After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government arrested American citizens of Japanese descent, placed them in American concentration camps, and confiscated their assets. There were no indictments. There were no trials. There were no convictions. These Americans were simply rounded up, taken away, and incarcerated. To our government’s credit, these people were not killed, as the German government did to the Jews that it placed in German concentration camps, but it was still wrong to jail people who had not committed — or been accused of committing — any crimes. I know that many of you had relatives who suffered this horrible tragedy. On behalf of the U.S. government, I apologize for what we did.
Unfortunately, the power to round up innocent Americans during war and place them in concentration camps is still the law of the land in the United States. Thus, upon my return to Washington, I intend to propose the following amendment to the United States Constitution: “No person, regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin, shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, even in times of war or national emergency.”
The Execution of General Yamashita
Another apology concerns the execution of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commanding general of the Fourteenth Army Group of the Imperial Japanese Army.
Americans have been taught about the war-crimes trials that were held in Germany at the end of the war. However, our governmental schoolteachers have largely succeeded in keeping them from learning about the same type of trial that took place in the Pacific theater.
As you can imagine, there was tremendous animosity against Japan at the end of the war. There was also a thirst for retribution. It would have been considered barbaric simply to place General Yamashita against a wall and execute him in retaliation for all of the American soldiers who had been killed by Japanese forces. So our government believed that if it cloaked its killing of General Yamashita in the garb of a military trial, then people would fail to notice its act of barbarism.
At the trial, the U.S. government argued that General Yamashita was a war criminal because troops under his command had committed atrocities. Yet, it was clear that General Yamashita had ordered his troops never to engage in such conduct, had no knowledge of these atrocities, had never condoned such actions, and was unable to prevent them due to the chaos resulting from Allied bombing of Japanese command and control facilities.
Permit me to share with you the views of Mr. Justice Rutledge, who wrote a dissenting opinion when General Yamashita’s case reached the U.S. Supreme Court:
“This trial is unprecedented in our history. Never before have we tried and convicted an enemy general for action taken during hostilities or otherwise in the course of military operations or duty. Much less have we condemned one for failing to take action. . . . I have not been able to find precedent for the proceeding in the system of any nation founded in the basic principles of our constitutional democracy, in the laws of war or in other internationally binding authority or usage.”
Listen, also, to the words of Mr. Justice Murphy, another dissenter in the case:
“We live under the Constitution, which is the embodiment of all the high hopes and aspirations of the new world. And it is applicable in both war and peace. We must act accordingly. Indeed, an uncurbed spirit of revenge and retribution, masked in formal legal procedure for purposes of dealing with a fallen enemy commander, can do more lasting harm than all of the atrocities giving rise to that spirit.”
The military commission that presided over General Yamashita’s trial consisted of five generals in the American army (the U.S. government served as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner), none of whom were lawyers or had any legal experience. This military tribunal found General Yamashita guilty and condemned him to death.
I confess to you — the people of Japan — that the United States government committed a grave wrong when it executed General Yamashita. We should never have attempted to quench our thirst for revenge by killing a man who had simply done his duty in the service of his country. On behalf of the United States government, I sincerely apologize for what we did to General Yamashita.
The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
I now wish to make another apology to you regarding World War II. Prior to this century of total war, there have always been well-recognized rules of civilized warfare. For example, both sides in war usually recognize that prisoners of war will not be tortured, even if it would help to shorten the war.
World War II resulted in extreme acts of barbarism by political and military leaders on both sides of the war. We are familiar with the acts of barbarism by the Nazis, the communists, and your military leaders.
Unfortunately, those of us in the West have had a difficult time confronting the acts of barbarism in World War II committed by our respective governments.
A long-time rule of civilized warfare has been that armies fight armies and that they do not attack civilians. Fortunately, this long-time rule of civilized warfare is still recognized today, albeit not always closely followed.
Unfortunately, it was sometimes cast to the winds by Western powers during World War II. And Japanese civilians paid the price near the end of the war. I am referring to the dropping of the atomic bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This action has always been justified by our governmental officials with one argument: that the bombings shortened the war and, therefore, saved lives. But since when is this a moral argument for resorting to an act of barbarism? If torturing prisoners results in a shortening of the war, does this make the act civilized and moral? If the Bataan death march to which your government subjected our prisoners served to shorten the war, did this justify your government’s act of barbarism? If Hitler’s death camps shortened the war, did this justify his acts of barbarism?
No! In war, no act of barbarism is morally justified. And civilized nations — or nations claiming to fight to preserve civilization — have a moral duty to maintain, to every extent possible, a commitment to civilized conduct, even in the course of waging the war. This means, at a minimum, the feeding and care of prisoners and the protection of civil liberties and private property for non-combatants.
It also means that armies do not indiscriminately attack civilians during wartime. War is hell, but it is made worse when nations that are claiming to represent civilization resort to the methods of the barbarians they are claiming to fight.
Even worse, three months before the dropping of the bombs, our government intercepted the following report from a German diplomat who had spoken to a ranking Japanese naval officer: “Since the situation is clearly recognized to be hopeless, large sections of the Japanese armed forces would not regard with disfavor an American request for capitulation even if the terms were hard.”
America’s atomic bombs should never have been dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If these bombs had to be dropped, then the targets should have been military or militarily related. The war should have been waged between the armies, not against the civilians. On behalf of the United States government, I hereby issue a long-overdue apology to the people of these two cities who suffered the ravages of atomic warfare.
One final observation about war. Your constitution, adopted at the end of World War II, prohibits your government from engaging in foreign wars. There are those within your nation and those within my nation who wish you to overturn this constitutional prohibition. I sincerely hope that you resist this proposal.
With the end of the Cold War, those within America’s military-industrial complex have been relying on a strange economic argument for keeping their complex intact: that it brings prosperity to America through governmental spending. Ironically, however, they are unable to explain how you in Japan have been able to prosper for decades without a huge military-industrial complex. Moreover, American governmental officials are at a loss for words when you ask them, “If the former Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its military-industrial complex, its welfare state, and its controlled economy, then why should these things bring prosperity to America?”
The truth is that an ever-expanding governmental role in people’s lives and fortunes brings lower standards of living and, ultimately, impoverishment. Those in America’s military-industrial complex realize that the American people are figuring this out. Thus, those who have been on this special type of governmental dole throughout the Cold War are panicked. They need new crises and new emergencies to justify their continued existence. What greater justification could they have than a rearmed Japan that has the constitutional authority to wage foreign wars?
The truth is that your nation has followed the correct path by avoiding foreign wars and the huge governmental expenditures needed to wage them. I only wish that my nation would do the same. I sincerely hope that you resist the proposals of those who would carry you down a different road.
Let me now return to how your nation holds a key to prosperity in America.