Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
ISHIGOOKA Ken  / Journalist

August 4, 2015
I was born two years after the end of World War II, in September 1947. My father returned from the war and married my mother, and children like me were called "Fukuin-kko (demob kids)" - babies born to returning soldiers. We were later called the "Dankai (baby boomer) Generation," the core group of the population that lived through seven decades of Japan's postwar development.

My father was dispatched to Manila, the Philippines, in the final days of the war as part of an emergency program to mobilize university students. He was then ordered to join the Battle of Imphal, a reckless campaign that took place on the borders of Burma - today’s Myanmar - and India that left countless dead, mostly due to starvation and disease. The Allied Forces had the military advantage throughout Southeast Asia at the time, making it impossible to travel directly to Burma. My father was told to head for Burma by land via Hong Kong. As they prepared to sail from Manila, they came across Japan's elite Kwantung Army coming in from Manchukuo, the northeastern region of today's China. That entire troop was annihilated in the Philippines.

After leaving Manila, the sea convoy carrying my father came under attack from the U.S. Air Force in the northern Bashi Channel. The convoy was bombed and the ships sank one after the other. My father told me he would never forget the image of a young, pale-faced officer who stood transfixed on the deck as he went down along with the transport vessel into the night sea. The surviving convoy was in no shape to head for Hong Kong. The best they could do was reach Taiwan. And so my father was to take on the U.S. Forces in the southernmost region of Taiwan. However, following their campaign in the Philippines, the U.S. forces bypassed Taiwan and turned instead toward Iwo Jima and Okinawa, both battlefields where the Japanese army waged suicidal warfare. If the U.S. Forces had landed in Taiwan, my father would not have lived, and I would not have been born either.

It is now eight years since my father died at the age of eighty-seven. In the last days of his life, my father went around his former schoolmates from high school, making a desperate appeal: "We should never go to war again."Those were his last words.

In a few years' time, most of the generation that experienced war, like my father, would be gone. What's more, I myself, who heard my father speak of his war experience, am close to seventy now and living what little time I have left. The majority of Japanese have neither direct nor indirect knowledge of war. We are living in incredible times when some young people are not even aware that Japan was once at war with the United States. Once, I was stunned to hear a student ask: "Professor, what was the Cold War like? I have no idea, because it happened before I was born." It is not just World War II; it is all becoming part of a past long gone.

And the greatest problem facing us is that as if to coincide with the exit of those who remember the war, the postwar order in East Asia is being shaken badly. North Korea is openly developing nuclear weapons, China is challenging the United States as a global power, and territorial issues are coming to a head in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The Cold War may have ended, but its structure has remained intact, as in the North-South division of the Korean Peninsula and the subtle antagonism that persists between mainland China and Taiwan. Meanwhile, the new order of the future has yet to take shape.

In the past, the tragic and vivid personal accounts of war had worked as a deterrent. People who have never lived through a war can only imagine war in the abstract, which lacks any sense of reality. Moreover, instability in the existing order gives rise to fear and overconfidence, which in turn incites nationalism and an emphasis on nothing but chest-thumping righteousness and assertion of legitimacy. "What would be the consequences of an expansion in the confrontation and tensions, when they include military options?" - imagination and contemplation of the worst-case scenario are simply shoved aside.

In Europe, introspection on World War II has encouraged reconciliation to the point that leaders of each country - both victor and loser – can participate side by side in memorial events. A forum for discussing security for the entire region is being created. At the very least, the need to seek ways to prevent unanticipated clashes from escalating into a military standoff is becoming a shared idea.

Unfortunately, developments in that direction have seen little progress in East Asia. We are fast approaching an era in which we must think about the future of East Asia by seeing value in sharing the basic stance of understanding each other's standpoints. We must not let another major tragedy occur after seventy years of the postwar period. I believe it is time we start preparing to that end.

Ken Ishigooka is a journalist and former special editor of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

石郷岡 建 / ジャーナリスト

2015年 8月 4日



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