The Bath Chronicle Reviews Japan’s WWII Legacy by Hiroko Sherwin

The Bath Chronicle reviews Hiroko Sherwin’s Japan’s WWII Legacy, released with Quartet on 25 February 2016.

Book reviewer Roy Linley said:

JAPAN’S WORLD WAR II LEGACY by HIROKO SHERWINHow did this gentle nation come to commit such appalling atrocities in the Second World War and why has she largely failed to atone and mourn for them? These are the  questions that Hiroko Sherwin seeks to answer in this magnificent and meticulously researched, if harrowing, book, which is being published both here and in Japan. And we must remember that Japan’s war began back in1931 with the unprovoked invasion of Manchuria, and included the horrific Nanjing massacre of 1937/38.

Firstly, we are reminded that Emperor Hirohito was considered to be a god and so to be obeyed without question. Then, within the Armed Forces there was a lack of respect for life and a total disregard of the Geneva Convention. For example, training involved the bayoneting of enemy prisoners. Then, imagine being locked inside a kaiten, a manned torpedo. The occupant would go off in a usually vain search for enemy shipping. Death by suffocation was frequent. Only two American ships suffered damage. Men in the Air Force fared little better, often being forced into suicide bombing missions, whilst soldiers fought in impossibly hostile conditions in the jungles of the Philippines and New Guinea. Comfort women were forcibly transported from enemy lands; their lives were ruined beyond human redemption. You simply could not avoid being brutalised. All this we learn from accounts given by veterans in the first half of the book.

Those who survived to return, defeated, to their homeland did so with a deep sense of shame. Japan had lost the War and turned in on itself. It was, of course, an island nation, unlike Germany. Everywhere there was denial; children growing up in the 1950s learned little of the War.

And what of the situation since? Officially, in terms of atonement, it has been patchy. Hirohito never apologised either to his own people or to his former enemies. Sincere apologies have been given by prime ministers, only to be revised by successors. The Yushu-kan War Museum gives a heavily revisionist interpretation of history.

It has been left to individuals to atone for the sins of their forbears. Fortunately, their efforts, often in the face of initial hostility, have been truly inspirational. Some have established Chu-ki-ren, an organisation devoted to promote international friendship by testifying to the truth of the War; others have travelled half way around the world to apologise personally to victims; others again ensure the immaculate maintenance of POW cemeteries and organise visits for the relatives of those buried there. They have, in the end, found that their former enemies have been ready to forgive. I defy anyone to read the second half of the book with being deeply moved.

This splendid work deals with a specific period in the history of one nation. Yet, in terms of man’s inhumanity to man, the need for atonement and the power of forgiveness, it has a message for fallen humanity which is eternal. For this, Hiroko Sherwin deserves our unswerving gratitude. It is compulsive reading.

The review was printed in the Bath Chronicle on 18 February 2016. You can buy Japan’s WWII Legacy from Quartet here, or buy it on Amazon here.