Seventy five years after Imperial Japanese Army forces invaded the US-held territory of Guam on December 8, 1941 — leading to the rape, abuse, and killing of many of the island’s residents during the four years of its occupation by Japan — the US federal government is poised to provide reparations to Guam’s World War II survivors. Last week, Congress quietly included a measure to provide reparations to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which establishes military spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
The spending bill was passed by the House in May with bipartisan support, with the vast majority of Republicans and 40 Democrats voting in favour. It was introduced by Senator John McCain and passed the Senate with 92 votes last Thursday. The Act is now headed to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.
The inclusion of reparations for Guam’s World War II survivors in the 2017 NDAA is the culmination of a decades-old fight by Guam to have the US federal government recognize the significant war crimes committed against Guam’s indigenous people during the four-year occupation of the US territory by Japan.
In 1941, the US government largely ceded the territory to Japanese control after deciding not to increase military fortifications of Guam in the face of a likely Japanese invasion. This decision effectively abandoned the island’s more than 20,000 indigenous people — who by virtue of America’s standing claim of Guam as a US territory are American citizens — to Japanese control.
In the subsequent four years of Japanese rule, Guam’s indigenous people — the Chamorros — endured life under Japanese military occupation when many of their day-to-day activities and cultural practices were restricted. By the end of World War II, as Japan feared military defeat, Chamorros were forced at gunpoint to build defense infrastructure to ward off an American invasion of the island; those who refused were maimed or killed. Tens of thousands of Chamorros were also ordered into forced relocation into hastily built caps in the centre of the island, which resulted in the further loss of many Chamorro lives. American military forces landed at Guam on July 21, 1944 and killed most of the Japanese forces occupying the island, returning the island’s indigenous people to American control.
Earlier this year, an advocacy group for Guam’s World War II survivors announced a plan to sue the US federal government for reparations related to the brutal violence that they endured during the Japanese occupation. Now, Congress has included the following Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act:
Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act
TITLE LXXIII–GUAM WORLD WAR II LOYALTY RECOGNITION ACT
(Sec. 7302) Recognizes the suffering and the loyalty of the residents of Guam during the Japanese occupation of Guam in World War II.
(Sec. 7303) Directs the Department of the Treasury to establish a fund for the payment of claims submitted by compensable Guam victims and survivors of compensable Guam decedents.
(Sec. 7304) Directs Treasury to make specified payments to: (1) living Guam residents who were raped, severely injured, interned, subjected to forced labor or marches, or forced to hide to evade internment, as a result of, or incident to, such occupation and subsequent liberation; and (2) survivors of compensable residents who died in war (after payments have been made to surviving Guam residents).
(Sec. 7305) Directs the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to adjudicate claims and determine the eligibility of individuals for payments. Specifies procedures and requirements for filing claims, adjudicating claims, and making payments.
(Sec. 7306) Requires the Department of the Interior to establish a grant program for research, educational, and media activities that memorialize the events surrounding the occupation of Guam during World War II or honor the loyalty of the people of Guam during such occupation.
(Sec. 7307) Authorizes appropriations for: (1) Guam World War II Claims Payments and Adjudication, and (2) the Guam World War II Grants Program.
If the bill is signed by President Obama, Guam’s World War II survivors and their family will be entitled to up to $25,000 related for each filed claim. Sadly, this Act may come too late for many Chamorros: advocates say that many of Guam’s “greatest generation” continue to pass away every day. Reported the Pacific Daily News earlier this year on the announced lawsuit against the US federal government:
Former Lt. Gov. Frank Blas Sr., a WWII survivor, said the issue isn’t about money, but about recognition for him and other war survivors who suffered during the war.
He said the act would show the United States’ sincerity towards the people of Guam.
“Where is the justice for our sufferings?” he said.
He said there needs to be closure soon because the reality is that survivors are dying every day.
“What would it take for us here on Guam to be recognized,” he said.