JAPAN A VICTIM?

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I think it's swell that 50 years after the war ended, we're such good friends, we and the Japanese.

I really do. Japan has become so important to us and they own half of Hollywood now and we buy so many Sonys and Nikons and Toyotas and stuff. Though we have little diplomatic spats occasionally and President Bush once upchucked on the prime minister and we can all agree that was unfortunate and wouldn't it be nice if they bought more U.S. goods and relaxed some of their import restrictions. But, basically, we get along pretty well and surely a stable and prosperous Japan is a force for good in the world.

I even like the new emperor and the missus and I hope their kids are going to be very happy. And I'm sorry about the nerve gas in the subways the other day. We don't need that in the subways, neither here on the Lexington Avenue express nor in Tokyo. And I was saddened by what happened at Kobe a little earlier, the earthquake and like that.

But having said all this by way of preparation and as we get closer to the actual anniversaries of the days 50 years ago when we dropped the bomb and then when they surrendered, I have just one final remark:

Earth to Tokyo! You started the war; we ended it. So just put a sock in it, Jack!

I am totally and absolutely fed up with the historical revisionists who are risking hernias these days with all their exertions dedicated to the proposition, well, it was an awful war; they did bad things and we did bad things. There's no moral and ethical difference between defending yourself and unleashing a treacherous sneak attack.

In combat, out of fear and hate and madness, soldiers commit dreadful atrocities. Both sides. The Japanese, in addition to starting the damned war, went so far beyond what usually happens in wars there is a very real difficulty in grasping the extent of just what bastards they were.

I'm talking the Japanese of World War II, not the Japanese of today.

What happened after the surrender by Americans and Filipinos at Bataan and Corregidor, the systematic starving and beating and killing of prisoners of war, is not what honorable men do. And this was never just isolated incidents of a sadistic officer or a surly sergeant. Such cruelty was justified by the Japanese martial code of the time that anyone who surrendered in war was unworthy to live and deserved whatever he got. The New York Post reported recently that in Nazi POW camps, one out of 25 Americans died. In Japanese prison camps, one of three Americans died.

Which leaves me a little cold these days when I hear protestations of just how badly we treated the poor Japanese. When they were winning they tortured and killed our people and used Brits as slave labor on the River Kwai and when we'd finally won the war, all we did was to help the Japanese to rebuild a nation and to create an enormous engine of commerce and finance.

I was a kid during the war but when I got into the Marine Corps as a college boy in a reserve officers' training program in 1948, there were still plenty of Marines who'd fought the Japanese. They had enormous respect for them as soldiers; they hated the Japanese for what they'd done to Marines captured on Wake Island and the Philippines and in China. And, as I say, it was systematic. Able-bodied American POWs (and Brits, Aussies, the Dutch, etc.) were shipped to the home islands to work as slaves in Japanese coal and other mines, performing as beasts of burden. Some POWs endured three years of this. But not many.

The other day on its front page, The New York Times ran a "special report" by Nicholas D. Kristof, datelined Morioka, Japan, about Japanese war crimes not previously disclosed or confirmed and about Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Some of the obscenities catalogued in the Times confound the imagination. Can people really do these things? Even in war?

In the last summer of the war, in 1945, there were plans to have Kamikaze suicide planes drop plague-infected fleas on San Diego. In China, Unit 731 pickled a westerner (probably Russian) inside a jar of formaldehyde. The man had also been cut into two pieces. Military prisoners were cut up into body parts. There were hands and feet found marked, "American." Or, "English." Or, "Frenchman." Doctors, Japanese men of medicine, locked prisoners in pressure chambers to see how much pressure they could take before their eyes popped out. Chinese were purposely infected with plague, then cut up while still alive and alert (anesthesia might skew the study) by trained vivisectionists. Men were tied up outside in freezing temperatures, doused regularly with water, and then were struck with sticks to ascertain when they were frozen solid.

Babies as young as three days were used for experiments with needles being inserted into their fingers.

I don't really want to go on.

There is a school of historical revisionism popular right now which holds it wasn't necessary to drop the Hiroshima bomb. Or, if that one was justifiable, the Nagasaki bomb was redundant.

Read a book called "Imperial Tragedy." Rogue officers attempted to seize Hirohito and prevent broadcast of the transcription of his speech of surrender. There was actual fighting within the Imperial Palace, days after Nagasaki. Other officers proposed announcing capitulation and then, when the Americans came ashore, to fall on them then. And, in those final days, the Times reports, in Manchuria plague-infected animals were purposely released and over the first three postwar years, 30,000 people died of plague in the Harbin area alone.

In August we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of VJ Day, Victory over Japan Day. I think it's great that today we're friends but don't tell me we have a damned thing to apologize about.

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