Subject: [cwj 61] Paying for war slaves
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2000 16:01:58 -0700
Seq: 61

8th July 2000 
The Economist
Paying for war slaves 

The Japanese government should settle compensation claims for wartime slave
and do so quickly

IF IT smells, put a lid on it, goes an old Japanese proverb. But
it is the wrong prescription for the 30-odd lawsuits that have
been lodged in California against Japanese companies such as
Mitsubishi and Mitsui on behalf of many Asians and some
Allied prisoners of war who were forced into slave labour
during the second world war (see article). 

The response of both the government and the companies to all
such claims has been to point to the 1951 San Francisco
peace treaty. Besides waiving "all reparation claims of the
Allied Powers, other claims of the Allied Powers and their
nationals" against Japan, the treaty empowered the allies to
seize Japanese property to pay reparations to former
servicemen. By 1952, America had seized $90m of Japanese
assets and paid some of it to former prisoners of war.
Germany made no such settlement after its defeat, says Japan,
so the $5.2 billion fund organised by its government last year
to compensate wartime slave labourers is not a precedent. 

This hard-line defence has fended off lawsuits in Japan itself.
But it may not work in California. As German firms have
found to their cost, there is now a well-organised lobby with
political clout in America. The shameless theatrics of Edward
Fagan, the American lawyer who championed the reparation
claims against the German companies, look ominous. Mr
Fagan launched his class-action suit against the Japanese
companies on the anniversary of Pearl Harbour in December. 

There is certainly an unappealing whiff of blackmail about
these latest suits. Yet a quick settlement of them is in all
likelihood in Japan's commercial interests. Otherwise the
hostility that has begun to build in America, where Japanese
exporters sell so many goods, could do serious damage. 

A settlement would also be morally right, despite the passing
of time. The surviving labourers, especially the many who
were not POWs, have a strong case for compensation from
somebody: the question is who. To land the bill on today's
shareholders seems capricious. In many cases, the companies
and their managers changed when Japan's pre-war zaibatsu
were broken up. And it is hard to argue that today's
shareholders have reaped huge benefits from uncompensated
slave labour. The underlying perpetrator of these and other
crimes was the then government; it is right that its successor
should settle claims today, although companies might be
invited to make voluntary contributions to any settlement fund.

Guilty men 
There is another good argument for such a
government-organised settlement. Demands for reparations
are becoming entangled with the whole question of Japan's
war guilt and contrition. One bill before America's House of
Representatives demands, along with reparations, an apology
from Japan for its war actions; California's state government
has also asked for an "unambiguous apology". 

Exasperated Japanese officials maintain that the country has
already satisfied foreigners wanting apologies. But the wording
of these apologies suggests that the government is still seeking
a compromise with those in Japan who are struggling to come
to terms with the facts of Japanese history. 

In recent years, a stream of senior Japanese politicians has
found it necessary to deny colonial brutality in Korea, the rape
of Nanking in China or the ill-effects of Japanese expansion in
Asia. The current prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, has himself
wondered aloud in parliament whether Japan really launched a
war of aggression against its neighbours. It is no wonder that
allied prisoners of war, Asian slave labourers, "comfort
women" and other victims should still be seeking justice. A
government-sponsored settlement would be a welcome sign
that Japan is at last coming to terms with its past.

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Corporate Watch in Japanese
Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC)
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San Francisco, CA 94129 USA
Tel: 1-415-561-6472
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