Bentley Assails Japan During Harbor Ceremony

December 08, 1991|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

An article about a speech by Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, that appeared Sunday in some editions of The Sun did not identify the original source of comments she made about the Japanese national character. As she noted in her speech, Mrs. Bentley's remarks were based on statements made by a Japanese cultural minister in an op-ed article in the New York Times.

Breaking the solemnity of the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Representative Helen Delich Bentley dropped a bomb of her own at Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday by raising the specter of Japan as a potential nuclear-armed military threat.

Mrs. Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, charged that Japan -- which she called a nation "without any faith or convictions, without any guidance of religious creeds or political principles" -- has attacked U.S. markets and repeatedly broken U.S. law in a modern, economic war between the two nations.


And now, Japan has established itself as "a great nuclear nation," she said, citing a planned shipment of 40 tons of plutonium from Europe to Japan.

"From one ton of plutonium, there can be produced 150 nuclear bombs, and one has to wonder what Japan wants with 40 tons of plutonium," she said. "It is a valid question."

But Mrs. Bentley never answered the question as she delivered the keynote address yesterday at the Inner Harbor during a ceremony attended by several hundred people, including Pearl Harbor survivors, aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney, the last vessel afloat that was attacked Dec. 7, 1941.

"Japan had no conscience at Pearl Harbor . . . at Bataan and Corregidor. . . . And today, Japan appears to have no respect for American law, as has been proven in case after case moving through our courts, from the deliberate destruction of our television manufacturing to the attempted theft of software from IBM," Mrs. Bentley said.

Although Mrs. Bentley seemed to take her protectionist rhetoric to new heights, she defended the tone of her remarks.

"To be alert, to be concerned, to study our competition, to cry foul when the competition cheats on the rules is not bashing," Mrs. Bentley said. "It is being vigilant. It is guarding the flame. It is being an American exercising free speech."

The crowd loved it.

After the ceremony, as the Coast Guard band struck up "This is My Country," about a half dozen well-wishers called to Mrs. Bentley from a lower deck of the Taney, asking for copies of her remarks.

"It was a powerful speech, Mrs. Bentley. Thank you," cried one woman.

Her comments followed a tearful ceremony for many men and women, including survivors of Pearl Harbor and their families, who quietly recalled the events of the day that awoke America to the reality of war and changed the world forever.

As a wreath was dropped from a police helicopter into the cold waters of the Inner Harbor, a flight of four A-10 fighter-bombers roared in formation above the Taney and a bugler blew "Taps."

Minutes before, Mrs. Bentley had climbed a ship's ladder to an upper deck like an old hand. A former U.S. maritime commissioner, the congresswoman was in her element -- and amid an extremely loyal following, including the Pearl Harbor survivors whose white overseas caps dotted the crowd yesterday.

"She's the only one who's on the ball, it seems to me," said Stanley R. Gunther, 74, of Lodge Forest, near Edgemere, who was a chief boatswain's mate aboard the USS Vestal, a repair ship moored next to the USS Arizona minutes before the battleship was sunk in the Japanese attack 50 years ago.

The Vestal was hit twice by Japanese aircraft and had to run aground to keep from sinking, said Mr. Gunther, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker who spent 20 years in the Navy. He was not wounded in the attack, but his hair, eyelashes and eyebrows were burned off while he fought fires and tended to the wounded aboard the ship.

"So far as the Japanese people themselves, I no longer feel any hatred toward them," he said. "But they've got to do something about sending all these goods to this country."

Jesse L. Foster, a 69-year-old retired phone installer for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., thought Mrs. Bentley showed "a lot of moxie" for her remarks about the Japanese.

Mr. Foster, an Annapolis resident who attended the ceremonies yesterday with his family, was a 19-year-old Army private first class guarding a Schofield Barracks warehouse when the attack came.

And after 50 years, he says, he still feels "animosity" toward the Japanese.

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