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Mitsubishi bosses apologise for enslaving US PoWs

Published 20/07/2015

Left to right, Mitsubishi Materials executives Yukio Okamoto and Hikaru Kimura apologise and shake hands with 94-year-old ex-PoW James Murphy (AP)
Left to right, Mitsubishi Materials executives Yukio Okamoto and Hikaru Kimura apologise and shake hands with 94-year-old ex-PoW James Murphy (AP)

Bosses from a major Japanese corporation have issued an unprecedented apology to a 94-year-old US prisoner of war for using American PoWs for forced labour during the Second World War.

James Murphy, of Santa Maria, California, accepted the apology he had sought for 70 years on behalf of the PoWs from Mitsubishi Materials executives, who said they felt a "deep sense of ethical responsibility for a past tragedy".

The solemn ceremony was hosted by the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles.

Hikaru Kimura, senior executive officer for Mitsubishi Materials, said through a translator that the company offered a "most remorseful apology" to the about 900 PoWs who suffered "harsh, severe hardships" while forced to work in Mitsubishi mines and industrial plants.

Mr Murphy, who toiled in Mitsubishi copper mines and is one of the few left alive to accept such an apology, called it sincere, humble and revealing.

"This is a glorious day," said Mr Murphy, who stood tall and slender in a grey suit at the ceremony and looked much younger than his 94 years. "For 70 years we wanted this."

He shook hands with Mr Kimura and others as giant American and Japanese flags were projected side-by-side behind them.

Other PoWs subjected to forced labour sat in the audience along with many members of Mr Murphy's family.

Stanley Gibson, whose late father worked alongside Mr Murphy in the mines, flew 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 liberated from their captors.

The Japanese government has twice apologised to US PoWs used as forced labourers during the war.

But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the centre whose primary focus in the past has been Holocaust education, said he and the event's other organisers believed the apology was unprecedented from a major Japanese company.

Rabbi Cooper, Mr Murphy and others who spoke urged more Japanese companies to come forward to express their own remorse.

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, outside board member for Mitsubishi.

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

Gracious and beaming throughout the ceremony, Mr Murphy expressed little bitterness or sorrow on what he called a happy day. He stressed that the apology was not half-hearted, qualified or self-aggrandising for Mitsubishi.

He said the apology "admits to wrongdoing, makes sincere statement showing deep remorse" and offered assurances that the wrongs would never be repeated.

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

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

Japan's government issued a formal apology to American PoWs in 2009 and again in 2010. But the dwindling ranks of prisoners 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.

About 12,000 American prisoners were shipped to Japan and forced to work at more than 50 sites to support imperial Japan's war effort, and about 10% died, said Kinue Tokudome, director of the US-Japan Dialogue on PoWs, who has spearheaded the lobbying effort for companies to apologise.

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