In Light of Truth Open Forum
January 15, 2000
The Path to the Reconciliation and Peace for the New Millennium
By Thekla Lit, President of B.C. ALPHA
I would like to begin with my own experience. I read this book The Rape of Nanking – An Undeniable History in Photographs in 1996. That was the first time I saw so many photos of the victims, especially rape victims of Japanese atrocities in WW II. I could not hold back my tears. I could have been one of the estimated 80,000 rape victims in the Rape of Nanking if I had been born 30 years earlier. I kept repeating to myself that their tortuous deaths and sufferings couldn’t be for nothing. If I were one of the victims, I would like to see that justice is served and no one should ever go through such atrocities any more.
Has Japan learned from this atrocious chapter of history so as to avoid repeating it? In 1990 a poll on the image of nations conducted jointly by newspapers in Japan and South Korea found that 41% of Koreans associated Japan with "colonial control", "aggression" and "war". But only 9% of the Japanese associated their own country with aggression and atrocities. This wide gap in the perception of Japan’s image by the Asian peoples is not surprising.
You have just heard from Prof. John Price, how Japanese war crimes are being cover-up. The postwar Japanese government has hidden the truth of this dark chapter of history from their younger generations by whitewashing history textbooks. Being ignorant of the historical facts and raised in a postwar society that refuses to reflect on and face up to its war responsibilities, how can we expect the younger generations of Japan be able to learn lessons of humanity from such atrocities?
Nowadays, only a small minority of Japanese will have the courage to make sincere efforts to heal this wound of history and make reconciliation with peoples of victimized countries. My friend Tatsuo here is one. In the late eighties, these more progressive Japanese citizens have formed different citizens’ groups to assist victims to get redress. They have started to help the victims to sue the Japan government for apology and compensation in Japan courts. They want to arouse attention of the silent majority in Japan, the Japanese government and the world community. At present, there are over 50 redress lawsuits ongoing in courts of Japan. These citizens groups have been seeking international support because they are facing very strong resistance in Japan.
Last December, an International Citizens’ Forum on War Crimes and Redress was held in Tokyo. The Forum was very well attended by heavy-weight speakers and international delegates from the U.S., Canada, China, Korean, Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Prof. John Price, Mr. Tatsuo Kage and myself also attended the Forum. The international representation at the Forum gave our friends in Japan their much needed support.
The international redress movement is growing gradually and starts to bear some fruits. In coming February Senator Shoji Motooka of the Democratic Party which is the main opposition party in Japan, will introduce a resolution in the Upper House of the Japanese Parliament. The resolution is to urge Japan to issue an official and most sincere apology to victims of Japan’s military sexual slavery, the so called “comfort women” and to offer them compensation. This is following the unanimous support of all members of the Hong Kong Legislature in passing a resolution on the 12th of this month urging Japan to apologize and compensate to victims of its WW II atrocities. In fact, last August a resolution of the same message was passed by the California State Assembly. And this resolution was tabled by Mr. Mike Honda, an assemblyman of Japanese descent. I like very much to share with you here what Mr. Makoto Tanabe, a Social Democrat in the Japanese parliament commented on the redress issue. He said “A compensation without apology is unethical. An apology without compensation is mere hypocrisy.”
Have the people of Canada learned from this atrocious chapter of history and to support justice for the victims? At least not up till now. Canadians know about WW II in Europe and the Nazi Holocaust, but they know very little about WW II in Asia. The mission of B.C. ALPHA in Canada is to promote learning of humanity lessons from WW II atrocities in Asia committed by Japanese military. We work for the healing of this wound of history, for the reconciliation between people of perpetrator nation and those of victimized nations. We believe by working concretely, efforts like ours can contribute to genuine and long lasting racial harmony in our multicultural society.
B.C. ALPHA has always been in close cooperation with other ethnic groups, including the Korean, Dutch, Jewish, Filipino, Indonesian and Japanese Canadian communities to work on humanity education.
