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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Unbroken' is an Unwelcome Film for Some Japanese

'Unbroken,' Angelina Jolie's film about the inhuman treatment of Allied captives in Japanese prisoner of war camps during World War II, is angering some Japanese who are calling for a boycott of the film in Japan.

The film, which opens Christmas day in the U.S., focuses mainly on the story of Louis Zamperini, who survived more than two years of horrendous treatment at the hands of his Japanese captors.

It is based on Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling book, "Unbroken," which detailed Zamperini's life as an Olympic athlete, his wartime role as a bombardier on a B-24 and his eventual capture by the Japanese after his plane was shot down.

Jolie and Zamperini
Zamperini, who died this past July at the age of 97, forgave his captors for their merciless treatment of him and other POWS, but many Japanese are still unwilling to admit the atrocities their troops committed throughout Asia during World War II.

This is not the first time a film about Japanese atrocities has sparked outrage in Japan.

In 1990, when I was the Chicago Tribune's Chief Asia Correspondent, I wrote about a graphic Australian film entitled 'Blood Oath.' 

That film enraged Japanese Nationalists who still deny that the Imperial Japanese Army committed any wartime crimes--including the slaughter of some 200,000-300,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed POWs in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing in 1937.

'Blood Oath,' which was released in the U.S. under the title 'Prisoners of the Sun,' depicts the plight of Allied POWs from 1942 to 1945 on the Indonesian island of Ambon. Ambon was the site of one of Japan's most infamous prisoner of war camps. Of the 1,150 Australian, Dutch and American POWs interned on the island, fewer than 300 were still alive when British and Australian troops retook Ambon in 1945.

When they did, they made the grisly discovery of 314 decapitated POWs in one mass grave--beheaded by Japanese soldiers wielding razor-sharp samurai swords.

At the Australian War Crimes Tribunal held on Ambon in 1946 about half of the 91 Japanese officers and enlisted men accused as war criminals were convicted and given death sentences or long prison terms.
Beheading of a Chinese POW
"Most young Japanese today don't even know that Japan fought a war against the United States, let alone about what happened in Ambon," says Toshi Shioya, the Japanese actor who portrayed a soldier convicted and executed for war crimes committed on the Indonesian island of Ambon.

Shioya not only acted in the film, but worked tirelessly to get it released in Japan.

"This was the first film ever shown in Japan that actually portrays ordinary Japanese soldiers as accomplices in war crimes," Shioya said. "We were lucky to find a distributor willing to show the film because for many Japanese, this was a shocking motion picture."

Unlike 'Prisoners of the Sun,' Jolie's 'Unbroken' is yet to be released in Japan. And while some Japanese may decry the film's portrayal of Japanese cruel treatment of Allied POW's, it is impossible to argue with the facts.

U.S. Department of Defense figures show that almost 40 per cent of all Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese died in captivity while just 1 per cent of American POWs died in Germany prisoner of war camps.

But unlike Germany, Japan's wartime iniquities have gone largely unpunished. There have been no Simon Wiesenthals to hunt down Japanese war criminals, and only a relative handful of Japanese military leaders were put on trial for atrocities.

As a result, generations of Japanese have grown up with only the sketchiest knowledge that Japan may have done something wrong in the 1930s and 1940s and that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were considered by many to be justifiable retribution.

Anti-Japanese feeling still exists in places like China and Korea where the heavy boot of Imperial Japan was most in evidence. In 1990, during a visit to Japan, then South Korean President Roh Tae Woo received an apology for Japan's 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula from Emperor Akihito, the prime minister and parliament. But for many Koreans, none of the apologies went far enough.

"Human beings tend to be sensitive to and vividly remember their own sufferings," said Takashi Koshida, author of a two-volume work about the Japanese army's activities in 16 Asian nations during the war.

Zamperini when liberated from Japanese POW camp
"In the case of the Japanese, the sufferings were the atomic bombings, the air raids and the military conscription. I would say it has taken almost 60 years for the Japanese to realize that they were aggressors . . . and that they caused other people to suffer."

One group of Japanese for whom 'Prisoners of the Sun' has particular significance is the Ambon Remembrance Society, an organization of 100 Navy veterans who served as guards in the POW camp.

"After I watched this film the first time I felt as though I had swallowed lead. . . . I felt very heavy and dark inside," said Yoshiro Ninomiya, a former Navy sub-lieutenant assigned to the camp.
Ninomiya, who is the society's secretary-general, has seen "Blood Oath" five times, and he said, "It has made me think about a lot of things (that happened on Ambon)."

Shioya has spent long hours talking with former Japanese soldiers who served at the camp.

