Wrong way on reparations

COMMENTARY Monetary Policy

Wrong way on reparations

May 22, 2007 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.


Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and former president of The Heritage Foundation.

The United States motto is written on most of our money: E Pluribus Unum, "out of many, one." But if Congress has its way, plenty of our dollars will be spent to separate Americans into ethnic groups instead of bringing us together as one people.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the "Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act" May 8 and didn't seem to consider it controversial. The bill breezed through by a wide, 288-133, margin and didn't even undergo the usual debate; lawmakers voted to suspend the rules so it could pass swiftly.

But this bill should not have been noncontroversial. This is no mere measure to rename a Post Office or federal building. If this act becomes law, it would require the Treasury secretary to pay reparations to "Guam residents who were killed, raped, injured, interned, or subjected to forced labor or marches," as well as to "survivors of compensable residents who died in war or survivors of compensable injured residents." The bill could cost taxpayers $126 million.

There are several things wrong with this picture. First, it wasn't the United States that abused the people of Guam. Imperial Japanese troops occupied the island in 1941 (immediately after they attacked Pearl Harbor) and held it for more than three years. As elsewhere, the Japanese invaders treated the population cruelly.

Guam's congressional delegate, Madeleine Bordallo, ignored that history as she tried to explain why the bill was necessary. "There is a moral obligation on the part of our national government to pay compensation for war damages in order to insure to the extent possible that no single individual or group of individuals bears more than a just part of the overall burden of war," she told the House.

But the U.S. bears no blame here, and no responsibility. We fought to prevent the island from being taken by 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 with mere dollars.

Besides, World War II ended 62 years ago. And that brings up another critical point: If the U.S. is supposed to make restitution to people harmed decades ago by one of our (then) enemies, where do we stop?

Residents of the Philippines could demand handouts, since that country was also under U.S. protection before being captured by the Japanese. Korea and China could also make a case, since they also all suffered from Japanese domination.

And that's just Asia. Nazi Germany was equally cruel to residents of the countries it occupied. We certainly can't afford to make restitution to everyone in Eastern Europe. Yet we would likely have to, since it would be difficult to find a religious or ethnic group that didn't suffer during World War II.

But things wouldn't stop there. Once you're on a slippery slope, it's difficult to stop. We might find ourselves making payments to the survivors of Bosnian Muslims killed by Serbs during the 1990s, the descendants of Armenians killed by Greeks during World War I, and certainly the descendants of African-Americans brought to this country as slaves.

The Guam bill is little more than a reparations foot in the door. If it succeeds, we can expect a flood of similar complaints from all corners of the globe. The United States, a country that has fought so hard to spread freedom around the world -- and is still fighting to protect newly won freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan -- would be forced to pay reparations as if we were a human-rights abusing rogue nation.

Our country is unique because it opens its arms to immigrants from everywhere and gives them the chance to become citizens. If we start allowing ethnic groups to make claims on the Treasury because of where they were born, we'll quickly lose the unity that makes our nation work.

We simply can't afford the "Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act."

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in the Washington Times