblance of his old well-being.

Sixty-five years later, Tenney and his fellow ex-prisoners of war (POWs) — the rapidly diminishing group of those who remain alive, that is — are still awaiting the full fruits of victory. The Japanese companies that once abused Tenney and his fellow prisoners have never acknowledged responsibility for their crimes, let alone offered compensation or regrets of any kind. (The companies needed the POWs to compensate for a wartime labor shortage.) The Japanese government has only just begun to offer its regrets for what happened — far too late for most of the veterans, but, still, something. Perhaps most depressingly of all, the U.S. government has spent years allowing the Japanese to get away with it — a policy of complicity that has its roots in the two countries’ complex postwar relationship. There are signs that this, too, may finally be changing… Read More>>

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