The IWG, officially known as the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group, was established in January 1999 by then US Pres. Bill Clinton to find and identify all Nazi war crime records, recommend them for declassification and release to the public, and report their work to Congress within one year.
On December 6, 2000 through the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act, P. L. 106-567, IWG’s name was changed to the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group and its life up to December 2004. The group had a new mandate: to include the Japanese war crimes in its search for records and have them declassified. These war crimes include The Nanking Massacre, Japanese comfort women and forced slavery of people from other countries.
In the CIA website on Freedom of Information Act, it is noted that the IWG is the “largest congressionally mandated, single-subject declassification effort in history.”
What One Can Find in the Japanese War Crime Records
In a news release on January 12, 2007, the IWG made available 100,000 pages of declassified information related to the Japanese war crimes. But what is overlooked by many readers is IWG’s statement that only a small portion of them explicitly touches on them. These records were obtained from the CIA, FBI, Army Intelligence, Office of Strategic Services and other agencies with concerns about the war and post-war relations between Japan and the US.
During the course of the search for wartime documents, the IWG found out that declassified and unclassified war records were already in the National Archives in Maryland. The IWG files can be accessed there.
Due to the sheer volume of records, IWG published a reference book, “Researching Japanese War Crimes Records: Introductory Essays” and an electronic records finding aid to help researchers find the location of specific data. Among its contents are detailed descriptions of the Rape of Nanjing in December 1937. This episode lasted for six weeks and about 40,000 lives were lost. It took Iris Chang, a historian of Chinese descent who wrote her best-selling book “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II” for people to react, though some historians suspected to what extent the book’s finding had been based upon a credible research.
The Rape of Nanjing is not an isolated case, or so some storytellers claim. Among them are Hosaka Akira, an army doctor who took part in the pillage of Changzhou and Japanese author Honda Katsuichi who claimed that many similar incidents took place in the Lower Yangtze area after the Battle of Shanghai. On the other hand, as in the case of historian Iris Chang’s publications, the reality is that debate regarding the authenticity of this account is ongoing among historians.
Another war crime that sparked indignation is the issue of Japanese comfort women. Previously talked about only in whispers or kept hidden from main conversations. It might have remained so if not for Kakou Senda, a left-wing Japanese journalist who in 1974 wrote a book about it that called global attention to the matter. Today, in spite of evidence that the testimonies about the comfort women are baseless, South Korea continues to hang to it and demand a state apology plus a hefty monetary compensation way beyond what Japan offered. According to the IWG report, the fact that no records have surfaced of war crimes in relation to comfort women indicates the low reliability of the testimony of comfort women. On the other hand, according to the report of the Allied forces’ only questioning of comfort women in Burma in 1944, “A comfort woman is nothing more than high-salary prostitute.”
Also mentioned in the IWG report is Japan’s wartime practice of slavery on Koreans, Chinese and other nationalities from Asian countries. These people were taken against their will and shipped to Japan to work in dangerous industries like coal mines and constructions. They were treated harshly and worked under barbarian conditions.
Challenging the Objectivity of the IWG and Veracity of Other Sources
The members of the IWG are an eminent group coming from various agencies like the FBI, National Archives, CIA, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, National Security Council and other people respected in their fields. There is an archivist, an assistant director of the FBI, a prosecutor in the Watergate scandal and member of the 9/11 Commission and a politician, among others.
As such, they are believed to be of the highest integrity, practicing impartiality and objectivity. But in the reference book “Researching Japanese War Crimes Records,” the opening page had a quote from Albert Camus that says, “In a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”
Even before the reader begins, he is already conditioned not to support the executioners, in this case the Japanese. In this sense, the judging has completed before the trial has been heard. All accounts are based on testimonies of people whose credibility has not been established.
A few individuals, too, have their own motives for fabricating lies or exaggerating accounts. One is Honda Katsuichi, a Japanese journalist who wrote a series of articles to shame the Japanese Imperial Army. In 1971, these articles were published in The Asahi Shimbun, the same national newspaper that retracted its stories based on Seiji Yoshida’s narratives, many of which were later found to be fictitious.
Honda’s second book, published in 1999, “The Nanjing Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan’s National Shame” is reviewed by Edward Drea of the US Army Center of Military History and coincidentally one of the contributors to IWG’s reference book. Honda’s source of information for his book comes from Chinese people who suffered at the hands of the Japanese Army. His writing style is to quote from present day Japanese newspaper accounts of the previous century’s military operations in China and contrast them with the official military version, hence exploiting the shock value that his book brings. Unfairly to Japan, he does not show remorse for shaming his own mother country.
