[ACNS] Commemorations to mark VJ Day – the end of the Second World War in the Pacific – have tended to be a lesser commemoration, in Britain at least, than VE Day – the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Allied veterans of the war often refer to themselves as the forgotten army in the Far East. This is partly because peace in Europe, which broke out in May 1945, was much closer to home; but it is also because it is very difficult to “celebrate” the end of a war where victory was wrought with the loss of 120,000 people who were victims of the first two – and, so far, only two – atomic bombs used in anger.
But that is exactly what happened: the first bomb killed 80,000 people when it was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945; and on 9 August 1945 40,000 people were killed when a similar bomb was detonated over Nagasaki. Tens of thousands more would die of radiation poisoning in the weeks, months and years ahead.
On 15 August 1945, the Japanese leader, Emperor Hirohito, announced his country’s unconditional surrender in a radio address, saying the decision had been made because of the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
In Britain, to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will join veterans, former prisoners of war and civilian internees at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, London, for a commemorative service organised by the National Far East Prisoners of War Fellowship Welfare Remembrance Association.
There will also be services at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and at the nearby Lichfield Cathedral.
But before that, there will be events to mark the anniversary of the atomic bombs, including an inter-faith service of commemoration and commitment on Hiroshima Day, organised by the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers), in which the congregation will say: “From the diversity of our religious traditions. We have come to renew our belief in the holiness of the earth and the sanctity of all life. We declare we are at peace with all people of good will. We need no leader to define for us any enemy, nor to tell us what we need security for and defence against.”
The 70th anniversary of the end of the war is seen as a “very important” occasion by the Anglican Church in Japan, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK).
“While the war ended with the defeat of Japan, about 20 million people in several Asian/Pacific countries including Japan were victims,” the NSKK House of Bishops said in a joint document. “Pain and suffering brought by sacrifices and damage of this war have not yet healed even after 70 years.
The aftermath of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
“We especially bear in mind that our country has not been able to make reconciliation and peace with the countries we invaded.
“In this year of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we pray for those who were victims of this war and who are still feeling the effects of pain, suffering, and sorrow, and we reaffirm our commitment to the future peace of the world.”
In 1995, the NSKK “admitted our war responsibility, based on repentance and looking toward the 21st century,” the Bishops said. “We determined to walk with those who were historically persecuted and victimized during the war and are still discriminated against.”
In the following year, the NSKK Synod adopted the Province’s “Statement on War Responsibility” in which all churches agreed to collectively share NSKK’s war responsibility, to convey an apology in the name of Nippon Sei Ko Kai to the churches in the countries which Japan had invaded, and to start and continue a program in each diocese and parish “to review the historical facts and to deepen our understanding of the Gospel.”
“We have strived to establish collaborative relationships with Asian churches, especially the Anglican Church of Korea and the Episcopal Church in the Philippines,” the bishops say, “and have committed to support the Okinawan struggle for peace and human rights.
“We reaffirm that peace and reconciliation in the entire East Asian area, including a peaceful reunion of North and South Korea and the establishment of a more peaceful Okinawa will continuously be important issues in the missionary work of Nippon Sei Ko Kai, and will continue our efforts to achieve these goals.”
In June, the bishops of the NSKK gathered in Okinawa to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the end of battle there in which more than 200,000 people were killed. And they will gather again in Hiroshima on 6 August and in Nagasaki on 9 August for requiems in memory of the dead.
Nagasaki pictured in 2012
In a sign of reconciliation, Archbishop Paul Kim and a number of other bishops from the Anglican Church of Korea and some other bishops from Korea will also attend the Requiems.
In the post-war Era, Japan adopted a “peace constitution” which committed the country to pacifism. This is now at risk through the introduction of new security bills through the Diet – the Japanese Parliament, which would allow for “collective self-defence” (News, 22 July). The NSKK is opposing the move.
“We have the Peace Constitution which denounces the war, and because of this Peace Constitution, Japan has never been involved in war and has killed no one for the past 70 years,” the Primate of Japan, the Most Revd Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, told ACNS.
“Right now, the Japanese government is trying to modify the Peace Constitution so that Japan could play an active role in war and conflict in the world using military force in future. We, the NSKK, are working hard to stop this government’s policy.”