Nationalist Politician Riles Japan’s Neighbors
Where neighboring nations see a historic outrage, some Japanese see yesterday’s papers. A recent spate of revisionist comments by Japanese government officials “resonates with Japanese who feel that Japan has been a whipping boy for the war for far too long,” says military historian Edward Drea. “It’s over and forgotten [by the Japanese], so why all the sensationalism about longago events?”
Drea was reacting to Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto’s May remarks to the effect that “comfort women”—as the Japanese referred to young women they forced into prostitution—were a wartime necessity for Japanese military men in need of relaxation.
Hashimoto’s inflammatory declaration followed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to Yasukuni Shrine honoring war dead—including 14 convicted war criminals—and hints by Abe that Japan would rethink an official apology to women it enslaved, the 1993 Kono Statement.
The Chinese and Koreans remember in detail how Japanese forces kidnapped most of the 200,000 comfort women from their populations. And those nations reacted with astonished rage to Hashimoto’s comments to Japanese media that “anyone can understand” the need for such actions. “Soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives,” he said. “If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary.”
“We are appalled and indignant at the Japanese politician’s remarks boldly challenging humanity and historical justice,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Hashimoto, 43, claimed that his comments were taken out of context. He founded the Japan Restoration Party last year with fellow nationalist and former Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara.
The latest uproar came amid ire in Asia, as Japan and China sparred over islands in the South China Sea. But after Hashimoto spoke out, the Abe government moved to mend one fence, with the legislature passing a resolution endorsing the 1993 apology to the women.
A Legendary Lensman’s Camera—and the Image of Allied Victory He Captured—Bring Big Bucks at Auction
A signed print of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photo of a couple kissing on V-J Day in Times Square fetched more than $31,000 in a May 24–25 auction in Vienna, Austria. The camera that captured the image brought nearly $148,000, more than four times the estimate for the 1937 model. The auction, by WestLicht, shows the brand’s lasting allure. A 1931 Leica sold for $683,000.
Named for company founder Ernst Leitz II— drawn from the words “Leitz Camera”—the whisper-quiet rangefinder debuted in 1923. Thanks to superb engineering and optical quality, and ties to famous hobbyists like aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, Leitz soon was selling 35,000 cameras a year. The Luftwaffe used the 250- frame “Reporter” for aerial work, and for much of the war Leitz made optics for the German military.
But Leitz was no Nazi stooge. He backed leftist groups and saved more than 60 lives by sending Jewish workers and those wed to Jews abroad and out of German hands. The firm’s military business generally protected the Leitz family, but in 1943 daughter Elsie spent three months in a Gestapo prison for aiding a woman trying to flee to safety in Switzerland.
POW’s Coded Letters Deciphered Seven Decades Later
It sounded like a gardener’s musings: “Many seeds are left, being saved from several plants which did very well some time ago. Our last year’s harvest was extremely good. Well worth repeating again for this year.”
But the message had nothing to do with any vegetable patch. It was a coded dispatch from British prisoner John Pryor, written inside the POW camp Marlag und Milag Nord in northeast Germany. Decoded, the copy reads: “HMS Undine attack failure. Trawler depth-charged, scuttled in 70 feet, three burnt”—a reference to the fate of a British submarine.
More than 70 years after they were written, the codes in Pryor’s letters have been cracked by researchers at Britain’s Plymouth University. Pryor knew British censors would intercept his letters to his family—and pass them on to intelligence agency MI9, which communicated with POWs and partisans using codes.
Pryor, captured at Dunkirk, forgot about the letters for decades; in time, he also forgot the code itself. He died in 2011. His son, Stephen, an administrator at Plymouth University, mentioned the letters to Barbara Bond, a doctoral student researching MI9.
They enlisted mathematics professor David McMullan, who broke the code. Pryor’s letters contain a signal letting informed readers know if a coded message follows. If so, code words alternate every fourth and fifth word. Some cue the start of a more intricate code.
The researchers have decoded 21 Pryor letters. One, dated December 12, 1942, identifies “large munitions dumps just south of new bridge at Barkau on new Berlin-Marienburg road.” A May 7, 1942, letter requests items of possible use in an escape: clothing, maps, Swiss passport information, and German currency. The letters also reveal that Pryor taught the code to four fellow POWs.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.