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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

June 11, 2007 |  4:13 pm

June 11, 1957

Our national concern for the plight of soldier William Girard has, from the start, struck me as oddly misplaced.

As well as I can understand it, we're upset because the United States has failed to stand behind the young soldier. And has, instead, given a foreign country permission to decide his fate.

Suddenly, it's a matter of monumental importance.

And absurdity.

Because if soldier Girard's personal well-being were the issue, common sense would tell us to stop worrying right now.

And be thankful that Japan, rather than the United States Army, is going to handle the case.

Now that the soldier's killing of a Japanese housewife has achieved global notoriety, whoever gets the case will be forced into a backbreaking lean toward justice.

If Japan tries him, that country will be in the delicate position of having to prove to us, and the world, that its justice is pure and impartial.

It's an interesting fact that since the U.S.-Japan treaty permitting the latter country to try our soldiers went into effect, American servicemen have committed more than 14,000 infractions of Japanese law.

And that all but about 400 of them were turned over to the U.S. military for trial.

Of even greater interest, however, is the fact that there are, at present, some 40 U.S. servicemen in Japanese prisons, convicted by Japanese courts.

They are there for crimes as serious as murder and rape.

But the most severe sentence yet passed on any of them was eight years' imprisonment.

It's fairly obvious that Japan has made a conscious effort to prove to us that its justice is tempered with mercy.

1957_0611_girardBut what would happen if Girard were suddenly thrown back to us--and his fate became our responsibility.

The whole big mocking world would be watching us.

Especially Asia.

And it would be our obligation to prove that we play no favorites, either.

The tendency, I fear, would be to throw the book at Girard.

And he would end up as a martyred pawn for our desperate effort for friendly foreign relations.

It's my personal feeling that American soldiers, when told to serve on foreign soil, should be disciplined by our own government.

But we made a treaty with Japan, granting that country certain judicial rights.

And a review of American history shows that when we sign a piece of paper, we do so with the intention of living up to our signature.

Japan's national bitterness in the Girard case, coupled with the recent trouble in Formosa, is worth a pause for thought.

Can we, who try so hard to be liked, be botching matters up so badly in Asia?

I asked the question of Dr. Bob Pierce, president of World Vision Inc., this week.

Pierce, a frequent Far East visitor and the man directly responsible for the establishment of a permanent aid program for 8,600 Korean orphans, denied that we were.

"It might be more accurate," he said, "to call us victims of the rise of nationalism now sweeping Asiatic countries.

"In Japan, for example, the people can once again see possibilities for national achievement."

"Are we," I asked, "standing in their way?"

Pierce nodded uncertainly. "In a way. They still remember us as conquerors, and as such, we're a hindrance.

"They want to be leaders in their part of the world, but they figure the first necessary step is to impress us.

"Exaggerated incidents like the Girard case are expressions of the cumulative frustrations of the people"

I asked Pierce for his opinion on the treaty which will let Japan try Girard.

"Missionaries," he answered, "must be prepared to accept the consequences of foreign laws.

"But with soldiers, it's not the same. They're not necessarily there because they asked to be."