Japan's turn for reparations?
September 7, 2001 12:29 AM   Subscribe

Japan's turn for reparations? Rosen vs. the people of Japan filed in Chicago is asking for 1 trillion! in reparations. Its headed by POW Melvin H Rosen, a Bataan death march survivor.
posted by skallas (44 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

Am I the only one who is completely baffled by all of the recent "reparation" talk from all over the place? It's the new cultural buzzword. I had ancestors killed and enslaved by the Spanish but I don't look to them for some cash settlements. My christian friends had ancestors who were thrown to lions but I haven't seen anyone trying to get some cash from the descendants of the caesars.

This whole subject is just plain *silly* to me. If someone can calmly, rationally, and logically explain to me why someone who was not even alive then can seriously think this is OK then please let me know.

Wars happen, colonization happened, and the proverbial "shit" happens... I don't understand how the descendants of a people and/or current residents of a country can be thought to be responsible for past actions.
posted by crankydoodle at 1:55 AM on September 7, 2001

People who weren't slaves want reparations from people who weren't slaveholders. What's silly about that? Err...

And even if one were to accept the outright silly idea of inherited guilt or collective blame, Thomas Sowell makes some interesting points in his latest column:

"Since it was the Africans and the Arabs who actually caught and sold slaves, do the African and Arab nations plan to send reparations over here to the descendants of enslaved Africans living in the Western Hemisphere? Of course not. They want the United States to lay some of those American dollars on them! We have fallen for so many other sucker plays in the past, why not try this one on us?

When slavery is mentioned, too many people automatically think of whites enslaving blacks. That is not even one-tenth of the story of slavery, which existed on every inhabited continent. The very word "slave" derives from the word for some white people who were enslaved on a mass scale -- the Slavs -- for more centuries than blacks were enslaved in the Western Hemisphere.

Moreover, slavery existed in the Western Hemisphere before the first black or white person ever set foot on these shores. The indigenous peoples of this hemisphere enslaved one another, just as Asians enslaved Asians, Europeans enslaved Europeans, and Africans enslaved Africans. Attempts to limit the discussion of slavery to slavery in the United States or in Western civilization make sense only as a strategy to get money or political concessions.

Western civilization was the first civilization to regard slavery as morally wrong and it is the civilization with the most sense of guilt about it. To this very moment slavery continues in parts of Africa and the Islamic world. Very little noise is made about it by those who denounce the slavery of the past in the West, because there is no money to be made denouncing it and no political advantages to be gained."
More on slavery in today's Africa can be found here.
posted by dagny at 2:04 AM on September 7, 2001

Then I suppose we will have the return match: people of Nagasaki v. people of US, asking for reparations for the war crime committed when their civilian population was deliberately targeted by the USAF (I'm not trying to start a flame war, just pointing out that everybody sees the rights and wrongs of war differently...)
posted by nico at 2:17 AM on September 7, 2001

Well said.
posted by BrownEyeWink at 2:18 AM on September 7, 2001

I ate a nasty burrito last week. Mexico can expect a call from my attorney.
posted by Optamystic at 2:59 AM on September 7, 2001

British POWs have been campaigning for an official apology from the Japanese for decades. It says a lot about transatlantic cultural differences that they think "We're sorry" is more valuable than however many billion dollars. It's also a recognition, though, that the financial settlement was made -- at least between the UK and Japan -- in the immediate aftermath of the war, and there's no further case to bring.
posted by holgate at 3:46 AM on September 7, 2001

I trillion US$...! I wonder how much the governments of China, Korea, Indonesia and other countries who were destroyed by Japanese occupation should ask for then...
Generally reparations are not always a bad idea. In some cases, concerning recent acts of terror (and recent is a questionable concept I know) reparations are quite reasonable. I would suggest that reparations are due. f.e., from the current German government to Holocaust survivors, Russia, Yugoslavia and quite a few other European countries (be it governments or individuals) which were completely destroyed by the Nazis and were not paid reparations at the time because W.Germany refused to accept the liability for these reparations until Germany was reunited... It is now.
Remember that seeing your family slaughtered, your house burnt and being left for dead in a mass execution is hardly equivalent to eating a bad burrito.
posted by talos at 4:22 AM on September 7, 2001

