The Forgotten Highlander

the-forgotten-highlander

I just read the The Forgotten Higlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific by Alistair Urquhart. Alistair who has died aged 97, was a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945, surviving both the infamous ‘Death Railway‘ and the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The fact that he lived until he was 97 is a miracle. Alistair, as a POW, was constantly beaten, tortured, starved, malnourished, dehydrated, forced labor, and was hit with every tropical diseases you can think of (Malaria, cholera etc…). You can say that Mr. Urquhart hit hell’s equivalent of winning the Powerball jackpot. When you though that life couldn’t get worse, hell decided to step it up a couple notch. But Alistair was “lucky”. He survived (or maybe the ones that died were the lucky ones). But Alistair refused to die. He worked on the infamous ‘Death Railway‘, where thousands of British, Australian, Dutch, American and Canadian prisoners would perish in the task. He was put on a Japanese ‘hellship’ that was torpedoed. His book, The Forgotten Highlander, is his memoir. There’s a documentary on Youtube: The luckiest man in World War ll

The sad thing is that the POWs that returned were treated like absolute shit. The British government had insisted all POWs take a vow of silence, but like most veterans of the WWII he initially did not wish to speak about what he had witnessed. Britain said that they needed Japan has an allied against Russia, so they didn’t want to “offend” Japan.

Recently Japan marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his country’s “profound grief” for the millions killed – but stopped short of offering any new apologies. He was remorseful for his country’s actions in the war, future Japanese generations should not have to keep apologizing.

PM Shinzo Abe said Japan “did inflict immeasurable damage and suffering” on “innocent people.” But he added, “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.” Full transcript.

Almost every Japanese prime minister since 1945 has apologized in some fashion or another. But these apologies seem to have never been deemed sufficient. Why? To be fair, the Japanese people also suffered greatly during WWII. It’s the only nation that took the full massive devastation of atomic bombs — not one, but two. Unfortunately almost all of those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians.

Japan has committed some of the most horrendous war crimes. It’s not widely discussed and it’s downplayed. In school you are taught that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. dropped the bomb. That’s it. The issue is politically sensitive. I mentioned that the allied needed Japan as an ally after the war. That’s part of it. We are constantly reminded of the atrocities Nazi Germany committed. We can’t forget the horror of the Holocaust. We know about concentration camps, we know about Schindler’s List and Anne Frank. But we never talked about the crimes committed by the Empire of Japan. Japan did attacked the U.S., not Germany. What the Japanese did to the Chinese is on par or worse than that the Nazi did, think Nanjing Massacre. (It’s not just Japan, we don’t talk about Stalin’s brutality the same way we talked about Hitler’s.) Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Much of Nazi victims are Europeans with western culture (including European Jews), and Americans identify better with them compared to Chinese and South-East Asians who became the victims of the Japanese. The Japanese war crimes just wasn’t a Western problem, it was far from our eyes. We see the same attitude today towards massacre in Africa. We treat it as  “just another African problem”.

Japan has turned it around since the end of the war. Today Japan is a pacifist country. It’s sophisticated, developed and rich. Their army only participates in humanitarian missions. I’ve been to Japan. It’s a great country with amazing people that has accomplished so much after WWII.

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