War criminals to atone online

Six Japanese war criminals will atone for atrocities committed during World War II in a program that will be broadcast on the Internet.

Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com
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It has taken more than 50 years and the emergence of a new medium for six war criminals to publicly talk about their past misdeeds.

On August 16, these six Japanese men--who were involved in some of the most heinous atrocities during Japan's occupation of China during World War II--will use the Internet to atone for their crimes.

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Attempting to transcend political borders, the men, who call themselves the "Chu-Kin-Ren," Japanese for "Those Who Returned from China," will engage in a live videoconference that also will be broadcast over the Internet.

The six members of Chu-Kin-Ren will make live statements of repentance by video feed, then will answer questions from a panel of academics in Los Angeles and Tokyo. Since U.S. laws prohibit granting visas to convicted war criminals, the opportunity arose to use the Web as a means of mass broadcast to bridge the Pacific divide, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance, which examines issues regarding racism in America and the history of the Holocaust, and is sponsoring the Webcast.

"Having met with some of these people, I felt we had a moral obligation to give a widest possible audience for their testimony," said Cooper, who has visited Japan numerous times and has met with Chu-Kin-Ren members. "We look to the Net as way to expand nationally and internationally the reach of our program."

The conference will begin at 5 p.m. PT on Sunday, August 16. The Wiesenthal Center's Web site will be hosting the Webcast.

The members of the group were convicted for a number of crimes during the Japanese occupation of China, and engaged in atrocities ranging from mass murder to rape. Some were involved in the 1937 Rape of Nanking, where thousands of Chinese civilians were reportedly killed over a six-week period. One member was a doctor in the 731 medical unit, which conducted biological experiments on Chinese, American, and Russian prisoners of war.

Cooper emphasized that the event will not be a "Japan-bashing party," but rather an opportunity to examine "a piece of history that must be looked at and looked at honestly," he said. Furthermore, Cooper hopes the Webcast will be a catalyst for the Japanese government's confrontation of historical events as well as increasing awareness of history among younger generations.

Many critics have accused the Japanese government of sweeping wartime atrocities under the rug or simply denying their existence. However, that has not been the case, according to Peter Duus, a professor of modern Japanese history at Stanford University.

The Japanese government has made statements regretting its acts of aggression during the war, Duus said. In 1993, former Prime Minister Masahiro Hosokawa, during a commemoration of the ending of the war, expressed "deep condolences to victims of the war and their relatives in neighboring countries in Asia and those around the world."

In addition, in 1995, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama made a similar statement during the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, using the Japanese word for "apologize" in his statements regarding wartime aggression against neighboring Asian nations.

Nonetheless, some conservative factions have adopted revisionist views of the occupation, and have claimed many of the alleged actions conducted by Japan were fabrications of history, Duus said. But the beliefs of these individuals do not reflect the sentiment of Japan's general populace, he added.

"There are extremists in Japan who aren't repentant," he said. "But the majority in mainstream Japan don't adhere to that view."

Duus added that the Webcast would help show that most Japanese at least accept the fact that the atrocities occurred.

"Anything that counterbalances what I regard as an unbalanced impression--that's a good thing. I think they're expressing views of not only themselves but many other people," Duus said.

However, not all were confident that the Webcast would change anything.

Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy and Research Institute, a nonprofit educational foundation, was delighted to hear of the Webcast, but added that it may be too little, too late.

"I think it's a good thing that it's finally happening," said Johnson. However, "It's absurdly late in the day. In another sense, my argument would be to say [to the Japanese government], 'You could have long ago apologized for the Rape of Nanking, unit 731, and the comfort women.'"

"Comfort women" were Korean, Japanese, and Chinese prisoners who were forced into sexual slavery to serve the Japanese military.