Unjust enrichment : how Japan's companies built postwar fortunes using American POWs /
Linda Goetz Holmes.
1st ed.
Mechanicsburg, PA : Stackpole Books, 2001.
xxii, 202 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
More Details
Mechanicsburg, PA : Stackpole Books, 2001.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 195-197) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

"A Personal War,

A Dirty War"

In mid-1941, a group of Japanese diplomats bowed politely, one by one, as they departed from a meeting at the White House with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As soon as the door clicked shut, the president is said to have remarked to an aide: "They hate us. Sooner or later they'll come after us." And come after us they did, with a vengeance, on December 7, 1941.

    But "us" was not just the Asiatic Fleet at Pearl Harbor; or the ground and air army units scattered from the Philippine Islands to the Dutch East Indies; or the Marines guarding diplomatic communities on mainland China. "Us" was also civilian construction workers on Wake, Guam, and Cavite Islands; "us" was American businessmen, church missionaries, doctors, nurses, travellers, embassy officials--along with their wives, children, and office staff.

    Within hours of attacking the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Sunday morning (Pacific time), December 8, 1941, Japanese military forces throughout Asia began rounding up American military and civilian personnel. By nightfall, even a garrison of Marines guarding a remote outpost in northern China had been ordered to surrender. By the time the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan the following day, territories under the American flag in the Pacific were under attack. Before Christmas, 1,146 American civilian construction workers on Wake Island, along with 379 Marines, were captured when Wake and Guam islands were overwhelmed by Japanese naval, air, and assault forces. During the first week in March 1942, a field artillery unit from Texas, along with some members of a California field artillery battalion, sent to help the Dutch hold Java--was forced to surrender when the Dutch gave up and capitulated to the Japanese, hoping to avoid total slaughter. They were soon joined by a handful of survivors from the cruiser USS Houston , sunk offshore in the Java Sea after a fierce naval battle that lasted two days. By March 6, over 700 Americans had been captured on Java; most being sent to work on the infamous Burma-Siam Railway.

    By April 9, 1942, after the last of their food and ammunition ran out, 11,796 exhausted, malnourished, and sick American defenders of Bataan, along with some 66,000 Filipino troops, surrendered to the Japanese, who lost 10,000 men taking the peninsula in a five-month campaign. Less than a month later, on May 6, Corregidor, the last Philippine holdout under the American flag, fell to the Japanese, and another 6,000 Americans became prisoners of war.

    Americans back home were stunned to learn that Gen. Douglas MacArthur's entire Army of the Pacific had been killed or captured in just six months. It was the greatest defeat of land forces in U.S. military history, and it meant that over 20,000 Americans were now prisoners of the Japanese.

    What the home front was less quick to learn was that 5,000 Americans perished in Japanese hands during their first six months of captivity. In fact, news of Japanese mistreatment of American prisoners was so suppressed during the war, and so swept under the rug afterward, that public awareness on this subject remains relatively low, to this day.

    By early 1942, nearly 14,000 American civilians were also caught in the dragnet as Imperial Japanese forces swept through Southeast Asia and the Pacific--rounding up every Caucasian man, woman, and child in their path. Expecting deportation, then desperately hoping for rescue, non-Asian families realized to their horror that house arrest was being replaced by jails and prison camps. Civilians were treated as harshly as military prisoners, and classified as enemy aliens, or spies.

    Worse still, the trapped civilians were not protected by the 1929 Geneva Conventions, not only because Japan's Diet declined to ratify the agreements its government representative had signed in Switzerland, but also because the documents specified standards of treatment only for military prisoners of war. No provision had been made for civilians; after all, interning civilians is not supposed to be part of a nation's war strategy. And besides, governments are supposed to keep their overseas civilians out of harm's way, and evacuate them at the first sign of trouble.

    How could the U.S. government leave so many of its people in harm's way? Couldn't they see what was coming? Couldn't the military forces have been more alert? Americans have been asking themselves--and their successive leaders--these questions for more than half a century.

    What happened to U.S. citizens, civilian and military, in the Pacific in the first dark months of 1942 was the result of wishful thinking, a woeful misreading of the situation, outright deception, and fear.

    Wishful thinking was what some of the State Department officials indulged in, as they tried to assure each other that the United States' previous actions would merit special consideration from Japan. After all, the U.S. had acted as Japan's international advocate and sponsor as far back as 1871 in Hawaii; and again during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5, when it had arranged for the release of 2,000 Japanese POWs; and at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when the U.S. government saw to it that every Japanese civilian trapped in harm's way in Europe was returned safely to Japan. Surely, they thought, the Japanese government would remember these acts, and protect U.S. citizens, should hostilities erupt in the Pacific.

