View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Horrors beyond description

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.


The political world in Westminster is all awhirl because Labour politician Harriet Harman ostensibly sent a tweet to Conservative politician Alan Duncan. Except she did not. A direct message (DM) came to Mr Duncan from Ms Harman's Twitter account, which had been hacked into. She must have received a DM herself, reading something along the lines of "LOL that you?" followed by a dodgy link. Having followed the dodgy link, she will have put her username and password into the boxes and hey presto, her account was hacked.

Rather than making a whole song and dance about it (as the BBC did), prominent Twitter users like Harriet Harman and Alan Duncan should keep abreast of developments on the Internet in order not to fall for hackers like described above.

Thursday 25 February

Blowing a full gale this morning and the windspeeds are gradually increasing. Gusts reach 55 mph, and it is therefore not a surprise that our ferry service has been cancelled for today. Plane services to and from Stornoway are also disrupted, but I have this sneaking suspicion that this is more due to snow problems at mainland airports than our force 8. The mercury is stuck at +2C, making it feel especially cold with a windchill of -7C.

As I said, the mainland is coping with two feet of snow in places. This has led to major problems on the roads and the railways. Dozens of drivers were trapped in their vehicles overnight, and hundreds of schools are closed in the north of Scotland. This contrasts with southern England, with temperatures of +10C. Beware of hurricane winds on Saturday or Sunday down there.

More later.