It was a really bad burrito.
posted by Optamystic at 4:24 AM on September 7, 2001

No matter how many arguements for or against any and all forms of reprarations I have thus far seen, I have yet to encounter any discussion of the Native American Indian.
posted by Postroad at 4:51 AM on September 7, 2001

He wants $1 trillion? It's impossible. Mr Burns accidentally let Fidel Kastro have the only trillion dollar bill in the country.
posted by wackybrit at 4:51 AM on September 7, 2001

Wars happen, colonization happened, and the proverbial "shit" happens...

No, in fact, they don't. That's a risky understanding of history. Somebody makes them happen; somebody is always responsible. And as a German born long after the Fall of the Third Reich, I had to learn early on that some of that responsibility seems to be hereditary.
posted by muckster at 5:04 AM on September 7, 2001

Apologies are good: apologies make the nation doing the apologizing think about what they did, educate their young, help them avoid doing harm again in the future. I am Greek: I'd love if us and the Turks apologized to each other for the bad things we've done over the last few hundred years. It would help our collective conscience and heal some wounds.

You can argue that such wounds shouldn't be there, that what our ancestors did or had done to them is irrelevant to us. Well, bollocks. An American doesn't start his life at quite the same level as a Liberian. History is in your genes and your upbringing, quite literally.
posted by costas at 5:29 AM on September 7, 2001

costas: What you're advocating is racism. Yes, racism.

You are saying that you're to blame for something you didn't do, simply because you have the same skin color as those who did it. That's racist. And thus quite silly.

What we need is not racism or other kinds of collectivism.

What we need is quite the contrary: individual responsibility for people living TODAY.

Let's punish those who violate other's individual rights.

And that includes people who weren't slaves stealing money from people who weren't slaveholders.
posted by dagny at 5:45 AM on September 7, 2001

Even though this lawsuit has absolutely no chance of winning (due to the treaty US/Japan signed at the end of the war), I do like the attempt.

IF his case were to be heard, and IF he were to somehow win a judgement and IF the jury were to decide that it was a frivolous lawsuit anyways and award him only 1% of 1% of 1% (0.0001%) of his requested amount, he'd still get a million bucks.
posted by Grum at 6:10 AM on September 7, 2001

dagny, what costas is saying is not racism. he's pointing out that we live in an unequal world that is shaped by history: we are all products of the past -- however much we'd like to believe people can completely reinvent themselves.

I say, more power to individual responsibility. But to leave it as that is pretending that we are born into a level playing field, a world without history. Many of the advantages the "first world" enjoys today are direct results of past crimes.

I'm not sure what the answer is, and paying each other vast sums of money reeks too much of the Sweet Hereafter fallacy to me. (i.e., money doesn't always fix things). But it would certainly be a good start to acknowledge wrongs done in the past -- and even accept a bit of handed-down responsibility.
posted by muckster at 6:16 AM on September 7, 2001

Besides, this particular case (the POW lawsuit) is fundamentally different than the slavery reparation suits.

Here, we're talking about a man who actually was a prisoner of war. The reparations-leeches weren't slaves, and they still want to take people's money for it.
posted by dagny at 6:36 AM on September 7, 2001

I have yet to encounter any discussion of the Native American Indian.

It may not be "reparations" in the strict sense of bald payouts, but there are certainly discussions where I live.

Many of the advantages the "first world" enjoys today are direct results of past crimes.

Well said, and I doubt many people would be seeking reparations for the past if they felt they were getting a fair shake today. But I also doubt a lot of those people, if a reparation were made, would think the problem was "fixed." These are deep, deep rifts that we've all got to deal with together.
posted by transient at 6:36 AM on September 7, 2001

Grum: I don't think I am advocating racism. I do not advocate unfairly discriminating for or against anybody. To tell you the truth, I am not sure how I stand on monetary reparations (I find them kind of pointless, if anything).