    Francis B. Sayre, U.S. high commissioner to the Philippines, told Congress after the war that it had been impossible to predict in 1941 whether Japan would make a direct attack on the Philippines, and that he was advised by Washington that it would not be in the national interest to issue a warning notice to U.S. civilians living and working there. When Americans asked his advice, he said, he told them they should decide for themselves whether or not to stay. Similarly, our ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, issued a series of "suggestions"--not warnings--throughout 1941 to Americans living in the region.

    High Commissioner Sayre and Ambassador Grew apparently didn't see an article written by Japanese general Kiyokatsu Sato in the August 1940 New Current Digest , published in Tokyo. The general had it all figured out: how to conquer the United States in several stages. Key to his plan was to take possession of Hawaii, relying on a navy that would be swifter than ours. Next would come the Panama Canal; then landings on the West Coast. Japanese troops would then mass along the Rocky Mountains, and on to New York! The whole campaign would take seven years, by the general's estimate. Melvin Simons, one of the few Marines to survive the bloody battle on the tiny island of Peleliu, found a map of the United States in a dead Japanese soldier's pocket, which showed little Japanese flags up to the Rockies, and little American flags from there to the East Coast. So General Sato's plan must have been widely used to inspire the emperor's fighting men.

    Much has been written over the last five decades about whether President Franklin D. Roosevelt "allowed" the United States to be attacked, so that the country would turn away from its isolationism and be willing to enter another world war, after rebuffing calls for help from Europe for over two years.

    Throughout the summer and fall of 1941, both the United States and Japan rattled sabers at each other, diplomatically. Frustrated by Japan's refusal to halt her advances in Asia, President Roosevelt froze all Japanese credits in the United States on July 26, 1941, and a few weeks later, on August 17, he warned Japan that further expansion in the region would force the United States to take immediately "Any and all steps necessary to protect American interests in Asia."

    Tighter restrictions were placed on registration requirements for Japanese doing business in the United States, and Japan imposed similar restrictions on Americans traveling in and out of Japan. Despite the increase in tension, American officials still continued to issue only "suggestions" to U.S. citizens about leaving the region.

    But by far the most illuminating information about Japan's intentions in 1941 was rediscovered in 1998 by Takeo Iguchi, a professor of law and international relations at International Christian University in Tokyo, who gained access to recently declassified documents in his country's Foreign Ministry archives. The papers show that factions within the Japanese government prevented a proposed warning to the United States from being delivered as written. In a Final Memorandum dated December 3, 1941, four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the original wording stated that Japan was forced to terminate negotiations [concerning its continuing expansion in Asia] and that the United States "[w]ould be responsible for any and all of the consequences that may arise in the future."

    Professor Iguchi also noted that the war diary of Japan's General Staff (comparable to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff) displayed an ongoing debate in Tokyo over whether to notify Washington of Japan's intent to cease negotiations and start a war, in compliance with the provisions of the Hague Convention of 1907. Since military members were given equal status with civilians in Japan's cabinet, and enjoyed direct access to the emperor, their views usually prevailed. The apparent compromise was to draft a revised Final Memorandum, with much weaker wording, on December 5 and send it to Washington. This draft was intercepted by our intelligence, and read by President Roosevelt, who interpreted it as a declaration of war. But his aides disagreed, saying the memo contained nothing new, and their collective "wisdom" dissuaded the president from ordering an increase in preparations and a standby alert for war to our military forces stationed in Asia and the Pacific.

    On the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked, an entry in the war diary of the Japanese General Staff reads: "Our deceptive diplomacy is steadily proceeding toward success." Japanese diplomats in Washington were deliberately not notified of their government's plans.

    Professor Iguchi further found that the staff in Tokyo specified that the watered-down message be delivered to our State Department at 1 P.M. Washington time on December 7, but records show it was received by Secretary of State Cordell Hull at 2:20 P.M., about one hour after most of the American Asiatic fleet lay sunk or burning in Pearl Harbor, and 2,403 Americans were dead. Professor Iguchi maintains that the hour-and-twenty-minute delay in delivery of the memorandum was also deliberate, because it contained purposely garbled wording difficult to translate.