Seiji Yoshida, in his book “My War Crimes” recounts the horrors of the Japanese comfort women. But when historians exposed his inconsistencies, the Japanese author admits to resorting to exaggerations in his book because according to him, “There is no profit in writing the truth in books. Hiding the facts and mixing your own assertions into the story is something that newspapers do, too.”
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been accused of historical revisionism in an attempt to clean up Japan’s image tarnished by false stories that are encouraged by the South Korean government. But to the Japanese, nationalist or center, what Abe is doing is right.
The Japanese Comfort Women: Are They the Only Ones?
When the term “comfort women” is mentioned, what immediately comes to mind are the victims of the Second World War. Some are claiming that there were approximately 200,000 of them, mostly women from Japan, South Korea and the rest from Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Netherlands and other occupied territories. These women were never brought up in post-war discussions. It wasn’t until 1973 when a book about comfort women was published that interest in the issue grew. The book’s author, Kakou Senda, concentrated on the Japanese comfort system when in fact the practice is found in other parts of the world and exists even to this day.
South Korea, the most vocal critic of Japan’s comfort women, is overwhelmingly silent about its role in the use of sex slavery on its own women. But earlier this year, its own women sued South Korean government for abetting and facilitating their sexual abuses for the gratification of the American troops in post-Korean war time. To joggle the memory, North and South Korea engaged in a civil war from 1950 – 1953. In an inconclusive end, the US military that had backed South Korea stayed behind as a defensive measure should North Korea attack again. While then US President Jimmy Carter determined to withdraw the US military forces from South Korea, eager to please the American soldiers and prevent them from pulling out, the government of South Korea offered their young women to these soldiers for sex. The women were misled into thinking they would be given jobs and ended up in government-backed brothels.
During the Vietnam War in the late 1960s – early 70s, South Korea sent its soldiers to South Vietnam to defend it against the communist North Vietnam. But the South Korean soldiers also used the Vietnamese women as their sex slaves, raping them and forcing them to do acts against their will. A generation of mixed blood Vietnamese children was born out of this period. They are called the Lai Dai Han, a derogatory term for children of Vietnamese mothers and South Korean fathers. They are looked down in society and their mothers, now old, sick and poor are seen as prostitutes and ostracized by their own people.
Except in a 2001 summit when then South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung stated his regrets for the pain that South Korean soldiers had caused pain to the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War, nothing else has been heard from the South Korean side to the Vietnamese counterpart. Current President Park Geun-Hye does not share the attitude of late President Kim, her predecessor, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.
Germany had several military controlled brothels across Europe during World War 2. The women were abducted from Poland, Russia and France, locked up and used as sex slaves for the soldiers in the Third Reich. There were about 500 brothels filled with European comfort women.
Even in the present times, in conflicts in the African countries and other marginalized nations, there have been reports of soldiers and humanitarian workers abusing the native women through rape. These have happened in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Congo. The United Nations has acted upon these crimes by way of the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict.
The latest cases of sexual abuse and slavery come from the ISIS militants. Yazidi girls are tortured by the female British jihadists and raped by the ISIS men in Iraq and Syria.
There are many more documented cases of wartime rape committed by soldiers on helpless women. These include the mass rape of Bosnian Muslim women during the Bosnian war in 1992 – 1995, the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and the rapes of women in the Darfur region in Sudan.
The IWG: Singling Out the Nazi and Japanese War Crimes
When a congressional law helped in the establishment of the IWG in 1999, the search for files on the Nazi and Japanese war crimes was done to aid researchers and historians find more information about them and create a factual historiography. But theorists observed that the US Government is secretly using the IWG for intelligence exploitation and coddling the war criminals instead of punishing them. The IWG gave its final report to Congress on September 2007. Since then, no other event of this magnitude has been examined officially.
The documents that have been declassified have reached more than eight million pages. The sheer volume has rendered most of them un-researched further and unanalyzed until now. Meanwhile, South Korea keeps asking Japan to admit to its atrocities, make a state apology and give financial compensation with money taken from the government coffers, while keeping silent on their atrocities in Vietnam and disputing against their own old women who used to be U.S. comfort women . Until the IWG report is fully dissected, South Korea should control its assault in the face of unverified accounts.