Let tales of humanity help war hurt heal

It is meaningful to explore why Japan does not draw from Germany's acts of expiation to lay history to rest once and for all, and to appeal to the humanitarian approach to deal with Japan's past history ("Abe's refusal to offer apology diminishes Japan"; May 5, "Let war hurt rest in peace, Mr Abe"; Aug 13, and "Why echoing old apology isn't enough"; Aug 17).

A sense of isolation has preoccupied Japan. Its inherent geographical constraints also took Japan down the wrong path to World War II.

Demands for an unreserved apology with concrete steps are politically, historically and culturally complex in a largely homogeneous Japan.

Germany, on the other hand, has integrated with Europe.

Only the human conscience can let the war hurt rest in peace.

A World War II survivor recounted her story at a public platform in Singapore on Mother's Day this year. She was born in Singapore at the start of the war.

When bombs were dropping from the sky, her mother carried her and hid in crowded bomb shelters. No noise was allowed as people were afraid the Japanese would locate them.

As the baby kept crying, people instigated her mother to strangle her, reasoning that it was better for one baby to die than to endanger the others. Her mother, in desperation, took her out of the shelter, risking her own life.

Then, one day, a Japanese officer happened to find them. Realising that there was no milk for the very hungry baby, he supplied her with milk for almost four years, until he left when the war ended.

These were cans of Milkmaid condensed milk, an item not easily obtained at the time.

With so many stories of Japanese cruelty, this Japanese officer did his best to save the child and her mother, driven by his conscience.

Such humanitarian acts transcend and overcome political, historical and cultural baggage.

Will Japan appeal to conscience to offer a sincere apology with concrete steps so that accounts can be closed?

Paul Yong Teck Chong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2015, with the headline 'Let tales of humanity help war hurt heal'. Print Edition | Subscribe