- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

U.S. military veterans are angered that the Japanese prime minister will be addressing a joint session of Congress on the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, who ordered Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor that precipitated the U.S. entry into World War II.

For many World War II veterans who suffered through torture and imprisonment in Japanese detention camps, “the wounds are still healing — and some may never heal,” said Jan Thompson, president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, which represents surviving American prisoners of war and their families.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, extended an invitation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to speak to Congress on April 29, which happens to be Showa Day in Japan, a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Hirohito.

Under the leadership of the emperor, revered as a divine figure at the time, Japan joined Hitler’s Germany, engaged in multiple invasions in China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and tortured and killed thousands of U.S. and other Allied prisoners of war.

“The members of our organization are fully aware of the significance of the date chosen for Prime Minister Abe’s address. The POWs [70 years ago] all had to bow in the prison camps to honor the emperor on that date,” Ms. Thompson said.

Congress gave no explanation on why the date was chosen or whether they consulted with veterans to gauge their sensitivities beforehand.

After the war, Hirohito revoked his divinity claim and facilitated Japan’s transformation into a democratic nation and a key U.S. ally. He toured the U.S. in 1975, though not without protest.

Another controversial speech

The Abe speech marks the second controversy this year surrounding a House invitation to a foreign dignitary to speak before Congress.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to address lawmakers in March, angering the White House and dividing Congress over Democratic claims that the president was not consulted on Mr. Netanyahu’s invitation beforehand and his speech may threaten nuclear talks with Iran.

It is not clear whether the White House signed off on Mr. Abe’s address to Congress.

In a statement announcing the invitation of Japan’s prime minister, Mr. Boehner said Mr. Abe’s speech would be a good opportunity for Americans to learn the best way to enhance cooperation on economic and security priorities.

“That, of course, includes working together to open markets and encourage more economic growth through free trade,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement.

His office didn’t respond to requests for comment as to why Hirohito’s birthday was chosen for Mr. Abe to speak.

A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy said he could not comment on why the date was chosen, but he told The Washington Times that Mr. Abe’s visit will be an occasion to appreciate the fact that over the 70 years since the war, the U.S. and Japan have reconciled and worked together as allies that share the basic values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and to recognize that the two countries will continue to work together to realize international peace, stability and prosperity.

In a press conference, Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the speech would “have great significance in that it will demonstrate the strong U.S.-Japan alliance to the world.”

Can’t forget history

Ms. Thompson said she hoped Mr. Abe would take advantage of the April 29 speech to address the atrocities Japan committed during World War II, which resulted in hundreds of executions for war crimes and a Nuremberg-like trial of surviving regime figures in Tokyo.

“The podium is symbolic in many ways. It was here that FDR said after the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan: ‘A date which will live in infamy,’” Ms. Thompson said. “No country can avoid responsibility for its history. Japan cannot run from their World War II history. We see this as an historic moment not just for Japan but the rest of the world. Japan needs to open the door and shed light on their dark chapter. By doing so, I believe the world will in turn see them as the great nation they want to be.”

In a letter to the Senate and House Veterans Affairs’ committees, the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society said Congress should not allow Mr. Abe to speak at the Capitol unless he agrees to acknowledge Japan’s actions during the war.

The group also criticized Mr. Abe’s remarks on Japan’s World War II actions.

“His past statements rejecting the verdicts of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal that serves as the foundation of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan trouble us,” Ms. Thompson wrote in the letter. “We want Congress to only extend the invitation to Prime Minister Abe to speak at the podium of Roosevelt and Churchill if they are assured that he will acknowledge that Japan’s defeat released the country from the venom of fascism and the inhuman goals of a criminal regime.”

Mr. Abe challenged the convictions of Japanese wartime leaders at the Tokyo tribunal during a legislative session in October 2006. He stepped down from office in 2007 but returned to power in 2012.

In 2013, Mr. Abe sparked outrage in China, South Korea and the U.S. when he visited a war shrine in Japan that honors about 2.5 million Japanese who have died in wars, including several who were convicted by the Tokyo tribunals of Class A war crimes, for which many were hanged.

Afterward, Mr. Abe told reporters that he did not intend to offend anyone by visiting the shrine.

“There is criticism based on the misconception that this is an act to worship war criminals, but I visited Yasukuni Shrine to report to the souls of the war dead on the progress made this year and to convey my resolve that people never again suffer the horrors of war,” he said, according to The Guardian.

Mr. Abe will address Congress just a few months ahead of another speech commemorating the end of World War II. He is set to travel to China in August to give a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the conflict’s end.

In her letter to Congress, Ms. Thompson said she hopes Mr. Abe will use his address to show American veterans remorse for his country’s conduct.

“The American POWs of Japan and their families have paid a high price for the freedoms we cherish. What they ask in return for their sacrifices and service is for their government, even after 70 years, is to keep its moral obligation to them. They do not want their history ignored or exploited. They do not ask for further compensation. What they want most is to have their government stand by them to ensure they will be remembered, that our allies respect them, and their American history preserved,” Ms. Thompson wrote.

Mr. Abe is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. on April 26 and will meet with President Obama on April 29. He will spend eight days in the U.S., with stays in Washington from April 27 to April 30 and will visit Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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