Tuesday 31 August 2010
This is a piece I wrote on the anniversary of VJ Day- Victory over Japan Day – posted on another site. I’m adding it here for Quiet_Man.
It’s VJ Day today, the sixty-fifth anniversary of Japan’s formal surrender on 15 August 1945, more generally the final end of the Second World War. It was a sudden stop to a conflict that may have gone on well into 1946, perhaps even longer, at an incalculable human cost. This was prevented, thankfully, by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which brought and fanatics in the Japanese government rapidly to some sense of reality.
Thankfully, did I really write that; am I truly thankful for such a terrible event, the curtain raiser to the atomic age? Yes, I am, and I offer no apology whatsoever for my frankness. What I will say is that the atomic bombings were the last act in a dreadful tragedy, one that I personally wish had never happened. But it did. Even God can’t change the past.
The great and terrible paradox is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved more lives than were lost. I do hate this kind of calculus, this calculus of mortality, balancing the dead against the probable dead. But it still has to be done. My grandfather served in the East during the war in the Fourteenth Army under Bill Slim. He was one of the first to enter Singapore after the Japanese surrender; one of the first to see the liberation of Changi Prisoner of War Camp, the liberation of men who would not have survived if the war had gone on many weeks longer.
There were so many other men, so many other camps right across the lands still held by the Japanese, so many other men who would have died. But it wasn’t just men. There were women and children, too, held in internment camps where conditions were not much better.
Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the atomic bombings saved the Japanese themselves, saved them from the last ditch lunatics who were willing to contemplate the extermination of a whole nation. After the war Kido Koichi, a high Japanese official, estimated that the surrender may have saved as many as twenty million Japanese lives. I would urge those who think this an exaggeration to look at the details of the Battle of Saipan, where the wretched Emperor Hirohito, the one major war criminal to escape retribution, sent out a message to the civilian population ordering them to commit suicide, afraid that people may be favourably impressed by their treatment at the hands of the Americans.
The above thoughts were really brought on by the fact that this year, for the very first time, the United States sent a representative to the annual commemoration of the Hiroshima bombing. On Obama’s initiative John Roos, the ambassador to Japan, laid a commemorative wreath, the closest the country has ever offered to a formal apology for the attack. This is just another empty gesture by PPP, the Peace Prize President, a gesture rightfully condemned by Gene Tibbets, the son of Paul Tibbets, the pilot who dropped ‘Little Boy’ from Enola Gay on August 6, 1945. It was an attempt, Mr Tibbets put it, to rewrite history.
There is one other thing I have to say about rewriting history, or perhaps forgetting history might be better. The Japanese are very good when it comes to remembering their own suffering, remembering events like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are not so good when it comes to remembering the suffering they inflicted on others, the suffering their militaristic regime inflicted right across Asia and the Pacific. Earlier this year I saw City of Life and Death and John Rabe, two movies which drew my attention to the Rape of Nanking, the greatest war crime of the twentieth century prior to the Holocaust.
Nanking, now Nanjing, was capital of China when it was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1937. Thereafter they began the wholesale massacre and rape of tens of thousands of civilians, a crime still denied today in Japan. John Rabe, a German businessman and member of the Nazi Party then living in the city, was so horrified by events that he was instrumental in building his own Schindler’s Arc. It comes as something of a shock in John Rabe to see Chinese civilians sheltering under a huge Swastika flag in the grounds of his factory, a banner of salvation, not something one normally associates with that symbol. So, yes, when I look over the whole history, the hypocrisy, dissimulation and self-pity of the Japanese disgusts me.