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Tuesday, 26 May, 1998, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Letter to Akihito explains snub
Arthur Titherington, of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors' Association (JLCSA), has written a personal letter to Emperor Akihito explaining why his visit to Britain has angered some war veterans.
I am writing to you as chairman of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors' Association to provide you with a direct explanation as to why members of my organisation felt it appropriate to turn their backs as you were driven along the Mall today.
I also wanted to clear up a number of myths that seem to have developed around this demonstration. I should say that I would have far preferred to have made these comments to you personally, but as we have been unable to gain access to you during your visit whether by special meeting or by being invited to one of the banquets and lunches you are attending, this is my only alternative method of communicating with you.
There are some 9,000 members of the JLCSA, all of whom were prisoners of war of your country during the course of the Second World War and all of whom are now in their late 70s and 80s.
To my knowledge this group is the overwhelming majority of former Japanese PoWs who are still alive in Britain today.
The fact that so many of us, despite our ages, have travelled all the way to London to make this gesture today should give you some inkling as to the depth of feeling that exists about the failure of your Government to atone for what was done to us during the War.
For three-and-a-half years we went through treatment that words can hardly describe; treatment that was so barbaric it is difficult to understand the human psyche of the people who carried it out, ordered it or condoned it.
Treatment that has not only left many of us physically scarred but treatment, the memory of which has been burned onto our very souls. I have little doubt that those memories will remain with us until our dying days.
There are people who have asked us why we do not put what happened behind us; why do we keep re-opening the wounds. The answer is that for most of us for some 40 years we tried to do exactly that.
When we returned to Britain, at the ending of the War, most of us tried to forget what had happened, we tried to live a normal life. However, we found it impossible to shrug off the haunting memories of the nightmare that was our time in captivity.
But those memories started to build up into a fierce burning resentment as the years passed, and it became increasingly clear that Japan was neither prepared to accept what it had done was so wrong nor was intending, in any real way, to atone for what it had done to us.
'No hatred of Japanese'
It has been this feeling of great injustice that has driven us to pursue a claim for compensation and a full apology from your Government, and it is this sense of great injustice that has driven us on to the streets today.
There has been much talk recently about the need for reconciliation with the Japanese people. For me that is simply not an issue. I have no hatred of the Japanese people, and indeed I have travelled on many occasions to your country and count a number of your citizens as being among my closest friends.
The failure to atone has not been a failure of the Japanese man and woman in thestreet, it has been a failure by successive Japanese Governments.
It has been said that you were only a boy during the War, that you were blameless for what happened and further that you are not entitled to enter into the political fray, therefore, that it is inappropriate for us to demonstrate during your visit.
'Spirit of sorrow'
I can assure you that my members have no personal gripe against you as an individual, however, as the Emperor of Japan you come to Britain representing the Japanese State and it is in that position that we are making it clear to your Government that until they have fully atoned for what happened in the War, their Emperor cannot expect to be treated in this country with the respect to which you would normally be entitled.
Alongside my feelings of anger and resentment walks a spirit of sorrow. I would dearly love to lay this issue to rest, stay at home tending my garden, and not to continually have to revisit all those haunting memories.
I would have much preferred that this whole issue had been resolved quietly and in a way that would have permitted you to come to this country without this cloud hanging over your visit. However, I can only say we tried.
On successive visits to your country over the last four or five years I have tried to gain access to your Ministers to try and impress upon them the importance of resolving the issue. On each occasion my request has been rebuffed.
We have therefore, been left with no alternative but to demonstrate to you, your Government and your people that this is an issue that will remain an issue between us and you until your Government has the decency to resolve it. I would ask that you pass these comments on to your Prime Minister.
Yours sincerely, Arthur Titherington."
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