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Officials in DC fighting for reparations

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - It's a measure that has passed the House five times, but this time around the Guam World War Two Loyalty Recognition Act or HR44 is before a new congress with a new attitude and what some might say in need of a history lesson on what happened here in Guam some 67 years ago.

Guam hasn't had a problem in the past when it comes to passing legislation in the House providing war reparations for the survivors of the Japanese occupation, but with new members evidently comes a new attitude. Jeff Landry is a freshman congressman from Louisiana and said, "I'm concerned that if we go forward with this legislative proposal we could be opening Congress up to additional war claims."

Citing a letter from The Heritage Foundation, it was evident Congressman Landry was armed with what he believed was justification to fight off any compensation. "The president of The Heritage Foundation notes that the U.S. bares no blame here and no responsibility we fought to prevent the island from being taken from the Japanese and fought to free it again. Some 3,000 Americans were killed and more than 7,000 wounded in the 1944 battle for the island that's a price paid in blood that can never be made up in mere dollars. Even the Guam War Claim Review Commission stated that the U.S. Government is not obligated as a matter of law to pay such compensation," he said.

During the hearing on H.R. 44 or the Guam World II Loyalty Recognition Act, former Guam congressman and retired Marine Corps brigadier general and survivor of the Japanese occupation Ben Blaz was offended by the congressman's opening remarks and did away with his prepared written statements. "It distresses me so much as a Marine officer that someone from The Heritage Foundation would characterize the death, killed in action that's enough what else do you want us to do what else do you want us to do we liberated you - it shows us an intensely ill-informed person that would write that it presumes that the reason the U.S. came to Guam was to liberate us and that alone," he noted.

Former chairman of the Guam War Claims Review Commission Mauricio Tamargo was also on the witness panel and tried to educate Congressman Landry on the history of Guam's quest for war reparations and why it was not a legal obligation but rather a moral obligation.

It was in 2004 the Commission, which was created by Congress found there was significant disparities in the treatment of war claims for Guam as compared to war claims for other Americans. The Commission also found that the U.S. Government seized Japanese assets during World War II and that the record shows the settlement of claims was meant to be paid from those forfeitures. 

The review commission recommended Congress remedy the injustice and enact legislation to provide claims which is where H.R. 44 comes in. Like Blaz, Tamargo rebuffed the letter from The Heritage Foundation, saying, "These are war claims given to citizens so that no one citizen has disproportionate burden the war soldiers have different programs for them but civilians are given the opportunity to file a war claim if there so eligible. but heritage remarks that soldiers dying on the beaches I have great respect for them but those are apples and oranges we're not talking about soldiers we're talking about civilian populations that suffered war damages and the mission of the commission was to compare the claims program that was given to civilians on Guam and compare it to other U.S. civilians elsewhere in the Pacific and theirs is disparity in that comparison and that's just the facts," he said.

The main issue for Congressman Landry was money, with the federal government confronted with a $15 trillion deficit, he wanted to know where would the compensation come from. "If we're going to award $100 million to one we're gonna have to cut it somewhere else," he said.

It was Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo who then called Landry out, asking that if she could found the offset for the compensation would he then support H.R. 44. "I couldn't commit on that right now, but it certainly would be a starting point," he stated.

According to American Samoa congressman Eni Faleomavaega, he made the point that if billions can be found for the Marines relocation, why not for the survivors of the Japanese occupation. "I really don't believe it's about the money - it's the principal, Mr. Chairman," she strongly said.

Unfortunately for Congressman Landry, he saw it otherwise, adding it's not personal. "It's a very, very sensitive subject and its hard because its personal to people like the general, but those finances are just as personal to the U.S. taxpayer as well and I'm sure governor that the U.S. Government and these congresses have appropriated millions - tens of millions even hundreds of millions of dollars - over the last 50-some odd years in support of infrastructure and things like that," he said. "The tension here is a matter of cost of where are we financially in this country so understand that is why I chose these issues. It was not to slight anyone from a personal standpoint, but I think a lot of U.S. taxpayers are asking those particular questions."

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