It has been a long time coming, but American POWs who were forced into slave labor in Japan in the Second World War finally received an apology from Mitsubishi on Monday. The apology came at a ceremony at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and Hikaru Kimura, a senior Mitsubishi exec, delivered the apology in person.

James Murphy, a 94-year American former POW who was forced to work long hours in desperately poor conditions in Japan for the last year or so of the war, attended the ceremony

Of note, the Japanese government apologized to American and other prisoners of war for their unconscionable treatment during the war a number of years ago, but this is the first time a Japanese business has offered a formal apology for its role in using POWs as slave labor.

Mitsubishi Materials Japan

More on Mitsubishi’s apology for POW slave labor in WWII

Mega-conglomerate Mitsubishi already admitted to having held around 900 American prisoners-of-war when allied forces liberated its labor camps in 1945.

Documents showed that 27 Americans died in Mitsubishi’s labor camps and many others suffered lifelong health problems relating to the grueling conditions, frequent beatings, poor sanitation and lack of food and medical care in the slave labor factories and camps.

Historians note that close to 12,000 American prisoners of war were transported to Japan and forced to work to support Japan’s war effort. More over, more than 1200 of those American POWS died, notes Kinue Tokudome, the director of the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, who has been a major part of lobbying effort to pressure Japanese companies to apologize for their actions in World War II.

Of note, Mitsubishi Materials claims a corporate philosophy of being a company “for people, society and the Earth.”

“In keeping with the spirit of our company’s mission statement, today we apologize remorsefully for the tragic events in our past, and expressed our profound determination to work toward a better future,” Hikaru Kimura, a senior Mitsubishi Materials exec, said as a part of his apology at the Monday ceremony.

Kimura also performed a deep bow of remorse to Murphy after his remarks, who was visibly moved by the gesture.

Statement from former POW James Murphy

In a statement released after the apology ceremony, Murphy commented, “Being one of the few surviving workers of that time. I find it to be my duty and responsibility to accept Mr. Kimura’s apology.”

Murphy was a POW in Japan for a little more than a year from 1944 to 1945, and was forced into slave labor a copper mine held by Mitsubishi in Japan. In an interview with the AP, Murphy said his that his experience working in the copper mine was a complete horror, “slavery in every way.”

In his statement, however, Murphy was clearly optimisic. “Hopefully,” he said, “the acceptance of this sincere apology will bring some closure and relief to the age-old problems confronting the surviving former Prisoners of War and to their family members.”

Japan looking to move beyond World War II in global politics

The decision by Misubishi to apologize comes when the Japanese government seems to be trying to move beyond the nation’s wartime atrocities as part of a move to rebuild its military power abroad, a policy that had something that had been banned by its constitution that was implemented after the Second World War.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently prevailed in a crucial vote in Parliament on a bill to give the army and navy limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts. This is the first time since World War II that the Japanese military could potentially be stationed abroad.

According to the New York Times: “The vote was the culmination of months of contentious debate in a society that has long embraced pacifism to atone for wartime aggression. It was a significant victory for Mr. Abe, a conservative politician who has devoted his career to moving Japan beyond guilt over its militarist past and toward his vision of a “normal country” with a larger role in global affairs.”

Political analysts also point out that Abe has visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan’s dead from World War II, on several occasions. Abe’s government has also downplayed the Japanese military’s use of “comfort women” in military brothels in the war that forced Chinese and other Asian girls into a grinding prostitution cum sexual slavery.