Issue 189 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
A few months ago when writing this column I suggested jokingly that the Japanese might like to apologise to the US for the terrible cost and inconvenience that they had to endure whilst dropping the atom bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It would appear that life is somewhat stranger than fiction. The recent VJ Day 'celebrations' in Britain seem to have consisted of little else than unending demands for Japanese apologies.
Don't get me wrong. It is clear that many prisoners of war who were captured by the Japanese suffered terribly, but it is hard to contrast any suffering in the war to the awful and unnecessary horrors of the dropping of those bombs.
Yet to my knowledge not one apology has been demanded or offered for that dreadful act.
Indeed when the Japanese prime minister spoke recently at a commemoration of the bombings, all the British media was interested in was whether he was going to use the occasion to say sorry!
Lying behind all this is a nasty racism. The Germans are long ago forgiven, seen as civilised, even a decent enemy. On Question Time a few months ago there was a discussion on the subject, where this was precisely the view put by all the panel Germans good, Japanese bad.
Killing 6 million Jews was apparently much easier to forgive than the mistreatment of British prisoners of war.
Of course the fault does not lie with Germans per se, but to suggest that the murderous regime of Hitler was in some way less obnoxious than that of Hirohito can only really be explained in terms of the fact that they believe Europeans, no matter how barbaric their regime, are more civilised than 'damned Orientals'.
A recent visit to Italy, however, provided a sharp reminder that European fascists and Nazis were capable of savagery equal to anything non-Europeans could dish out.
Some friends took me to the village of Marzabotto, a little way out of Bologna where I was staying. I had never heard of the village and was not really clear on entering a museum as to what I was visiting.
In fact I was visiting a memorial to a village drowned in blood. On the walls of the museum were endless names of the dead, entire families from octogenarian grandparents to children only a few months old.
Impatiently, I kept demanding of my unfortunate translator what the hell had happened, and when I gave her a moment's peace she was able to read the bumph and explain.
On 1 October 1944 an SS battalion had, in retaliation for Italian partisan resistance, killed 1,830 inhabitants of this small village.
A friend whose family came from the area took us to visit his uncle and aunts. Both his aunts had lost two brothers in the massacre, one having been shot while he suckled at his mother's breast.
The woman described how she and other young girls survived by hiding, and one of them emotionally explained how to this day she can't bear the sound of fireworks, how they bring back the nightmares of a young child hiding for her very life, whilst members of her family were being butchered.
Unfortunately, ignorant man that I am, I had to have this translated for me, and was unable to ask the tens of questions that were whirring around my monolingual brain, but it still left me somewhat dazed and shocked. Nobody on these islands could have experienced anything quite like it during the war.
On my last night in Bologna I paid another visit to a site of fascist victims, this time at Bologna railway station where a fascist bomb claimed the lives of 85 people in 1980. Indeed I was in Bologna for the 15th anniversary of the bomb.
Still nobody has been brought to trial for the bombing.
I looked at the plaque which recalls the fascist bomb, and was told how leading 'respectable' Italian fascists want the plaque taken down, because it has never been proved fascists did it.
Everybody of course knows they did, but still they protest--a grotesque protest of those who wish to hide their true political instincts behind a veneer of political acceptance and respectability.
Ah, yes, there is something so civilised about these politicians. They dress nicely, smile sweetly in front of the cameras and, just like the SS men in Marzabotto they are European.
So I guess no need for apologies there, then. No, let us just keep sticking to the Japanese.
It seems the problem is they don't kill like us. They have yet to learn of the ways of gas ovens, village massacres, train bombs, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Instead with their codes of honour and their kamakaze pilots, they remove all the art and joy from killing. They make it seem brutal, cruel and vindictive. It's just not the Euro/American way.
Yes, they certainly owe the world an apology, for who else would behave as brutally as they do? Who indeed...?