    So at long last, Professor Iguchi's research, which received scant attention in the Japanese press, would appear to lay to rest the theory of a calculated plan on the part of President Roosevelt to sit back and allow the attack on Pearl Harbor to take place. To the contrary, it would seem that President Roosevelt was more alert than his aides to the bellicose plans of Japan toward the United States. For example, the president, a former naval officer and past secretary of the navy, became alarmed by intelligence reports showing an unusual increase in Japanese naval activity during October and November 1941--but again, his concern was deflected by "cooler heads," notably General MacArthur himself. According to Joseph Della Malva, a Corregidor survivor who was an army intelligence agent in the Philippines in 1941, General Mac. Arthur was convinced that the Japanese attack (of which most were certain) would come no earlier than April 1942, and he "tamped down" a standby alert issued to forces there in October 1941. MacArthur's view prevailed at the White House, and the president was dissuaded from following his Navy-trained instincts.

    Probably the communication that has most fueled the speculation that the United States deliberately waited for Japan to attack first is the cable transmitted by army chief of staff general George C. Marshall to General Mac. Arthur and Lt. Gen. Walter Short, commander of the Army of the Philippines, on November 27, 1941. It read in part: "Negotiations with Japan appear to be terminated ... Japanese future action unpredictable. Hostile action possible at any moment ... If hostilities cannot repeat cannot be avoided, the United States desires that Japan commit the first attack." Wishful thinking in Washington, combined with misreading obvious signs of trouble, helped the Japanese deception to succeed.

    Also, contrary to the impressions of many historians, U.S. intelligence really couldn't accurately decode everything the Japanese were saying to each other in the weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. intelligence cryptologists had broken the initial code of the Japanese Navy, known as JN25-A, but they had mastered only about 800 of the 35,000 values of the newer code, designated JN25-B, which was in use by December 1941. So when the coded attack message: "Climb Niitakayama 1208, repeat 1208!" was repeatedly flashed to the Japanese fleet on December 2, 1941, our cryptologists could not decode its full meaning, which was to attack Pearl Harbor on December 8 (Pacific time; December 7 on the U.S. mainland). Several crucial weeks would go by before JN25-B was finally broken, in early 1942.

    And then there was the fear. So often history is an exercise in hindsight, viewed from a safe distance, and the context of the times is overlooked. For those of us who did not live through the uncertain months of 1942, it is hard to imagine the genuine fear that gripped the United States and its leaders in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The fact is that throughout most of that year, until cryptologists broke the Japanese Navy code, and until the military and manufacturing industries could fully mobilize, the West Coast of the United States was very, very vulnerable to Japanese attack; and despite reassurances, most people knew it.

    Nine days after the fall of Bataan, on April 18, 1942, Brig. Gen. James H. Doolittle led a daring daylight air raid on Tokyo. On May 28, Secretary of War Henry Stimson held a press conference in Washington, in which he said the War Department considered a retaliatory attack by Japan on the United States to be inevitable. The Associated Press, in a wire story reprinted in newspapers throughout the world, quoted Secretary Stimson as saying the U.S. Army was doing everything possible to meet the attack, which he indicated was being expected on the West Coast. "Whatever happens, we shan't relax our most effective defense--our preparations for a major offensive," he said. Secretary Stimson also told a questioner that despite the great distance the East Coast lies from Japan, an attack on the national capital was "not inconceivable.... The `loss of face' Japan suffered from the army air attack led by ... [General] ... Doolittle made a vengeance blow inevitable," he contended.

    All the American people needed to fan fears were the reports of espionage by Japanese in their midst: a cache of weapons and uniforms found in the barn of a Japanese farmer in California; dozens of suspected Japanese saboteurs arrested in the Naval yard at Pearl Harbor; newly captured American prisoners in the Philippines recognizing the face of a Japanese guard who the previous week was a shopkeeper in Manila; a soldier on patrol defending Bataan hearing a Japanese soldier nearby calling out mockingly: "I'm a graduate of UCLA!" A number of ex-POWs have told this writer that the worst beatings they received during their captivity were administered by interpreters with degrees from American universities.

    Before Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Federal Bureau of Investigation already had a list of 770 Japanese living in the United States who were considered a threat to national security. By nightfall on December 7, 1941, both the president and the attorney general had authorized FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to detain those individuals, and he promptly did so. California attorney general Earl Warren stated that in his view all people of Japanese descent living in the United States were a potential threat, whether they were citizens or not.

    A week after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Congressman John Rankin declared on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives: "I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now, and putting them in concentration camps.... Damn them! Let's get rid of them now!" Little did the congressman know that the Japanese felt exactly the same way about Americans and other Caucasians living in Asia.

