Tuesday, August 16, 2005

After 60 Years, Many In Asia Cannot Forgive Japan

Many in Asia found it difficult to forgive and impossible to forget the Japanese aggression that still haunts the region 60 years after the end of the Pacific war but others let the anniversary pass with barely a mention. Southeast Asian nations that suffered in the war but benefited afterwards from Japan's economic might marked the end of the war Monday with little fanfare and few ceremonies.
But for those who experienced horrors such as the destruction of Manila, the "Death Railway'' in Burma or the rape of the Chinese city of Nanking, anger and sadness remained raw. "Filipinos have very short memories,'' said Philippine author Francisco Sionil Jose, who lived through the Japanese occupation. "My ambition was to run amok in Japan and kill as many Japanese as possible.'' Historians estimate that about 15 million people, less than a third of them soldiers, died as a result of the conflict that spanned Japan's invasion of China in 1931 and Emperor Hirohito's declaration of surrender on August 15, 1945. For Chinese and Koreans, the pain of the war and occupation has been sharpened by the perception that Japan has still not shown genuine contrition for its actions. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi again apologised Monday for suffering caused by Japanese military aggression and pledged that Tokyo would never again go to war. But North Asians also want leaders to stop going to Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine that is home to the spirits of executed war criminals. "I don't like Japanese people,'' said a Beijing man named Fang. "They still don't recognise their past mistakes.'' In Indonesia, little visible notice was taken of the anniversary. While many Indonesians were ill-treated by the Japanese and Tokyo offered little in the way of real freedom, no love had been lost between most Indonesians and the Dutch that the Japanese ousted. The Philippines suffered more than any other southeast Asian country, but the only sign of the anniversary was a dozen Chinese-Filipino veterans who laid wreaths at a memorial. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo failed even to mention the war in a speech to the army Monday. About 100,000 Filipinos died just in the month-long battle in Manila between Japanese forces and American troops that turned the former "Pearl of the Orient'' into a wasteland. Some put the lack of outrage at Japan's actions down to the fact that Japan was only the latest in a series of brutal colonizers after Spain and the US. Even in South Korea, which was formally colonised by Japan from 1910 to 1945, ceremonies marking Liberation Day on Monday chose to focus on hopes for an era of brotherhood on the Korean peninsula, divided at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Unlike his remarks a year ago that ignited diplomatic tension with Tokyo, President Roh Moo Hyun gave a speech heavy on Korean national reconciliation and skirted direct calls to Japan to make amends for its past.