"One man still has nightmares about what he did on the island," Shioya said. "This man, who served a 15-year prison sentence after the war, told me of how one day in 1943 he was ordered to decapitate three captured American pilots with his sword.

"As his sword passed through the neck of one pilot, photographs of the man's mother, his wife and a baby fell out of his shirt pocket and lay on the ground staring up at him.  "He is still haunted by that scene today."

Check out these links for a trailer on Prisoners of the Sun and a synopsis by imdb.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Little Advice for New Authors

Fellow author Amy Neftzger recently wrote a column for a writer's group that I belong to called BookDaily in which she provided some good advice for novice writers.

Amy is an author of fiction for both adults and children and you can find out more about her and her work at her website:

I thought I would share her prescient thoughts with you so I am turning my blog over to her for today.
Amy Neftzger

Starting Out As a Writer: 5 Things You Should Know
By Amy Neftzger

Becoming an author is a long road to walk, and most people have no idea how long it takes to become successful or what they need to do when traveling this road. There are a lot of different ways to get to the end of it, but here are a few suggestions I have to help you along on this journey.

1. Success is not immediate

Many people think that publishing a book is like winning the lottery: you just put the book up for sale and then watch the royalties roll in. The truth is that simply putting your work out there will not make it sell. Readers have too many choices, and when they want a new book they tend to stick with what they know: authors they’ve already read. It takes quite a bit of time to build a following, so patience is the name of the game here. This is true whether you’re self or traditionally published.

2. In order to do it well, you will need help.

Don’t assume that you can write, edit, design layout, format, create cover artwork, and market your book all on your own. If you’re with a traditional publisher they will help with most of these things. If you’re self-published, you’ll need to find a way to get all these things done. You may be multi-talented but you’re still only one person and you may even have another job that currently pays your bills. So there’s the time factor to consider: If you do everything yourself then you’re spending a lot of time doing things other than writing. Aside from the time, when you do everything yourself your work tends to lack the balance that other people can add. Your finances may be limited, so figure out what you’re better at and where you’re weaker and seek affordable help for your weaker areas.

3. The market is currently flooded.

There are a lot of books out there and the number is growing, so readers have a lot of choices. What this means is that your book needs to be the best it can possibly be, because a less polished work simply won’t get any traction in a flooded market. This means that you may want to consider using beta readers to get feedback, and if you’re self-published you should definitely hire an editor and maybe even a proofreader.

4. Reader experience is everything.

People read books for the experience it provides. Your book should be designed to provide it and avoid anything that detracts from it.Things that pull away from the experience are glitches in plot development, spelling or layout errors, and errors in logic. maintaining a logical and believable flow to the plot will enhance reader experience, so use a good outline and be sure that the characters and situations are believable (even in fantasy).

5. It’s worth the effort

If you love to write and it’s in your blood, then you’ll find that all the work you put into producing your book is worth your time. The key is to keep working and improving your craft and to grow as a writer.

About the Author:

Amy Neftzger is the author of fiction books for both adults and children. She has also been published in business and academic journals, as well as literary publications. A few of her favorite things include traveling, books, movies, art, the Oxford comma, and gargoyles.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What is Happening to the News Media?

I hear that question all the time. I hear it mainly because my friends and relatives  know I spent almost 30 years of my life in the news business--first as a general assignment reporter, then as a foreign correspondent, then as an editor.

Later I became a professor of journalism and dean of a journalism program at a major university where I spent a lot of time researching the media.

So I know the news business inside and out. I have worked in it, I have studied it and now, like a lot of other people, I wonder about its usefulness and value.

Several factors have combined to alter the media landscape from the one I entered right out of college in 1970 or so.

Some argue that new technologies have had a deleterious impact on the media. There is no doubt that the old business models that once worked for newspapers, television and radio have changed. Advertising revenues have plummeted and news organizations find themselves scrambling to stay financially afloat.

Add to that the fact that the Internet, the blogosphere, and social media have all united to create a new world of pseudo-journalists who are not held to the same standards of excellence that we "professionals" once were and the picture looks bleak.

Sadly, today's "professionals" often are not being held to that higher standard either. Witness the recent fallout over the Rolling Stone story on the bogus gang rape at the University of Virginia that is being walked back because not a single detail could be corroborated.

Or the kind of "personal" and "participatory" journalism that would have gotten me run out of the Chicago Tribune's newsroom back in the early 1970s. I can almost hear my old city editor yelling:

"You can't write this kind of opinionated crap here!"

Yet, "opinionated crap" is often what we read in newspapers today or see on TV news programs.
I can recall discussions we used to have in news meetings about how to involve our readers more in the news gathering process--a noble idea, up to a point.

