LEADER: The importance of VJ Day

Share
Related Topics
For four years in the Far East, British servicemen fought and suffered, alongside Australians, Americans, Indians, Chinese, Dutch and others, to defeat one of the most pitiless and remarkable enemies any of these nations had ever encountered. A relatively small, isolated and newly developed country, the Japanese empire waged a war characterised by tenacity and ferocity.

Despite this, the war in the East was never given the same recognition as that in Europe and North Africa. Some of this was due to shame; shame at the military mistakes that led to one of the greatest defeats in British military history - the fall of Singapore, with all its defenders. Nor was the liberation of those countries invaded by Japan as clear-cut a victory for their peoples as, say, the reconquest of France, Greece or Norway. To many in Vietnam, Burma and Malaya, 1945 meant exchanging one imperialism for another. When the veterans of Burma returned to Britain, often after five whole years away, they found a country already several months into peacetime reconstruction, and impatient with stories of war.

Some of the bitterness of those who fought in the Far East can be explained by this long-standing feeling of neglect. Which is why Saturday's commemoration of VJ Day was so important. The Duke of Edinburgh's action in joining the parade as a marcher himself was a well-judged act of solidarity with the veterans of the Far East. Many veterans who attended the events commented on their feeling that at last their sacrifice had been recognised.

But while the celebrations have had a restrained and dignified character, the same cannot be said about the national debate that has run parallel to them. Much of this has been a rehashing of familiar (and sometimes racist) complaints about a nation that we still do not fully understand. And the conclusion that seems to have been reached is that the business with Japan is still, in some way, unresolved.

Central to this has been the question of the Japanese apology. Why, many younger readers may wonder, has this assumed such overriding importance? Partly because our own experience at the hands of the Japanese was so much worse than with the Germans. Where 5 per cent of prisoners captured by the Germans died, more than a quarter of those held by the Japanese succumbed to disease or were murdered.

But the other reason why the wound has not healed is the strong feeling that the Japanese, unlike the Germans, regretted not their aggression, but their defeat - that they didn't apologise because they weren't sorry. And there was a great deal in this sentiment. For years the Japanese education system promoted a version of 20th-century history that absolved Japan's wartime leaders of all responsibility for aggression.

In the last week, however, it has become clear that this self-exculpation has now come to an end. True, there has been much semantic scrutiny of the word "sorry", but perhaps it is best to give the Japanese the benefit of the doubt. Examine in full the address that Japan's Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, gave on television last week. He said that a mistaken national policy had advanced Japan on the road to war and caused tremendous suffering and damage, for which he felt remorse. That is the message that young Japanese are hearing today. It should be good enough. Time to move on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tim Bell has lamented the fact that people don't do what they're told any longer  

Do what you’re told…or else. Now that rings a Bell

Simon Kelner
A couple calculates their costs with the help of some paperwork  

It’s the dream of escape that makes couples keep their finances secret from each other

John Walsh
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?