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Seventy Years Later, Mitsubishi Apologizes for Using US POWs as Slaves During WWII

Japan's government has twice apologized to US POWs used as forced laborers during World War II, though this is believed to be the first apology from a major Japanese company.

by VICE News
Jul 20 2015, 5:09pm

Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP

Seven decades after World War Two ended, Japanese company Mitsubishi Materials Corporation has made an unprecedented apology to an American prisoner of war (POW) who was forced to toil in mines during the conflict.

James Murphy, now 94 years old, attended a ceremony in California on Sunday on behalf of some 900 of his fellow POWs, very few of whom remain alive.

"This is a glorious day," Murphy said. "For 70 years, we wanted this."

Saying they felt a "deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy," Mitsubishi executives presented the apology privately then publicly to Murphy, of Santa Maria, California, at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer for Mitsubishi, said through a translator that the company offered a "most remorseful apology" to the POWs who suffered "harsh, severe hardships" while forced to work in Mitsubishi mines and industrial plants.

'It was slavery in every way: no food, no medicine, no clothing, no sanitation'

Murphy, who worked in Mitsubishi's copper mines in the war, has described the experience as a "complete horror." 

"It was slavery in every way: no food, no medicine, no clothing, no sanitation," he said.

Murphy stood and shook hands with Kimura and others as cameras clicked throughout the dimly lit museum theater, with giant American and Japanese flags projected side-by-side behind them.

Stanley Gibson, whose late father worked alongside Murphy in the mines, traveled from Scotland to Los Angeles for the ceremony to represent his family after hearing about it in news reports just a few days earlier. On the stage was a photo of the two men being freed from their captors.

The Japanese government has twice apologized to US POWs used as forced laborers during World War II, though Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the center whose primary focus in the past has been Holocaust education, said he believes Sunday's apology is the first from a major Japanese company.

The ceremony was preceded by a private apology that ended with a long, deep bow from the Mitsubishi representatives. "I entered the room with a heavy heart, seeking forgiveness," said Yukio Okamoto, a board member.

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Murphy said that after 70 years it was "the first time we've heard those words. They touch the heart."

The nonagenarian smiled throughout the ceremony, on what he called a happy day. He said the apology "admits to wrongdoing, makes sincere statement showing deep remorse," and offers assurances that the wrongs will never be repeated.

"I know that we can trust those words," Murphy said.

Others, including one Mitsubishi representative, struck a sadder tone over how long the apology took. "We also have to apologize for not apologizing earlier," Okamoto said.

Japan's government issued a formal apology to American POWs in 2009 and again in 2010. But the dwindling ranks of POWs used as slaves at mines and industrial plants have so far had little luck in getting apologies from the corporations who used them, sometimes under brutal conditions.

Murphy said that if he could talk to his fellow POWs who didn't survive long enough he'd tell them to "rest quietly, it's over. We did get our apology."

Related: Japan's Criminals Are More Likely to Be Senior Citizens Than Teenagers

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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