Today, those discussions have become reality because of The Internet, bloggers, social media, etc. The media are more interactive than ever.  That's not always a bad thing, but it becomes toxic when news organizations confuse "crowdsourcing" with old fashioned news gathering.

Now we are bombarded with stupid, unscientific "polls" and inane commentary from readers and viewers. No wonder glib MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber says the American electorate is "stupid." It is difficult not to come to that conclusion when you read or listen to some of these comments.

News organizations need to be more than simple aggregators of information. They need to provide knowledgeable, unbiased context for an informed citizenry. Unfortunately, there is little impartial context and even fewer citizens who are adequately informed.

News is often nothing more than "infotainment." It is a prejudicial mix of imprecise information and imprudent stories geared to titillate, rather than inform.

I used to tell my students we needed more of what I call "spinach journalism?" What is spinach journalism? you ask.

It is journalism intended to inform and educate. In essence we are telling news consumers: "Here, read this, watch this, listen to this, it's GOOD FOR YOU!"

Newspapers especially were once the mirrors for the communities they served. They reflected the people and events, the good and the bad of their communities. Granted, the mirrors were not always free of distortion, but at least there were tough professional editors and producers who cracked the whip and kept reporters focused on facts rather than the fiction and opinion we too often see today.

Sadly, I fear there are far too few of those tough and demanding newsroom mentors around today and too many reporters who think the news is theirs to manipulate and mold to fit their worldview or political ideologies.

Along those lines, I am amazed at how far many journalists seem willing to go to protect a Washington administration that has been the most opaque, intrusive and hostile to press freedom than any in recent history.  

It makes me wonder what happened to the traditional role of the press? That role is to act as the de-facto "fourth estate" of government. Journalists, I was always told, were to be the watchdogs of government, not its lapdogs.

As someone once said, journalists should "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

That is happening less and less today. It is much easier to write stories that reflect one's own values than to get out of one's comfort zone and enter unfamiliar and even disagreeable territory in the search for truth.

Veracity is seldom found within the confines of our own narrow opinions. All we will find there is further reinforcement for what we already hold to be true.

So when people ask me what is happening to America's news media--once the strongest and freest in the world--I have only one answer: 

"Where's the spinach?"

Monday, December 8, 2014

Do America's Enemies Deserve Our Respect and Empathy?

In a recent speech at Georgetown University Hillary Clinton urged Americans to empathize with and respect our enemies--namely Islamic fanatics who want to kill us and obliterate our way of life.

After those words were uttered by a woman who apparently wants to be America's next president, I think I heard Gen. George S. Patton bellowing epithets from the grave. Patton was notorious for his epithets.

Patton, the no nonsense American general known as "blood and guts" who helped push the Germans out of North Africa and Sicily during WW II and who drove the U.S. Third Army deep into the heart of Germany, said this about America's enemies:

“May God have mercy on my enemies because I won't.” 

That's poles apart from what Hillary Clinton had to say last week about America's enemies and how we should deal with them:
"Show Respect for America's Enemies"

"This is what we call smart power...showing respect, even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view."

I can just imagine what Patton would say about "smart power" and the preposterous notion that we should have respect for and empathize with our enemy's point of view.

He no doubt would have used one of his favorite words: Bullshit!

I wonder how Hillary's statement might have resonated if she had made it during WW II after the world learned what the Nazi's did in death camps like Auschwitz and what the Japanese did in places like Nanking, China?

Oh, but the war against radical Islam is different, some might argue. Really? You mean beheading journalists, slaughtering innocent aide workers and educators, murdering Christians and Jews, and even butchering Muslims who don't adhere to radical Islam is not the same? Really?

Murder is murder no matter who commits it, how it's committed, or in what decade it is committed. Empathy and respect be damned.

And what if President Roosevelt had gone to Congress seeking a declaration of war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and said:

"We must have empathy for the Japanese who did this to us," instead of what he actually said, which was: "Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

Enemies are enemies. Empathizing and respecting their perspective is a ludicrous thing to say. It is especially preposterous for someone who wants to occupy the White House and become our military's Commander-in-Chief.  

Patton understood that the way to win a war was to fight it, not chatter about it while giving a $200,000 speech. The last thing he would have counseled is for American leaders to engage in fearful hand wringing and hope those who want to destroy us will somehow come to love us if only we are benign, compassionate and work harder to understand their perspective.

General "Blood & Guts" Patton

In a 1944 speech to the Third Army Patton told his men this:
"We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home."