What I am advocating is apologizing; not on moral grounds alone, but mainly because I believe that an apology will educate the young and thus prevent, to an extent, bad things from happening again.

Nations/Governments all too often do not accept responsibility for things that have been done by their members in the past. They make up excuses, pretend that murder or discrimination or slavery or torture are somehow excusable. History books pass these excuses on as propaganda. Society passes them on as morals.

And no, I am not saying "think of the children". Screw that. Think of the adults. Think of the contemporary government and other powers that be. They are usually made up of people too: by taking away moral excuses for past wrong actions, current officials will find it harder to justify new wrong actions.
posted by costas at 6:37 AM on September 7, 2001

Sorry, mis-attribution: the above comment was on dagny's response, not Grums.

See, it works :-)
posted by costas at 6:38 AM on September 7, 2001

The only thing apologizing for something you haven't done will "educate the young" to believe is the concepts of collective and inherited guilt; two concepts which are both silly and despicable.

Answer me this simple question: Am I, as a white female, automagically guilty of everything done by other white females in the entire history of mankind? If you actually think so, then you need to check your premises.If not, I shouldn't apologize to anyone but those I might have hurt myself, as an individual living today.
posted by dagny at 6:43 AM on September 7, 2001

Hey, c'mon. Lawyers have to eat too!

But the Japanese, being a wealthy country can easily afford to pay such reparations, and everyone knows they are wanting to do the right thing and make amends.
posted by BentPenguin at 6:48 AM on September 7, 2001

Has anyone read Juan Williams opinion on reparations for African Americans? He believes that a reparation check will invalidate the superior moral position of African Americans on the topic of racism, and subsequently invalidate the ability of African-Americans to demand concessions from the majority. Like in Affirmative Action: pre-reparations, African-Americans have a very good case that they are being discriminated against, and are able to demand concessions (like quotas, minority business laws, etc.); post-repartions, the majority says hey, you've been compensated, so tough shit.

Not sure what I think about it, but it is a compelling argument against reparations. And I wonder, in the event reparations are made, how much will actually get to the people that really could use it and/or deserve it, as opposed to already-wealthy lawyer types.
posted by UncleFes at 7:00 AM on September 7, 2001

Those of us raised as Catholics probably remember being taught about "Original Sin". This is the concept that the sin of Eve taking a bite from the forbidden fruit and passing it on to Adam is a burden that we all bear at birth. The sacrament of baptism is the only way for babies to be forgiven from Original Sin because they're too young to confess it.

As a young, precocious child, I thought that was horseshit.

I'm doing too many stupid things on my own to have to take responsibility for what my ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

Go out and get a job.
posted by vito90 at 7:12 AM on September 7, 2001

Has anyone given any thought to the utter logistical nightmare paying reparations would cause? Who is black, for instance? What constitutes blackness? Is a biracial or multiracial person due a full measure, or does his white-devil bloodline cancel out the other? How, for instance, do we calculate Tiger Woods' piece of the pie?

I once read a reasoned opinion piece, years ago, that suggested modest reparations -- roughly $25,000 per African American -- would cost no more than the savings-and-loan bailout and, when coupled with a declaration that the playing field is now level, could be a brisk slap in the face for all Americans. It would cost enough to sting the average taxpayer, but also take what Williams calls the superior moral position away from those who cash the check.

But reparations advocates are calling for "hundreds of thousands of dollars" per black American? Where is THIS money coming from?
posted by nance at 7:15 AM on September 7, 2001

AIM has been actively seeking apologies and reparations since at least the late 1960's for Native Americans.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:23 AM on September 7, 2001

Whats this world coming to? You can't even go to war anymore w/o worrying about getting sued. ugh.
posted by tomplus2 at 7:33 AM on September 7, 2001

I cannot understand why this discussion has yet to raise the issue of my ancestral village being burned to the ground circa 1750! The trauma of this crime echoes through my very bones, and yet you racist pigs are refusing to acknowledge my suffering!

