In 1996, New Zealander James MacKay raised a storm with his Betrayal in High Places, which proposed that the US and its allies had suppressed evidence of Japanese massacres of prisoners of war. He chased headlines with the claim that he had been offered $100,000 not to publish. A Chinese translation appeared in Beijing two years later.

MacKay circulated photocopies of faked documents that he attributed to a New Zealander ex-POW who had been part of the Australian legal team at the Tokyo war crimes trials. MacKay’s central example was the alleged slaughter of 387 US, Australian, British and Dutch prisoners at a goldmine on Sado Island, off the west coast of central Honshu.

Although reviewers noted factual errors, other writers accepted the claims. Several scholars were chipping away at the evidence before MacKay’s death in 2005. Now an article, co-authored by Sydney engineer James Oglethorpe, in the April 2007 issue of the US Journal of Military History, has demolished the foundations.

There never were any POWs on Sado, although some 300 Australians worked at nearby Niigita.

MacKay was angry at the US for not insisting in 1951 on reparations for POWs, and for letting so many war criminals walk free. Those concerns had been the subject of his The Allied-Japanese Conspiracy, published a year earlier. Attacks on that work presumably made him fake documents to provide the smoking gun.

MacKay had a legitimate complaint over the US decision not to purge Japan of its war-makers. The Australian who served as president of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, High Court Justice Webb, lamented the failure to indict the ex-God Hirohito. One Class-A criminal, Kishi, became prime minister, while Japan’s chemical and biological warfare experts had been spirited into the US Cold War armoury.

Betrayal In High Places would carry little significance outside POW chat rooms had MacKay’s fabrication not given a free kick to Prime Minister Abe and his clique who can now beat the drum about MacKay’s ‘Little Lie’ in order to perpetrate their ‘Big Lie’ that no comfort woman existed, let alone suffered, at the hands of the Japanese.

This betrayal of truth and decency has diverted attention from the refusal of Japan’s ruling chauvinists to say “sorry”. Not surprisingly, it is with these reprobates that Canberra has just signed a military pact aimed against those who suffered most, the Chinese and Koreans.

In addition, the contretemps deflects attention away from explaining why the Japanese Imperial Army behaved so abominably between 1937 and 1945 after it had conformed to the rules of war in its 1904-05 conflict with Czarist Russia.

MacKay has made it harder to move beyond the war-time propaganda that Japanese are cruel by nature to specify why they went on to copy Britain’s behaviour in Boer concentration camps and the US mass murders of Filipinos.