Leading article: PoWs cannot forget, but we must forgive

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The Independent Online
THE EMPEROR of Japan is the titular head of a great and friendly nation. We welcome its investment and its visitors; we buy its products and sell what we can; we prize its contribution to regional stability. Common diplomatic courtesy, not to speak of self-interest, dictates that Emperor Akihito is accorded a dignified welcome on the streets of London today. Part of the "packaging" of this visit is the investiture of the Emperor in the Order of the Garter. That decision was taken some time ago; it was the right decision.

Does that imply criticism of former prisoners of war who choose to protest? It is true that the real object of their anger is the British government - all those administrations which since the early Fifties have refused to reopen the postwar settlement with Japan. Historical responsibility, if it lies anywhere, rests with the Emperor's father, Hirohito, and which son justly answers for his father's offence? Yet who would dare reprimand those who suffered so fearfully in the Far East during the Second World War?

We do however need to observe that we live in an age of selective amnesia. The Irish potato famine in the 1840s - an "accident" if ever there was one - is deemed worthy of prime ministerial apology, but not the contemporaneous bombardment of Chinese cities to open them to the opium trade. A child who murdered children is hounded but an adult "terrorist" who murdered children is lionised. Any suspicion of relativising the Holocaust invites the fiercest condemnation, as if that event were the touchstone for all historical judgement of evildoing. Perhaps it is, but who sits in Solomon's seat claiming to be able to judge?

The victims of Japanese brutality in the camps cannot forgive or forget; to them Japanese expressions of regret are deeply inadequate. But for the rest of us, time and crime have moved on.