Acknowledge me! I demand to be recognized!

You are all soulless bastards, making your fat living off the charred ashes of my forefathers. A few thousand dollars, a mere pittance when you consider compounded interest, is all I ask. Help me regain the dignity of my forefathers, because I cannot regain my dignity myself.
posted by aramaic at 7:38 AM on September 7, 2001

my uncle was Kreiggefangenen. Shot down AUG 25, 44, near stettin. he was static chaser on a B-17. ( a media story of late deals with a fellow shot down a day before, both traveled the same route and encountered civie beating and his buddy was shot by some kraut kid.) I know a little about this issue(helped edit his book) Ive met a Battan survivor(one that is willing to talk not just bitch, rehash, and complain) They deserve the Billion but i would venture he wouldnt take it. Native \Americans deserve much- a step was the barren land we gave them, education etc. I do not believe in reparations to african-americans. Japan got enough of its pride and honor kicked out to last another hundred years...I just want veterans from both sides to live a honored life and teach us about the past(of course this is what I want...so it is hard to speak on this issue)
posted by clavdivs at 7:40 AM on September 7, 2001

While reparations are the general topic here, this Rosen v. Japan suit has little to do with Decendants-of-Slaves v. Americans-at Large. The Rosen suit is not talking about shelling out cash to the decendents of past wrongs, it is indeed akin to the type of reparations that the German citizens are being asked to pay for the Holocaust. Just like Holocaust survivors, many of these people who were in the Bataan Death March and interned in forced-labor camps (and worked to death as slaves by such big-names as the Mitsubishi Mining Co., a past subsidiary of the current gigantor Mitsubishi) ARE STILL ALIVE. These are people who are the direct recipients of past wrongs, not snot-nosed indignant grandchildren 20 generations down.

Why can we not see that the people suing Japan are from the same generation/time period as Holocaust victims? There are, of course, major differnces between the two groups of people (Holocaust victims were not soldiers attacking Germany et al., Holocaust victims were persecuted for characteristics they had little control over, etc.), but we can't lose sight of the fact that these are reparations that are being asked for from the very same Second World War as those of the Holocaust Reparations.
posted by raintea at 7:50 AM on September 7, 2001

Whether the guy who filed the lawsuit likes it or not, his suit already has no merit and the Japanese government will, quite rightly, not even respond: the San Francisco treaty between the USA and Japan specifically agreed that there neither country could be sued by citizens of the other for actions that took place during World War II. He may get an apology - that strikes me as a particularly Japanese response - but he won't get a cent.
posted by m.polo at 7:57 AM on September 7, 2001

Japan has never, and maybe will never, admit the scope of their WW2 atrocities.

...this lawsuit, I'm willing to bet, has been launched in an attempt to force an official public apology (bowed heads and all). Nobody expects to get a trillion dollars -- Rosen just wants Japan to admit, to the world, that their military was evil.

Yes, evil.
posted by aramaic at 8:04 AM on September 7, 2001

Reparations for people who are still alive. There - problem solved. For blacks, slave reparations are dumb and create the impression that again they are beholden to the "great white father". People need to pull themselves up and stop believing that "the world owes me a living".
posted by owillis at 8:07 AM on September 7, 2001

For once, I agree with you owillis.
posted by raintea at 8:13 AM on September 7, 2001

The only problem with owillis' (otherwise excellent) argument is that he doesn't mean it once it comes to welfare etc.
posted by dagny at 8:16 AM on September 7, 2001

I think it important that acknowledgement of crimes that happened in the past which have benefited states, and indirectly the citizens of those states, is a good and beneficial thing. It makes it a matter of public record that yes, these terrible things did happen and people did benefit from the ensuing misery. As has already been said, that makes it hard if not impossible for it to happen again.