I will name a few of our past projects to illustrate ALPHA’s focus on humanity education.
In 1997, we collected more than ten thousand letters to support a Japanese history professor Ienaga who had been suing the Japanese government for 32 years because the Ministry of Education had been censoring, distorting and hiding historical facts in his history textbooks.
Besides supporting today’s event organized by students of SFU and UBC, ALPHA also has helped students of the Queen's and the McGill University and the Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association to organize photo exhibitions on WW II atrocities.
Another project of Unit 731 photo exhibition and witnessing forum jointly organized by ALPHA and the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association Human Rights Committee received the 1999 End Racism Award from the BC Ministry for Multiculturalism, Human Rights and Immigration.
ALPHA has just completed mounting a campaign of sending 100,000 postcards to all our MPs in support of a Bill for the establishment of a permanent exhibit in the Canadian Museum of Civilization to recognize the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated during the twentieth century.
If you feel the urge to know more on the humanity aspects of WW II in Asia, please do not hesitate to contact us. If you are willing to volunteer your talent and time for justice for the victims and for the betterment of humanity, please leave us a note before you go.
To end my talk, I would like to tell two stories. The first one happened to a young man John on the train from New York to Boston. John was sitting next to a blind old gentleman, Ben, a white folk. John got a cup of hot coffee for this blind old man and they started a conversation.
Ben told John that he was born and raised in the South. He said “Servants in our house were all blacks. I never ate on the same table with blacks. I never had a friend who’s black. Rather than touching a black shopkeeper’s hand, I always picked up the changes from the counter.” John responded, “Then you will never date a black girl?” “Of course not,” Ben said. “When I was in the university in the North, one time I was chosen to be responsible for a class party. I intentionally printed on the invitation card ‘We reserve the right to refuse anybody’ which in the South meant Blacks are not welcome.” Ben then took a deep breath and continued, “Unfortunately, during my postgraduate years I had a serious car accident and got totally blind. At the rehabilitation institute the counselor assigned to me was very helpful. He helped me a lot in my struggles to adjust to this new life of eternal darkness. He became my good friend and teacher. I told him my greatest worry was that I could be contacting a black without realizing it. My counselor tried his best to sooth me. One day, my counselor told me that he was a black. From that day I know that my blindness is actually a blessing to me because I see no more skin colors, I see only good person or bad person.” When the train arrived at the station, Ben’s wife was waiting for him. She had a head of silvery white hair and she was black.
The second story is about a repentant Japanese soldier who had committed atrocities in China. It happened during Nanking Massacre. Japanese soldiers were running loose in the city preying on females of all ages to satisfy their animal desire. This soldier was attempting to rape a poor woman at the corner of the house. In despair, she screamed out “Stop it! Go away!” in Japanese. As if struck by a blow, the soldier turned pale, pulled up his pant and left. He thought the woman was a Chinese. He did not expect any Japanese woman to remain behind in Nanking. Without the Japanese apparel and language, he could hardly distinguish a Chinese from a Japanese woman. Before this soldier left for the battlefield, he probably had been a good son, a good father and a good husband. What drove him to commit such atrocities?
Ben who had been misled by the skin color, saw the blacks as inferior and sub-human. The Japanese soldiers were indoctrinated to see fellow Asians and captured allied POWs as inferior and sub-human. I hope we all leave this forum today with this thought: Before whites are whites, blacks are blacks, before yellows are either Japanese, Chinese or Koreans, we are first of all human beings.
WW II is the most terrible war of the 20th century. The atrocities committed by the Nazi German army and the Japanese military on their fellow human beings are of the greatest scale and among the worst brutal in modern history. Unless mankind learn from past atrocities, humanity will not become better by itself. Japan must face up squarely with its wartime history and let their younger generations learn lessons from this dark chapter of history so as to achieve reconciliation with people of its neighboring countries and to enter into real peace in the next millennium.