Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945 brought the Pacific War, and ultimately WWII, to an end. As in any war, after the cessation of hostilities, sensitive issues needed to be managed in order to maintain new relationships between former enemies. Reparations and compensation for wartime actions became the first of these issues. For the U.S., its former Allies, and Japan, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty included provisions to settle war claims, on a state-level, between the former combatants. Separate bilateral treaties were signed in subsequent years for those states that were not signatories to the 1951 Peace Treaty. For the duration of the Cold War, all sides appeared to be satisfied with the postwar settlement. And yet, as soon as the Cold War ended, demands for compensation and apology emerged in both the U.S. and Japan by WWII veterans, former prisoners of war (POW), former forced laborers, and comfort women.
There have been two main avenues pursued by these individuals and groups:legislative and judicial. The judicial avenue is a direct avenue open to those seeking compensation and apology for WWII sufferings. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits file a suit against a government (usually foreign) or against a private company that operated during the war. The legislative option is an indirect avenue open to those seeking compensation and apology for WWII sufferings. Individuals, or groups that represent individuals, lobby domestic political representatives to press for bills or resolutions that demand compensation or apologies from governments (mostly foreign) and/or companies for the damages they inflicted during the war. This section will deal with the judicial option.
Unlike the legislative proceedings, judicial proceedings involve a much more diverse set of actors and locations. Lawsuits have been introduced by American, British, Chinese, and Korean nationals in both the American and Japanese judicial systems. The majority of the lawsuits have been directed against the Japanese government and Japanese companies that operated during the war.
The issue is far from resolved. Some settlements have been made, but most continue in appeal. Because of the difficulties encountered in courts, many countries’ legislatures have proposed bills to compensate those still seeking individual settlement from the war.
Below are presented brief summaries for some of the more prominent cases concerning POWs/forced laborers and comfort women in both the U.S. and Japan. Where available, court documents have been provided. Otherwise, newspaper reports and scholarly works have been relied on to gather the facts presented. As with all aspects of this website, any updated information or corrections concerning the data listed are welcome.