I share reservations expressed by other Forum contributors. I remember FEPOW anxiety about bigwigs pushing reconciliation on us twenty years ago: one concern had been potential censorship of displays in the FFEPOW building at the NMA. These FEPOWs have died and the issue has resurfaced. What a coincidence! Meanwhile, COFEPOW and NMA websites both proclaimed remembrance as their objective, without mentioning reconciliation, and rightly so. Most FEPOWs I knew would have resisted the proposal.
I was one of many child refugees evacuated with penniless mothers from war-torn Malaya into a precarious existence, highly exploitable and far from other family. We lost our homes and possessions. Our fathers usually remained and became captives; a third of my friends never saw them again. My own father, Dr Cuthbert Stanley, died due to prolonged Kempeitai torture during the Double Tenth atrocities triggered by Operation Jaywick. After a war crimes trial six found guilty of his murder were executed. Their remains lie at Singapore’s Japanese Cemetery under an obelisk with an inscription in which their countrymen honoured them as martyrs.
Reconciliation with post-war Japan is laudable, but I could never promote it by forgiving my father’s torturers. Certain crimes are unforgivable and we are not proxies authorised to forgive for the past suffering of the dead. Also, our families’ war experiences varied hugely and it would be impossible for any COFEPOW representative or committee to reconcile meaningfully on behalf of the rest of us. We should respect all views, but making reconciliation official COFEPOW dogma would impede this: those least enthusiastic probably harbour the greatest hurt. I worry too about how well-meaning activists nowadays hijack established organisations to advance their pet causes.
Instead, let’s strengthen links with Japan in more fruitful ways: renew the old alliance, foster cultural exchanges and seek personal friendships. Don’t let’s manipulate COFEPOW’s stated objective and thereby divide our members. Those especially eager to enhance the British-Japanese relationship might also join the Japan Society, which has long been dedicated to this mission. Also, reassure the great and good about our excellent behaviour. We have never advocated ill will and I shan’t topple that obelisk, although some today may wonder why not.
I drive a Toyota Yaris!