Is there any doubt who started the war on terror? On September 11, 2001 when those hijacked planes flew into the twin towers, into the Pentagon, and into that Pennsylvania farm field, we were at war--even if the current feckless occupant of the White House refuses to call it that.

When you are attacked, no matter what your political affiliation may be or on which side of the political aisle you may sit, you basically have two options: you either capitulate because you are afraid to fight, or you respond with "extreme prejudice," as we used to say in the Army.

Regrettably, the current administration seems to have resurrected a third option--one that was proven woefully ineffective back in 1938. It was called appeasement. And Adolph Hitler laughed all the way to the Eagle's Nest.

After Hillary Clinton's ill-advised and placatory remarks you can almost hear the terrorists hooting and whooping in their desert bunkers and strongholds.

I wonder how Patton might have dealt with the brutal Islamic State currently slaughtering its way through Syria and Iraq.

I can't imagine him telling the men of the Third Army to respect and empathize with that vicious rabble; to try to understand why they hate America or why these cowards are beheading American and other Western captives.

After Patton read the Koran and observed North African Muslims during WW II, we have an idea what he thought of Islam. In his book, War as I Knew it, published posthumously in 1947, he wrote:

"What if the Arabs had been Christians? To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammed and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab. He is exactly as he was around the year 700, while we have kept on developing."

Not a sentiment that would make the apologists for Islamic radicals and terrorists happy.

Nor would Islamic suicide bombers have embraced one of Patton's most famous statements:

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other dumb bastard die for his country."

Amen, General.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

10 surprising social media facts

Authors today need to be savvy about using social media to get the word out about their books. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, book blogs, WAYN--these are all critical social media for marketing books.

And as any author knows (especially those who don't get books reviewed in the New York Times Book Review section) getting the word out is critical for a book to attract readers. 

Today, I am turning my blog over to Monica Wells, content marketing specialist, at BizDb in the United Kingdom. She has gathered some interesting facts about using social media that you might find helpful. 

For example, did you know five Facebook profiles are created every second, or that what's popular on Pinterest on Monday is different from what's popular on Wednesday? Read on for more.

By Monica Wells 

If you consider yourself a social media guru, you're in for a surprise.

Due to social media analytics tools' rapid evolution, industry experts have uncovered a lot of new, increasingly detailed information to help marketers create more effective social media strategies. There are dozens of social media research studies out there.

Here are 10 interesting social media facts you probably don't know:

1. Facebook is growing.

Even though Facebook is becoming obsolete in some markets, the global scale shows something completely different: Five Facebook profiles are created every second. That's more than the number of global births.

2. Twitter has six conversation networks.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center and Social Media Research Foundation analyzed thousands of Twitter conversations and spotted a pattern: There are as many as six types of conversations that take place on Twitter. And we thought tweeting was simple.

3. People love videos.

Even though marketers agree original videos aren't an important part of their social media strategies, the facts speak for themselves. Every day Facebook users watch more than 500 years' worth of videos, and visitors spend, on average, at least 15 minutes on YouTube. 

4. Twitter users want fast responses.

A study by Lithium Technologies shows Twitter's real-time nature raises users' expectations for brand responses. Fifty-three percent of users who tweet to a brand expect an answer within an hour. For those who are angry and tweeting to complain, that number rises to 72 percent.
Use tools to track response time, and answer tweets as fast as possible—especially the angry ones.

5. Most Facebook engagement occurs on Friday.

In its recent Social Intelligence Report, Adobe analyzed more than 225 billion Facebook posts. It found that posts receive more comments, shares and "likes" on Fridays. (Perhaps because Fridays are conducive to slacking off.) Consider this when you review your posting schedule.

6. Late evening is the best time to tweet.

After analyzing more than 1.7 million tweets, TrackMaven determined the best time to tweet is from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, particularly on Sundays. Share volume is lower late at night, and content has a greater chance of being shared. Tweet during this hour for more engagement.

7. Popular topics on Pinterest change by the day.

Pinterest is one of the social media platforms that drive the most Web traffic, and thankfully it shared some of its immense amount of data. On its blog, Pinterest revealed the categories that get the most engagement each day. Whereas fitness posts score high on Monday, inspirational quotes are most popular on Wednesday. (Workers must want some comfort halfway through the workweek.)

8. Visuals have power on Facebook.

We know the value of images in social media marketing, but this figure is mind-blowing: Social Bakers revealed 87 percent of a Facebook page's interactions happen on photo posts. By comparison, posts with links receive just 4 percent of interactions. Choosing photos that fit your brand narrative or tell a story should be your priority.