    But despite the nationwide clamor, President Roosevelt did not issue Executive Order 9066, declaring the West Coast a military zone and establishing the War Relocation Authority, until March 2, 1942, nearly three months after Pearl Harbor, and after seeing with dismay that the Japanese were not making any effort to send American civilians home, out of harm's way. Instead, the Japanese had already interned over 14,000 American men, women, and children by the time President Roosevelt issued his executive order--a fact that is often overlooked in discussions about the wartime internment of people of Japanese descent in the United States.

    The ethnic cleansing carried out by Japan in the Pacific War was part of its Greater Eastern Coprosperity program, under the slogan "Asia for the Asians." It became apparent very early on to the Caucasians held by the Japanese that they were not only unwelcome in Asia, but were very deeply. resented, and had been for a long time. White women were a special target of Japanese anger and contempt, partly because women of European descent living in Asia had households full of Asian servants. The Japanese perception was that Caucasians looked down upon all Asians as servants, and turning the tables was one of the main aims of their conquest.

    Japanese civilians, as well as military personnel, often seemed to take special pleasure in finding daily ways to humiliate and mistreat the thousands of military prisoners suddenly under their control. Within six months of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the remnants of America's Asia/Pacific fighting force, along with over a thousand civilians, were being leased to Japanese companies for forced labor. At least seventy-nine Japanese companies used POW slave labor, according to the official records of the Japanese Prisoner of War Information Bureau. Prisoners were loaned, like chattel, from one company to another.

    Each day, each man knew he was expendable; the company could just send for more prisoners to replace the ones who died that day from disease, starvation, and from being worked to death. Over 4,100 Americans died while on forced labor; many were so weak from starvation and disease that they died within a few months of again becoming free men. At least 11,532 American prisoners perished in Japanese captivity.

    Military prisoners who understood Japanese sometimes overheard guards reassure one another that it was all right to mistreat prisoners, or skim from their food supply, because "They're only dirty Caucasians."

    Ken Towery, a Texan captured on Corregidor with his army unit, still remembers the speech with which the Japanese commandant greeted prisoners at the vast Mitsubishi factory complex in Mukden, Manchuria. The yellow and the white man are eternal enemies, the Japanese officer announced, and as long as the white man was in Asia "There will be no peace in Asia." At Towery's camp, the Japanese did their best to assure a peaceful future in Asia: of 1,500 POWs who began the journey to Manchuria with Towery aboard the merchant ship Nitta Maru in January, 1942, 500 were left in Japan, deemed too weak to be any good for work. An additional 80 were dropped off at Pusan, Korea--too sick to bother transporting farther. Several died at sea due to the dreadful conditions in the sealed hold of the ship. Only 1,100 arrived alive at Mukden, including 920 from the Nitta Maru . Of these, 300 died the first winter in the extreme cold, and from being forced to live in unheated semiunderground mud barracks, built some years earlier by Chinese soldiers. "We buried 176 in one day that first winter," Towery recalled in a March 2000 interview.

    Before the day of liberation came, it was the Japanese plan that no white prisoners at all should survive to resettle in Asia--or anywhere else. How early in this very personal Pacific War that policy was formulated, and how precisely it was carried out, is revealed by some of the men, women, and children who weren't supposed to live to tell about this holocaust in the East--but somehow they did, and their stories are backed up by the messages Japanese military leaders never expected to be intercepted, recorded, or retrieved.

    In a 1995 panel discussion at the Overseas Press Club in New York, Marine Corps veteran John Rich, who spent twenty postwar years in Tokyo as NBC news bureau chief, commented that in the Pacific, World War II was "A personal war, a dirty war." And a very racist war, on both sides of the ocean--right from the very beginning. Nowhere was that racism more evident than on Japanese company property. Yet unlike German companies and the German government, which together have paid billions to their wartime slave laborers, not one Japanese corporation has paid ex-POWs a postwar dime for such unjust enrichment.

    Why? Because no one has ever asked them to--until now.

