60 years on, experts hail UK-Japan reconciliation

Postwar60: 60 years on, experts hail UK-Japan reconciliation

LONDON, Sept. 13 Kyodo


Attempts to reconcile ex-British prisoners-of-war with people from their former enemy have been relatively successful and could provide the model for healing the lingering hostility many Chinese still feel toward Japan, according to some speakers at a symposium held recently in London held recently to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

While several speakers noted that many former POWs in Britain are still unable to forgive, there is recognition that the work carried out by various groups to improve relations has had beneficial results.

The symposium ”Enemy and Friend — Britain and Japan at War and Peace” on Sept. 7 was organized by the Burma Campaign Society, a group of mainly British veterans who promote reconciliation, and held at the Cabinet War Rooms in London.

One veteran of the war in Burma (now Myanmar), Philip Malins, summed up the benefits of reconciliation in a moving address.

”I gave the order to open fire when we killed 22 Japanese in an ambush in Burma and went to bed thinking of the terrible sorrow their deaths would cause their families,” Malins said. ”Never could I have envisaged then that so long after the war I would make wonderful friends among the Japanese we had fought in a savage war. It has greatly enriched my life. Reconciliation with the enemy is the ultimate victory for both sides.”

A total of 50,016 British servicemen and civilians were taken prisoner of war by Japan. Many of them were forced to work in brutal prison camps. 12,433 died or were killed during captivity, a far higher number than perished in German camps.

Most notably since the 1980s there have been attempts by both sides to address the pains inflicted by the war and prevent mistrust and prejudice building up.

Former British POWs have visited their one-time enemies thanks to programs sponsored by the Japanese. Organizers have also been keen to include the participation of the veterans’ younger relatives.

But despite some progress, it is thought that the majority of veterans are still hostile to Japan. Many claim Japan’s apologies are not sincere enough and have also asked for more compensation.

Part of the reconciliation process has been to explain why Japanese soldiers committed such atrocities on Allied troops.

Fumitaka Kurosawa, from Tokyo Women’s Christian University, told the symposium that many Japanese soldiers were taught it was better to die than be taken prisoner by the enemy. To be captured was the ultimate form of disgrace.

He also said there is no mention of respect for prisoners’ human rights in Japan’s war declaration, and white European prisoners could be used to show Asian neighbors this was a war against white colonialism.

Former Japanese soldier Masao Hirakubo, who fought in Burma, told the audience, ”Most Japanese army veterans bore no hatred toward enemy personnel. They simply followed the orders of their commanders.”

Nobuko Kosuge, a professor of Peace Studies and History at Yamanashi Gakuin University, said there is a tendency in Japan still to pay more attention to the atrocities carried out in China and other occupied countries, rather than to the mistreatment meted out to Allied prisoners.

But she said, ”While there still exists in the UK and Japan much pain, mistrust and prejudice rooted in the past, I think we can be justified in, at least, saying that…the efforts to achieve British-Japanese reconciliation are continuing to be relatively successful.”

She added the UK-Japan model, which has focused heavily on individuals and charities facilitating reconciliation, could be used to assist Japan-China relations, which is a particularly ”hard case.” There have been frequent protests in China with claims that Japanese school textbooks skim over wartime atrocities.

Japan’s Ambassador to Britain Yoshiji Nogami agreed on the difficulties with China. ”While China and the Republic of Korea are not prepared to accept our apologies, it is extremely difficult for us to move forward on the issues of the past,” he said.

”Japan, for its part, is ready to listen and to talk in order to aim for a positive, future-oriented relationship with China…,” Nogami added.

Hugo Dobson, from the School of East Asian Studies at Sheffield University, felt that the movement for reconciliation both in Britain and the United States may have led to an apparent lessening in anti-Japanese sentiment at this year’s 60th anniversary, compared to ten years ago.

”It seemed to be one controversy after another (in 1995) but this year we don’t seem to have had that level of controversy. Is it due to reconciliation or have the previous controversies had a cathartic effect?” he said.

Caroline Rose, from the Department of East Asian Studies at Leeds University, said the last 15 years has seen a ”memory boom” across the world, with a trend to more museums, films and debates about World War II as well as ”memorialization.”

She said the 1990s had also seen reunions of enemies and survivors as well as calls for restitution and apologies.

”It is certainly the private, or at least non-state spheres, that I believe hold the key to greater success in the future,” she said.

”These activities should not diminish as the generation of those who experienced the Second World War gives way to those whose memories of the period are formed…through oral history, education and commemorative ceremonies,” Rose said.

”Remembrance forms a central part of the process of reconciliation, and helps to keep the past firmly where it belongs — in the present,” she added.

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