Amid all the wonderful crazy sports stuff going on, there was a very sombre anniversary. Seventy years ago this past weekend, the last, bloody gasp of World War Two came to end, with the surrender of Japan, after years of unimaginable killing. Canada was involved in the war at the very outset, when this country dispatched about 2,000 raw recruits in a hopeless move to buttress British forces in Hong Kong shortly before Pearl Harbour. A month later, the Japanese invaded. After a relatively-brief, murderous skirmish that lasted perhaps a week, Hong Kong fell to the Japanese. More than 550 Canadians were killed in the fighting or died later as starved, over-worked prisoners of war, their bodies reduced to little more than flesh and bone.
Those who survived had spent nearly four years in a hell that can scarcely be imagined today, and yet, when they returned home, they were basically ignored by the Canadian government and most Canadians. There were no glory parades or medals for them. Nor did they receive compensation for their years of forced labour until 1998, when survivors received a paltry cheque of $24,000. Today, few remain to bear witness.
If you’re in the mood to look back and reflect, I offer some stuff I wrote earlier on, plus two interesting, and conflicting, pieces on the decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the horrendous loss of civilian life and agony that tens of thousands of “survivors” endured, I’m not sure anyone involved in the War against Japan, let alone those near death in POW camps in the jungle and Japan, questioned it. To a man, they believed that, without Hiroshima, they might well have never seen home again.
Ten years ago, on the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, I wrote this for the Globe and Mail.
The Globe also included this vivid remembrance by Hong Kong vet Bob “Flash” Clayton, as told to me, on the vicious Battle for Hong Kong and his harrowing experience afterwards as a prisoner of war. His account is one of 20 oral histories by World War Two veterans in my book, Rare Courage. Such a time.
Flash Clayton, one of my heroes, managed to survive until Feb. 2015. Ed Shayler whose experience is detailed in my Globe article, died in 2011. Their obits are here:
Robert “Flash” Clayton (1921-2015), forever Rest in Peace.
And here are those opposing articles on whether the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki could, in any sense, be justified.
First, from The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/why-the-us-really-bombed-hiroshima/
And then, these judicious thoughts by well-knonw war historian, Max Hastings.