ANOTHER VIEW Lest we Japanese forget

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The Independent Online
VJ Day, VP Day, End of the War day - it makes no difference. Nothing changes history, or the fact that Japan surrendered unconditionally 50 years ago. We cannot and should not forget what happened in the war, although we should forgive. Commemorating VJ Day is one path to forgiveness, and tinkering with the name of the commemoration is an irrelevance.

I was evacuated from Tokyo to the countryside as a small girl, but other members of my family, all of them civilians, lost their lives to American bombing. It is a little known fact that 130,000 died in Tokyo on one night alone: Dresden was not the only town to experience cataclysm.

The dead deserve to be commemorated. Bill Clinton is said to have downgraded the Pearl Harbor anniversary ceremony, to which the Japanese were to have been invited. It is a shame that Japan is not to attend - it would have made a more useful and poignant occasion.

It is also a shame, if it is true, that the US, Australia and New Zealand have dropped the phrase "VJ Day" for fear of prompting economic retaliation. The Japanese, I think, are not that stupid. Where could the threat of economic retaliation have come from - surely not the Daily Mail, a paper that some critics have noted still seems to be fighting the Second World War? The British are quite right to stick to the phrase "VJ Day". The Americans made their change three days ago, and so far the only reaction in Japan has been one of deafening indifference.

There are also certain films and dramas which make the Japanese look more evil than they were, which I dislike. Nevertheless I put up with the demonisation of Japan because there is a very real danger that the Japanese may forget their past.

Many young Japanese, even university students, have never even heard of the war in the Pacific. Wartime history has never been a proper subject for academic study in Japan. This was less to do with reasons of ideology than that it was always considered too controversial, and, as such, unsuitable for Japan's simplistic yes/no exam format. We have none of the West's tradition of training the young to think for themselves. Japan's war history ought to be a mandatory part of the national syllabus.

National shame is a Japanese stereotype, but there is a grain of truth in it. Shame does still exist - but it is much diminished, largely restricted to the shrinking generation that fought the war.

The government did very little for its own ex-soldiers. There are no ceremonies, no cenotaphs, no poppy days. Even now, flying the Japanese flag is associated with a war that ended 50 years ago. Of course this is ridiculous - it is high time that Japan came to terms with its past. After all, if Germany can do it, so can we.

VJ Day ought to be a dignified day of remembrance for the dead of both sides. A little reflection on our war record will do Japan a power of good.

Lady Toshiko Marks is a member of the Centre for Contemporary Japanese Studies at Essex University.

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