Alliance to Preserve the History of WWII in Asia at LA
Chinese Americans seek to hold Japanaccountable for WWII atrocities
Sat, Jun. 11, 2005
CUPERTINO, Calif. - Sixty years after the end of World War II, Chinese Americanactivists are helping organize a growing international movement that seeks tohold Japan accountable for atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers throughoutAsia.
The bitter feud over Japan's brutal wartime invasion of China made headlines inApril when violent demonstrations erupted throughout China to protest Tokyo'sapproval of textbooks that critics say gloss over its military aggressions.
But for more than a decade in the United States, Chinese immigrants have wageda grassroots campaign seeking an official apology for Japan's wartimeoccupation of China, Korea and other Asian countries, where Japanese troops areaccused of killing millions of civilians and forcing women into sexualslavery.
The Chinese government estimates that 35 million people died in China alone asa result of Japan's occupation from 1931 to 1945, when the military routinelyused biological and chemical weapons against Chinese citizens.
"Everybody knows about the Holocaust in the West, but nobody knows there was atragic event that happened in Asia at five times the scale during that war,"said Ignatius Ding, 62, a Taiwan-born engineer whose grandfather was a foundingmember of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomingtang. "That's why we referto it as the forgotten Holocaust."
The Japanese war crimes redress movement has been gaining momentum in recentyears, and Chinese American activists see their biggest opportunity this yearas Japan attempts to join an expanded United Nations Security Council.
The activists, part of the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WorldWar II in Asia, helped organize an online petition signed by more than 40million people worldwide seeking to block Japan's U.N. bid.
As U.N. member countries debate the Security Council's expansion and otherreforms, activists plan to buy media ads this summer opposing Japan's bidunless Tokyo formally apologizes. They're also calling for a boycott ofproducts produced by Japanese companies that produced artillery for wartimeJapan.
Like their counterparts in China, the Chinese Americans claim Tokyo hassuppressed or distorted the history of Japan's wartime invasion of itsneighbors, so that most Japanese citizens, especially young people, know littleabout the country's violent past.
"We want a formal apology so that everyone knows the history and truth of WorldWar II," said Stanford University law student Kevin Han. "We don't want thathistory destroyed by the Japanese government."
Japanese officials have made public apologies for their country's wartimeoccupation of its neighbors. Most recently, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi,speaking to Asian leaders at the Asian-Africa summit in Indonesia in April,expressed "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for Japan's colonial rule andaggression.
"Japan's leaders have apologized on various occasions so far," said Yuka Ejima,a spokeswoman for the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. "It's nonsense tosay that Japan hasn't apologized to the Asian people."
But activists call those apologies superficial, pointing to continued visits byJapanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which critics say glorifies Japan'smilitarist past.
Instead they want a strongly worded government apology backed by the Japan'sParliament. The Global Alliance also wants compensation for victims, Japanesetextbooks that acknowledge more fully the brutality of the occupation, and lawsthat punish Japanese citizens who deny or distort Japan's wartime past.
"Preserving the truth is very important. This is the only way for healing totake place between the Japanese and Chinese people," said Betty Huang, whochairs the Global Alliance. "If they don't officially apologize to the Chinesepeople, Japanese officials will repeat the wrong history again."
Here in Silicon Valley, the grassroots movement started in 1991, when a groupof Chinese Americans held a memorial and panel discussion on the 1937-38Nanjing massacre. It was known as the Rape of Nanking, when China says Japanesetroops slaughtered as many as 300,000 people in the former Chinese capital.
"We got a bunch of seniors to show up and they packed the place. We wereshocked. We thought people got over things like this," said Ding, who lives inCupertino. "At the end, they said, 'You people have to do something about thisbecause the war ended without full closure because Japan never really admittedanything.' Some of the people could not even find their relatives."
Ding and other Chinese community activists, including children of NationalistParty officials who fled China after the Communist takeover, formed theAlliance for the Preservation of Truth of the Sino-Japanese War.
They organized memorials and demonstrations, linked up with similar advocacygroups around the world and formed the Global Alliance, advancing their causethrough public education, legislation and litigation.
Seeing graphic photos of torture and killing at one of the group's eventsinspired Chinese American writer Iris Chang to write her 1997 bestseller "TheRape of Nanking," which helped galvanize the World War II redress movement.
In 1999, the California Assembly passed a resolution calling on Japan tocompensate reparations to victims, and Gov. Gray Davis signed a law - lateroverturned - to allow lawsuits against companies allegedly involved in Japanesewar crimes.
Their advocacy also helped lead to President Clinton's order in 2000 todeclassify government records on Japanese war crimes. And this year, theyencouraged California's Senate to passlegislation to require schools to teach the history of World War II inAsia.
The activists have helped file lawsuits in Japan and the United States seekingclass-action compensation for "comfort women" forced into sexual slavery, andfor prisoners of war forced to labor for Japanese companies. None of the suitshave succeeded yet, but activists feel like their campaign is gainingmomentum.
"When we first started, the Japanese government didn't pay any attention to us.We were totally insignificant," said Cathy Tsang, one of the movement'sorganizers. "Now they're starting to pay attention."