9. Written content is essential.

Content marketing's expected rise means more marketers will seek high-quality content to raise brand awareness on social media. Writers can feel secure: Marketers appreciate written content most. An annual survey from Social Media Examiner revealed 58 percent of marketers consider blog posts and articles the most important kind of social media content. That's impressive, especially considering that 19 percent of marketers voted for visual content.

10. The 55-64 age bracket is growing on Twitter.

It is the fastest-growing demographic on Twitter. This will bring joy to those who market to mature consumers.

Given the practical insights from all these studies, one thing is clear: To stay on top of your game, you need a firm grasp on social media analytics and statistics.

Monica Wells is a content marketing specialist at A version of this article originally appeared on Social Media Today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How to Become an American Ambassador: $$$$$

When I was roaming the world as a foreign correspondent, I spent hours and hours talking to American ambassadors in places like Tokyo, El Salvador, Vietnam, Cambodia, Peru, Mexico, etc. The list goes on and on.

Most of them had extensive knowledge of the countries in which they represented the United States.
Mike Mansfield, for example, was the longest serving U.S. Ambassador to Japan in history (1977-1988). He had a significant knowledge of Japan and Asia and was fond of saying that the United States-Japan relationship is the 'most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none.'

His successor, Michael H. Armacost (1989-1993), was the former ambassador to The Philippines; a member of the National Security Council to handle East Asian and Chinese affairs, and was acting Secretary of State.

When you had a conversation with either of these men about Japanese-U.S. relations, it was substantive.

That same cannot be said for the two most recent ambassadors confirmed by the Senate:

·       New Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bradley Bell, 47, a soap opera producer (The Bold and the Beautiful), Obama donor ($800,000) and bundler ($2.1 million) for his campaigns.

·       New Ambassador to Argentina Noah Bryson Mamet, 44, a political consultant and bundler who raised $500,000 for Obama's presidential campaign.

Neither of America's newest ambassadors have any significant knowledge of the countries they will be working in and neither distinguished themselves during Senate confirmation hearings.
Colleen Bradley Bell

Take this exchange between Bell and Sen. McCain at this week's hearing:

 MCCAIN: So what would you be doing differently from your predecessor, who obviously had very rocky relations with the present government?

BELL: If confirmed, I look forward to working with the broad range of society —

MCCAIN: My question was, what would you do differently?

BELL: Senator, in terms of what I would do differently from my predecessor, Kounalakis

MCCAIN: That’s the question.

BELL: Well, what I would like to do when — if confirmed — I would like to work towards engaging civil society in a deeper — in a deeper —

MCCAIN: Obviously, you don’t want to answer my question.

Then there was this exchange between Mamet and Sen. Marco Rubio:

 RUBIO:  "Mr. Mamet, have you been to Argentina?"

MAMET: "Senator, I haven't had the opportunity yet to be there. I've traveled pretty extensively around the world. But I haven't yet had a chance."

Mamet also conceded that he speaks no Spanish and has little or no knowledge of Argentine history or politics.

Noah Mamet

And so it goes. The truth is that both Bell’s and Mamet's appointments are just another example of the Washington game which rewards campaign donors and friends of the president   with ambassadorial positions.

By recent historic standards, Obama is already pushing the ceiling when it comes to putting friends and campaign supporters in U.S. diplomatic posts.

According to research by the American Foreign Service Association, 35 percent of Obama’s assignments have been political appointments. But in his second term, the number has grown to 41 percent according. The AFSA union represents career diplomats and wants more strict enforcement of a 1980 law that says campaign donations may not be considered a qualification for any foreign posting.

Good luck with that.

 Among other things that law says:  "An individual appointed or assigned to be a chief of mission should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including, to the maximum extent practicable, a useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the country in which the individual is to serve, and knowledge and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people."

Whoops! Somebody in the White House must have forgotten that. Ditto the Senate. But wait, the confirmation votes for Bell and Mamet were along strict party lines. So forgetfulness was not a factor.

Money was.

I was thinking that I were still roaming the world as a foreign correspondent, what could I talk to Ms. Bell about if I were writing about Hungary?

It's oppressive form of government? Nah. It's sick economy? Nah Corruption in the government of PM Viktor Orban? Nah.

But we could spend a good hour discussing the Bold and the Beautiful and its most recent episode: 

"Liam badgers Quinn to admit she went to the shower and took the cake as a momento. Quinn hollers at him to let it go. He accuses her of stalking Hope. Quinn says being treated like a pariah instead of a loving grandmother-to-be is ripping her apart. She insists the baby changes everything. Hope and Wyatt's marriage is secure and she'll never be a threat again. Liam promises as long as she's a threat to Hope's happiness..." 

And I could walk away with a reporter's notebook bulging with news.