Copyright © 2001 Linda Goetz Holmes. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-02-12:
In September 1999, some 500 American WWII veterans filed suit against five Japanese corporations (including Mitsubishi and Kawasaki), seeking reparation for having been used as slave laborers during the war. According to the plaintiffs, these corporations built their postwar success on a foundation of American forced labor. The companies say they have been wrongly targeted, because the modern conglomerates have no relation to the wartime entities accused of these practices, prohibited now as then under the rules of the Geneva Convention. Holmes (4,000 Bowls of Rice), a respected historian and researcher who is part of a presidential panel working to declassify the records of Nazi war crimes, weighs in heavily on the side of the former American POWs. Using recently declassified documents, Holmes bolsters the vets' claims. (One formerly top secret Japanese cable read, "Due to a serious shortage of labor power in Japan, the use of the white POW is earnestly desired.") But the most emotionally charged evidence comes from the former POWs themselves. In interview after interview, Holmes chronicles the abuse of American captives, whose lingering medical and emotional problems are compounded by the belief that their suffering has been minimized by a postwar culture more moved by the plight of other groups of war victims. (Feb. 19) Forecast: A front-page New York Times article on October 2, 2000, broke news of the case on a national level. This book provides a foundation for further media coverage, and should be widely cited. Meanwhile, buffs and vets will find out about the book via newsgroups and the like. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-02-15:
The opening battles of World War II brought the Japanese a significant number of American prisoners of war, a prize composed of some 26,000 captured military and 14,000 interned civilians. For the most part, these prisoners were treated badly, and a disproportionate number died or suffered lifelong disabilities. This is scarcely news. Holmes claims to bring to the table newly released information about the roles of the zaibatsus, the great industrial combines, in the use of forced labor. She also has located information relating to the State Department decision not to prosecute the companies or their leaders after the war, although numerous camp commandants and guards were treated as war criminals. In contrast to recent payments by various European corporations, notes Holmes, no compensation has been paid by Japanese companies. She asserts but does not convincingly prove that many successful Japanese companies, such as Mitsubishi, succeeded in the postwar era because of the unreasonable profits they reaped by using slave labor, a large part of which was American. Given the scale of the war, the immense destruction on the home islands, and the generally low productivity of forced labor, it is difficult to see this one factor as paramount in the rebuilding of Japanese industrial strength. Libraries collecting deeply in Japanese-American relations and World War II history may be interested. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2001-11-01:
Japanese brutality toward POWs during WW II is known by all who care to know and have not been sheltered from the facts. Except for construction of the Thailand-Burma railroad, Japanese exploitation of POW labor in war industries is a subject we need to know better. Holmes uses personal interviews of 400 former POWs plus archives to show that not only the military, but business firms, abused POWs. The great zaibatsu companies--Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, etc.--worked starving, unhealthy POW-slaves beyond endurance while profiting from their labor on government contracts. Japan had not signed the 1929 Geneva Convention and stole almost all Red Cross relief packages and financial credits intended for the POWs. Of 25,600 American POWs, 41 percent died in Japanese captivity. War crime trials were ineffective, and no industrialists were charged. Holmes believes American authorities ordered ex-POWs to avoid public statements about their captivity, and she supports legal action by ex-POWs to obtain financial reparations from Japan. All collections. G. H. Davis emeritus, Georgia State University
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, February 2001
Publishers Weekly, February 2001
Choice, November 2001
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Bowker Data Service Summary
By gaining first access to recently declassified intelligence intercepts of wartime Japanese military messages, the author discloses how the brutal treatment and exploitation of American POWs was part of Japanese government regulation and policy.
Publisher Fact Sheet
During World War II, 32,260 Americans were held as prisoners of war of the Japanese. Thousands were shipped to do forced labor in the factories, shipyards, & mines of Japan--at the specific request of major Japanese companies. For more than 50 years, this story has gone untold--until now. Combining investigative research, personal interviews with more than 400 ex-POWs, excerpts from POW diaries, & samples of the more than 300 recently declassified documents, Pacific War historian Linda Goetz Holmes reveals the brutal & exploitative practices of Japanese companies during World War II.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prefacep. xiii
Introductionp. xxii
"A Personal War, A Dirty War"p. 1
"We Don't Recognize the Red Cross"p. 10
"The Use of White POW is Earnestly Desired"p. 22
Voyages in Hellp. 33
Mitsui: "We Will Send You to Omuta"p. 44
Mitsui: Hidden Horror, Hidden Treasuresp. 54
Showa Denko: Daily Dangersp. 65
NKK: Hard Times Everywherep. 72
Mitsubishi: Empire of Exploitationp. 84
Kawasaki: From Slave Laborers to Subway Ridersp. 95
Double-Crossed Reliefp. 98
"Not to Leave Any Traces"p. 113
Tokyo Trials: The Dog That Did Not Barkp. 127
What is a Lifetime Worth?p. 137
Conclusion: Balancing the Booksp. 144
Company Listp. 149
Merchant Ships Involvedp. 151
Official List of Successful POW Transportsp. 157
Official List of Shipwrecked POW Transportsp. 159
Additional Documentsp. 161
Endnotesp. 183
Bibliographyp. 195
Indexp. 198
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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