Apology would dishonour Japan's victims

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2013

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Rosemary McLeod

The new Dowse dips out Home bare and freezing, but it was hot stuff Nothing new in children having multiple parents Why the fuss? Chelsea's body just did its bit Lots left to be desired Making out the Dotcom circus Mastering behaviour in the neo-feminist age Hacking awful but plastic bananas worse Why try to spin it when a wobbly does the trick Nobody looks saintly in politics' sick soap opera

OPINION: I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's fine sentiments, academic Jim Veitch's in particular, but Japanese war crimes in World War II are pretty well known.

I meant to look up a few famous instances, but stopped at the 1937 Rape of Nanking. Well, you would, really, because the way invading Japanese troops there fell upon unarmed civilians, and the barbarous acts they performed, make for chilling reading.

A brief resume: An estimated 20,000 females, from infants to elderly, were raped and killed there, and in total around 300,000 people were apparently killed in the undefended city.

I expect the Chinese remember the Straw String Gorge Massacre that year, too, when Japanese troops tied up then shot and bayoneted 57,500 Chinese prisoners of war.

China still has strong feelings about Japan, and vice versa I expect, as we might gather from the simmering dispute over some uninhabited islands in the South China Sea that China calls the Diaoyus, and the Japanese Senkaku. A lot of seemingly trivial spats in world affairs have long back stories, which is one useful thing about reading history. It explains things.

But history changes according to who tells it, where and when.

There are Nanking (we call it Nanjing today) deniers just as there are Holocaust deniers, and Japan's role in World War II is obviously seen in a rosier light by Dr Veitch, who last week called on the Government to apologise for the killing of 48 Japanese prisoners of war in a camp near Featherston in 1943.

I expect locals cheered at the time, which would have been nasty of them, but war is a nasty business: you can't wage it without anger, and people seldom act like saints when they're angry, fearful, have no common language and are armed with guns.

Some Wairarapa locals, remembering their own war experiences, were angry when a memorial to the slain Japanese was planted by a local Japanese business on the main road, near the site of the former camp. Some of them had fought the Japanese, and some would have been their prisoners of war, treated much less pleasantly than the Japanese were in our sleepy neck of the woods, where they were actually fed.

Nothing is easier than passing judgment on how ordinary people behaved in the past, and the guards who shot the rebellious prisoners didn't do very well.

But to expect us to offer a state apology for the incident is whimsical, to put it mildly, and doesn't honour the millions of people in our part of the world who suffered at Japan's hands in the Pacific War.

I don't object to the Wairarapa memorial. I've seen a memorial in Japan to their brave soldiers who died in the Pacific War, too, and I couldn't possibly object to that. But that's beside the point.

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Dr Veitch was formerly an associate professor of religious studies, which may explain the motivation for his request. If so, he could usefully chat to the Almighty about it. As for expecting the nation to stand behind him, pigs might fly.

 

Weighed in the balance, the Featherston incident was sad and regrettable, but what a few panicky guards did here was nothing against the backdrop of a war in which inhumanity was practised on a massive scale.

 

The Government might more usefully ponder why it wants to kill the capital.

 

Wellington exists because it is the centre of government with its associated bureaucracy, but some clever types are considering moving the public service to the Hutt or Porirua to save on rent.

 

Too bad about small things like the flow-on impact on the city's businesses, the cost to commuters already dealing with an erratic public transport network and the already congested motorways in rush hour. Here comes another brainy idea. I fear it'll be as good as all the others.

- The Dominion Post

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