Canadian POW Unimpressed By Japanese Apology


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    Canadian POW Unimpressed By Japanese Apology

    Post by Battalion Colours on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:53 pm

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    Canadian POW Unimpressed By Japanese Apology

    Japan apologized Thursday for the harsh mistreatment of Canadian prisoners of war after the disastrous Battle of Hong Kong in the Second World War.

    For one Canadian who was imprisoned in Japan during the war, however, the belated apology isn't worth much.

    ``Apologies don't mean a thing. There's no money in apologies and you can't eat 'em,'' said John Ford, now a resident of St. John's, who spent 3 1/2 years in a Japanese PoW camp in Nagasaki as a forced labourer. ``At my stage in the game, there's not a thing they can do for me.

    ``They were requested to do it years ago, and they refused point blank, they wouldn't acknowledge it,'' said Ford who was seven kilometres from ground zero, working on the Nagasaki dockyard when an atomic bomb levelled the city on Aug. 9, 1945. Since then, he has had four operations for skin cancer, a consequence of his exposure to the blast's radiation.

    Toshiyuki Kato, Japan's parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, delivered the apology in Tokyo Thursday on the 70th anniversary of Japan's invasion of Hong Kong in 1941.

    Ford was with the Royal Air Force in Singapore when the invading Japanese army captured the British stronghold in February 1942.

    He escaped to Sumatra and, when that country fell, escaped again to Java. There his luck ran out and he was captured in March of that year.

    On Thursday, he questioned why the apology was only for prisoners who were captured in Hong Kong.

    ``Conditions in every prison camp were very similar, there wasn't a great lot of difference, starvation and beatings and everything like that,'' he said.

    Another Canadian PoW agreed the apology is of little value to those who survived the camps - but it might be very important for the Japanese people.

    ``The apology is of little value to us,'' said Toronto's George MacDonell, an 89-year-old veteran who chronicled some of his experiences in his book, One Soldier's Story. ``Almost all the Canadian veterans of (the Battle of) Hong Kong either died in the camps, on the battlefield or have died since.

    ``But the real good news about this is that this apology may signal that the Japanese people are finally going to admit, instead of denying, their behaviour in Southeast Asia during World War Two.

    ``I don't think any culture can ever be healthy if it denies whole, major parts of its existence.''

    After the Allied forces surrendered Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, the Japanese kept thousands of prisoners for the next four years. That included about 1,700 Canadians, who suffered beatings and malnutrition and were treated as slaves during their time in captivity.

    Almost 300 Canadians were killed and 500 wounded in the 17 1/2 days of battle up to that point. Another 267 died in Japanese custody.

    MacDonell said he suffered his share of ordeals, including one incident in which he was almost beaten to death by four Japanese guards for defending a comrade accused of stealing food (which he actually did).

    However, it's not himself or other combatants MacDonell feels are most deserving of an apology, but rather the scores of civilians who were brutalized or murdered by Japanese soldiers during the war. This includes the millions of Chinese who were killed and Korean women who were captured and turned into sex slaves.

    ``As soldiers, we didn't really expect to be treated like Sunday school teachers,'' MacDonell said.

    One atrocity that stands out for MacDonell happened during the final stages of the Battle of Hong Kong, when Japanese forces stormed a hospital near where he was stationed and bayonetted wounded Canadians who were being treated, killed doctors and raped and dismembered nurses.

    A Canadian historian said the apology is ``extremely significant'' since explicit expressions of guilt for things done during the war are rare from Japan.

    ``It's an extremely significant event in that respect, and of course it's extremely significant to both the surviving veterans, of whom there are somewhere around 30, and to the families of those who died during the war and have died since,'' said Nathan Greenfield, writer of The Damned, a book released last year that details Canadians' involvement in the Battle of Hong Kong and their subsequent treatment in PoW camps.

    Greenfield, a resident of Ottawa, said the battle marked the worst-ever outcome for the Canadian military - every military person involved was either killed, wounded, missing or captured.

    The treatment these soldiers endured after that battle was also unprecedented in Canada's military history, he said.

    ``The word `hellish' doesn't describe it,'' Greenfield said. ``They were starved, they were beaten, they were turned into slave labourers.''

    Some of the specific things Canadian soldiers endured, Greenfield said, including one soldier having lit cigarettes shoved in his nostrils with his mouth taped shut, another being forced outside in the freezing cold without clothing and others losing up to 45 kilograms due to lack of food.

    The Japanese mostly refused to provide medical treatment for PoWs suffering from injuries or sickness, Greenfield added, contributing to the hundreds of in-custody deaths of Canadians and health problems others suffered when they returned home.

    Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, who accompanied a delegation of veterans to Japan for the apology, said in a statement: ``This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war. It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage.''

    Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird added that the apology would help in healing the ``terrible pain and heavy burden of the Second World War.''

    With files from Robert Hiltz, Postmedia News

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