Interview with Mr. RALPH LEVENBERG, Past National Commander of ADBC

Mr. Ralph Levenberg, Major, USAF (Retired), was the National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor (ADBC) from 1979 to 1980.

In 1994, he joined, on behalf of ADBC, the group of ex-POWs of the Japanese from other former Allied countries in an appeal to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights regarding these countries' failure in addressing the injustice suffered by POWs of the Japanese during WWII. 

The appeal was based on the denial of a previous appeal with respect to the "gross violations of human rights" committed by Japan against American POWs during WWII.  
(Excerpts from the appeal document for UNCHR prepared by Mr. Levenberg)  

Although their appeal was again denied, it led to the payment by Canada, the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia to their former POWs of the Japanese. The United States is the only country that has not done so.

How did you become involved in the appeal to the United Nations Commission on  Human Rights?

I became involved in the appeal to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) by virtue of my position with the American Defenders of Bataan & Corregidor.  At the time I was the Public Affairs Officer for the organization, and did a lot of writing and traveling for that group.  I was quite involved with the group known as Hong Kong Veterans of Canada.  That group was preparing to go to Geneva to appear before the Commission, and, they asked if I would appear on behalf of the ADBC.  My group (ADBC) approved of my travel and away we went.

When you went to Geneva, what did you do?

When we arrived in Geneva, after becoming settled, I went to the office of the American Ambassador to the United Nations, The Honorable Madeline Albright.  I presented my credentials as is required of anyone appearing before a government entity.  I even invited that office staff to appear for my presentation.

Were they helpful?

The entire staff of the American Embassy seemed totally uninterested in my reason for appearing before the Commission.  And, in fact, not one person from that office appeared at the conference during our presentations.  They were very uninterested in anything pertaining to veterans and especially former prisoners of war.

Why do you think the appeal failed? 

I felt that I presented a very good presentation and appeal to the Commission.  They were very friendly and cooperative, however, they did not appear to be interested in processing our appeal further.  In fact, one of the answers to our later inquiries was that "The Human Rights Commission had not yet been formed when all of the terrible atrocities occurred, therefore, that body really had NO authority to take any further action on our appeal".  They did thank us for our appearance.  Although the group at the UNCHR was most congenial, I felt that they accepted our appeal as "just another group of representatives trying to get something via the UNCHR."  They really did not care!

After these efforts at UNCHR failed, all former Allied countries compensated their POWs of the Japanese. Several bills to do the same have been introduced in the US Congress, but none was successful. We now have a new bill both in the Senate and the House. Do you see any hope?

Each of the compensation bills which were approved in the past, were denied by either the President or some other very high ranking member of the Administration, as not really important enough to gain anything for the political group in power.  (A compensation bill introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch in 2003 was approved by both Houses but was later removed.) I feel that our continuous appeals will result in the same fate, unless one of the more powerful representatives in the Congress stands up and demands that the American government does something that all of the other Allied governments having former POWs in the Japanese POW camps, has already accomplished. 

Our government needs to feel the SHAME that it has hanging over its head due to the failure for acting on these former approved legislations.  Having received letters from my Congressional representatives, acknowledging their knowledge of the Bills now pending, I can only hope that they will act in a supportive way toward approving this legislation.

Once again, we are attempting to insure that the American government recognizes the agony, the horrors and the continued suffering that the former prisoners of war go through each and every day of their lives.  As I ended my presentation in Geneva, I stated that "we shall never be whole again as a result of our experiences as POWs of the Japanese." 

                                                                                             (interview by Kinue Tokudome)