A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Remembering Bandung, the war and Hiroshima

28-Apr-15 09:00AM | By Andrew Sheng - The Cambodia Hereld

THE STATESMAN/ANN -- This year marks the 60th anniversary of the historic Bandung Conference and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. In order to commemorate the past, a series of conferences and events have been held, the most recent being the Afro-Asian Conference hosted by Indonesia President Jokowi last week.

The first Bandung Conference was called by the first Indonesia President Sukarno in April 1955 between newly independent Asian and African nations, beginning what was later known as the Non-Aligned Movement against colonialism. Twenty-nine countries participated, representing 1.5 billion people or just over half of the world’s population. It was the first time that leaders of these countries met to discuss their future after the end of colonialism.

The Conference was historic because it was attended not only by Indian Prime Minister Nehru, but also Egyptian President Gamal Nasser, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, Muhammad Ali of Pakistan, U Nu of Burma, Nkrumah of Ghana and Tito of Yugoslavia, all giants not only in their countries, but makers of history in the 20th century. The US did not attend because she was not sure whether she sided with the European colonial powers or her new role as an ex-colony liberating the world.

The Bandung Conference was a conference of hope that the newly independent nations would build themselves into a zone of peace, prosperity and stability. On the whole, despite some failures, they succeeded. By 2013, these countries together have a GDP of $21.2 trillion or 28.1 per cent of world GDP, significantly improved compared to their share of less than one-fifth of world GDP in 1955. 6 August 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of the horrific atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which led to the end of World War II in the Pacific. Lest we forget,World War II was a horrific event, since the world lost between 50-80 million people or 3 per cent of its population.

Japan lost around 2-3million during that war, but the rest of Asia suffered estimated losses of up to 10 times that number. Even though memories are fading, there is still a generation that remembers the hardships and atrocities of war, from personal experiences of families being killed, bombed or of flight as refugees. Even a remote country like Australia could not escape that war. Australian soldiers fought heroically on the Kokoda Trail to repel the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea in 1942. If not stopped, Australia could have fallen into Japanese hands, changing the course of history. But the 625 Australian deaths defending the Kokoda Trail paled in comparison to the Sandakan Death March, in which 2,345 Australian prisoners of war died marching from their prisoner of war camp in Sandakan across primitive jungle in Sabah, East Malaysia. Only six Australians survived those marches in early 1945, only because they escaped. One in twelve of every Australian who perished in the War died in that death march.

My impressions of this incident are indelible, growing up in Sandakan and following the trail across Sabah on a road built by the Australians to commemorate their dead. It fascinated me that man could be that cruel to other human beings to send them across the virgin jungle without food to certain death. On 9 June 2014, when Japanese Prime Minister Shintaro Abe addressed the Australian Parliament, he did mention Kokoda and Sandakan. In it, he did not offer an apology, but he did send his “most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.” This was very Japanese English, because one gives condolences to the living, not the dead. In the Afro-Asian Conference last week in Bandung, he rephrased his words as follows, “Japan, with feelings of deep remorse over the past war, made a pledge to remain a nation always adhering to those very principles (of Bandung) throughout, no matter what the circumstances.” We note that he is already shifting the official Japanese view on the war from his predecessors Murayama and Koizumi, who offered “deep remorse and heartfelt apology,” in their statements about the war in the 1995 and 2005 anniversaries respectively. I always thought that the difference between remorse and shame is one that differentiates Western and Asian values. Remorse is a feeling of regret that something has happened but there is no sense of guilt. Shame is a feeling you have injured someone else and you feel guilty about it, and you want to make amends.

There is a sharp difference between the German and Japanese attitudes. Seventy years after the war, the German courts are going to try the 93 year ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’, whereas the Japanese are still revising their history books on what really happened.

What makes Abe’s “deep remorse” poignant is that he is a leader of a faction that wants to re-arm Japan by changing its constitution and he regularly visited or sent ritual offerings to the Yasukuni Shrine, which contains the shrines of 14 Class A War Criminals. Even the Japanese emperor has not visited Yasukuni after these enshrinements. Most Asians like myself have great respect for Japan, but feel uneasy that the Japanese are beginning to whitewash their role in the War. The Yasukuni Shrine has an accompanying museum that seems to suggest not only that the Nanking Massacre did not occur, but that US actions to deny Japan energy resources pushed her into war. But these do not explain why Japan invaded China in 1937.

On the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, will the US leader express an apology or remorse for bombing Nagasaki or Hiroshima? If the Japanese want to understand how the rest of Asia feels about its actions during World War II, just changing the history book will not solve the deep sense of injustice that war brought to the region. Could those who died or suffered during that period appeal to the rule of law that Abe-san so proudly proclaims today? All of us want to move on, but not through denying the past. As the philosopher Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


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