After that, what is there to do? Give cash? OK, who gets the money? I'm fairly certain that giving hand outs to African Americans because they're African Americans is going to set back the cause of integration and cultural harmony in the US by years if not decades. I'm English BTW so have no clue, but I can well imagine the reaction to cash given to immigrants from what was India after two and a half centuries of divide and rule from the British. Not the same but there's a passing resemblance.

I think, for probably the first time since I've been reading this site, I find myself agreeing with UncleFes. :)

Similarly I'm certain that cash given to African states, depending on the particular state in question, is largely going to be squandered through the usual petty disputes and corruption.

That Africa needs help is certain. The nature that that help needs to take is far from certain, as are the exact nature of the problems. The human capital available to Africa was certainly affected by slavery. Arbritarily drawn borders amidst the colonial pull-out didn't help either, there or elsehwere (see Balkans, Iraq/Kuwait, India / Pakistan, etc). Does this mean we need to redraw the borders in Africa? Well, the one place that this has so far happened is Ethiopia / Eritrea and they're merrily prepared to kick the shit out of each other when the populace of both survive in near famine conditions.

Conclusion? Africa is screwed for the forseeable future. What can we do? Next to nowt.
posted by vbfg at 8:18 AM on September 7, 2001

The only problem with owillis' (otherwise excellent) argument is that he doesn't mean it once it comes to welfare etc.

Huh? I sure do. I've never once argued for people to stay on welfare. I believe in welfare-to-work, probably even stricter than the current legislation. If you can't demonstrate that you're trying to improve yourself, you shouldn't be getting gov't assistance - thought I had made that clear...
posted by owillis at 8:21 AM on September 7, 2001

To Transient: I read the statement about Indian claims and how they are to be handled by the Canadian govt. Lots of vague stuff here about helping them to be responsible. But has the govt given back land taken in what might be considered an illegal manner? In the U.S. we let the Indians build casinos but we sure as hell don't give them back their land.
The Palestinians want the Right of Return (t50 thousand left for one or another reason and their are now 3.5 million); but there were as many Jews living in Arab counties in the area that fled or were forced out....and over and over it goes.
posted by Postroad at 8:25 AM on September 7, 2001

The argument that "we're all guilty" for X crime committed by our ancestors has been part of evangelical social activism for centuries. William Wilberforce used it to advance the abolition of slavery, and it was a staple of philosemitic arguments put forth by those who were trying to convert Jews during the nineteenth century. In the latter case, insofar as you were a Christian you did, in fact, "owe" the Jews for the evils perpetrated against them by other Christians.

The problem with this "we're all guilty" argument now, of course, is that it's an attempt to secularize a fundamentally theological argument--much like "PC" often secularizes "RC" (religious correctness).
posted by thomas j wise at 8:29 AM on September 7, 2001

Update on racism conference here.
posted by vbfg at 8:31 AM on September 7, 2001

I think, for probably the first time since I've been reading this site, I find myself agreeing with UncleFes. :)

Don't feel bad, vbfg, it happens to everyone eventually :)
posted by UncleFes at 8:44 AM on September 7, 2001

Postroad: I'm certainly not an expert on the issue, but there are quite a few land claims that have been settled. The most well-known one around here is one in which the military appropriated native land during WWII, promising to give it back after the war, but never really getting around to it. In 1995, a few unarmed protesters camped out in a nearby park, and one of them ended up getting shot. As far as I know, the gov't has now given the land back, but the questions about the shooting, and whether or not the gov't ordered the police to invade the park, are as alive as ever.

Apologies for the somewhat off-topic post.
posted by transient at 9:18 AM on September 7, 2001

blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah.

everything is so stupid and cyclical and redundant.
posted by Satapher at 9:54 AM on September 7, 2001

Fes has always been my secret hero and satapher my new bitch.
posted by clavdivs at 8:22 AM on September 8, 2001

Its headed by POW Melvin H Rosen, a Bataan death march survivor.

I wonder how Mr Rosen would feel if Filipinos whose families were killed during the American occupation sued the US for reparations.
posted by lia at 5:10 AM on September 9, 2001

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