Alistair Urquhart is a sprightly and vivacious 90-year old Scotsman. He was in the news today because of the publication of his book The Forgotten Highlander: One Man's Incredible Story Of Survival During The War In The Far East. It is a story of his suffering whilst a prisoner of war of Japan during the Second World War. As my post title states, his experiences are beyond description and beyond comprehension. There are explanations for the extreme brutality, meeted out by the Imperial Japanese Forces between 1941 and 1945 to the POWs that they captured. However, that does not exhonorate them. Mr Urquhart continues to harbour a deep-seated hatred of the Japanese, undimmed by the passage of 65 years.
At the end of the BBC article, he summarises his continuing dislike of the Japanese. The Germans have atoned for their misdeeds between 1933 and 1945, and their youth is being taught about the abomination that national socialism was. The Japanese are being taught nothing of the sort.
I can understand and do not seek to negate the suffering of Mr Urquhart. I once knew someone who was married to a man who had been held in a Japanese prisoner-camp. The experience left indelible psychological scars and caused the break-up of the marriage. At one point, Emperor Hirohito, who died 20 years ago, was intending to visit the Netherlands, a visit quickly aborted after a public outcry - the Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies from 1942 until 1945, incarcerating many colonial Dutch people in the process.
I will say that the Japan of 2010 is a completely different society to the Imperial Japan of the years before the end of World War II. How a nation deals with its collective guilt is a very difficult issue. From my point of view, a lot of the present day ills of the world can be traced back to appalling policy decisions by successive British governments - the Middle East being a prime example. Other colonial powers, the Dutch included, also have blood and guilt on their hands. However, you only have to look at Northern Ireland or the Balkans to see the consequences of holding grudges. Ulster's "troubles" are going back to the Battle of the Boyne in 1688, and the July parades in Belfast are a reminder of that. The war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s go back to a battle in 1389 - and the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic frequently referred to that event.
We should never forget the atrocities committed during the Second World War. We must learn the lessons, pay homage to those that lay down their lives in those years, but also continue to look to the future.