Testimonial of Bill Hegerich

Bill Hegerich
Head – Social Studies Teacher
Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science/Academy of Law and Public Safety
Ocean County Vocational and Technical School
Toms River, NJ 08753
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant

The Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour, run through NJ-ALPHA, took delegates from the United States, Canada, and Hong Kong on an exclusive investigation of China and South Korea. In these two nations, participants intimately connected to the multi-generational fallout of World War 2— known in China as the War of Japanese Aggression in Asia. The experience drew heavily on eyewitness accounts of first, second, and third generations of survivors and their families. The modern impact of a war fought in the first half of the last century remains catastrophic: the physical pain, emotional distress, and economic fallout are still very much alive— with effects that will reverberate far into the future.

Today, elderly continue to frequent treatment centers for rotting flesh wounds they received from biological and chemical warfare and experiments. Today, youth learn of a grievous history from their grandmothers—as young girls they were abducted as sex-slaves in a prolific network of rape centers throughout Asia. Today, aspiring students of China and Korea (as well as countless Asian nationals), carrying all of the zeal and optimism of youth, learn of genocidal acts that were carried out among millions of their ancestors; some still living, many surviving as paupers, scarred and shamed.

What happened? Why, in world of such diversity and cultural connectedness, does there exist a hidden world of scars of an atrocity comparable to the most egregious acts of our modern world? Unraveling the truths of these crimes leads to a host of answers entangled in a history that is both complicated— weaving the geo-political fallout of WW2 with the frenzied rise of the Cold War— and disturbing— a history that engineered the cover-up of atrocities so foul that they cross the razor’s edge of genocide.

A retrospective comparison of outcomes from targeted atrocities on noncombatants in the European West and the Asian East illuminates essential elements of why much of the War of Japanese Aggression remains unreconciled with an uneasy peace. The outcome of this world war brought two very different models in shaping the geo-politics of the modern world.

The first model, familiar across the globe, is the justice brought on to the Nazi regime with an unswerving focus on the appalling series of war crimes committed by the Third Reich. Although the course of justice was not perfect, nonetheless, decades following that regime’s collapse demanded the downfall of its government, reparations for victims, and a resolute and comprehensive apology from the contemporary German state. As world powers demanded modern Germany take ownership of its dark past, Germany, in turn, has become an example of humanitarianism for troubled nations, economic partnership, and diplomacy.

The second model runs in a parallel timeline with Germany, with far darker results. This Eastern model is rooted in the chaotic ruins of the Pacific. The military machine of Japan had surrendered, and with it, this government’s war crimes laid bare and marauders exposed. Modeling the approach of the post-Nazi European justice and reconciliation would not happen. Rather, in the mayhem of the escalating Cold War, the United States and its political friends brought the shattered remnants of Imperial Japan under its wing. This alliance brought a deal largely void of reconciliation, guilt, and reparations that had been demanded in Germany; war criminals from every echelon of the Imperial infrastructure were largely absolved of culpability in exchange for an unfettered alliance that included military bases, economic partnership, and political oversight. In turn, atrocities were hidden— details convoluted, evidence destroyed, secrets obtained in sadism shared, and sex criminals free to return home to their families.

Through the ALPHA study program we learn that peace without true reconciliation is a monumental challenge. Befriending victims who continue to suffer from physical and emotional wounds illustrate how crucial true justice is to build an international community that seeks peace through diplomacy, rather than war.

Global standards for justice and reconciliation in crimes of atrocity need to be continually refined and held in the highest regard. In honoring the memory of victims, and protecting the future vulnerable, all nations need to be held to rigid accountability. When the unimaginable crimes of atrocity manifest itself again, the guilty should be quickly exposed in entirety.

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