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«Winchester, UK Washington, USA First published by Zero Books, 2012 Zero Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station ...»

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The course of the Cold War determined the judgement of history. Post-war détente accepted the ‘spheres of influence’ agreement between Stalin and Churchill as the basis for a realistic, if not a just distribution of power between the USSR and the USA. But the later collapse of the Soviet bloc reinforced the belief that the activist ideal of democratisation was a better guide to diplomacy than the cynical realism that left the eastern bloc dictators in place. The new elites coming to power in Eastern Europe owed an ideological debt to the anti-USSR version of history, and re-wrote their history books accordingly. As we have seen President Bush endorsed the ‘Eastern betrayal’ assessment on the anniversary of the Victory in Europe. ‘V.E. Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression,’ he said in Latvia, on 6 May 2005: ‘The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.’ You do not have to accept George Bush’s reading of history wholesale to understand that the Allies’ commitment to liberating the peoples of Europe was entirely subordinate to the power politics of the day.

Japanese War Crimes

Up to 1973 Japan paid reparations totalling $1.15 billion, to Burma, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Vietnam. These reparations were, though, coloured by Cold War priorities, so that China and North Vietnam were excluded, which position had the support of the US. In May 1960 the People’s Daily argued that with 11-15 million Chinese killed in the war, 60 million made homeless, and $60 billion in damages, the People’s Republic ought to be entitled to $50 billion in damages. Later, the PRC abandoned this claim and Foreign Minister Fukuda stated that Japan should apologise to China for the troubles Japanese troops caused in China.83 In the 1970s, Japan’s rise to economic super-power status provoked a revived interest in Japanese War Crimes. On 23 May 1971 the Conference of the National Federation of Far Eastern Prisoner of War clubs met at Buxton to talk about a planned visit from Emperor Hirohito to London. Philip Toosey told the delegates that on no account should they protest against the Queen’s guest, and they reluctantly agreed. The popular British television programme Tenko, about European women held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp was indicative a more critical mood.84 In the 1970s and 80s a number of accounts of Korean women forcibly prostituted by the Imperial Japanese Army were published (they were called ‘Comfort Women’), leading to calls for a Japanese apology. In 1965 a reconciliation treaty had aimed to close all demands for reparations, but a younger, more liberal and feminist – but also more assertive – generation of Koreans were less willing to forgive and forget, and they were helped by Japanese women like Diet representative Shimizu Sumiko. In 1991 Kim Hak Sun filed a lawsuit in Japan for her suffering as a ‘comfort woman’ along with a number of other women.

They won the case. In 1992 Prime Minister Kiyiichi Miyazawa admitted Japan’s guilt and apologised.85 By the 1990s the world was in awe of Japan’s new status, and President George H. W.

Bush’s visit in January 1992 asking for economic help was widely seen as shaming (and not just because the President was violently sick at a televised banquet). Corresponding to Japan’s move from ally to rival, western criticism of Japan’s wartime record increased.

Elazar Barkan made the comparison that ‘Germany has atoned extensively’, but ‘Japan has yet to recognize that it was guilty’.86 British, Dutch and Australian veterans and Prisoners of War protested in Hong Kong, and in Britain, in 1998, when Japanese President Akahito visited.

In 1997 Chinese-American writer Iris Chang published The Rape of Nanking, a striking account of Japanese wartime atrocities in the Chinese city in 1937. Chang’s book sold 500,000 copies in America, and she was invited to the White House by Hillary Clinton, and also invited to speak on the television shows Good Morning America, Nightline, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, as well as being featured in the New York Times and Readers’ Digest (her first book about a Chinese American persecuted under McCarthyism was less successful in the US). As compelling as the book was, it concentrated on recounting Chinese suffering, and offered little analysis of the Japanese turn towards imperialism, attributing the massacres to the Japanese psyche. It was inspired by the historical genre of holocaust studies. In US media coverage of Chang’s book it was reported that the Japanese were wholly ignorant of events in Nanking, though that was not wholly true. Sadly the toll of public interest and condemnation from Japanese conservatives weighed down on Chang, who took her own life towards the end of 2004.

A recurring theme of the debate about Japan’s war crimes is the failure to apologise, though in fact successive Prime Ministers have apologised, and these apologies in turn have been taken as evidence of insincerity. Elazar Barkan, for example, thinks that ‘the constant repetitions of these formulations transformed them from apologies for the war crimes into failed excuses’.87 When Prime Minister Tomiichi Muruyama apologised to former Prisoners of War, the Sun newspaper claimed expertise in the Japanese language, claiming that the words he used were less than apology. The Times announced that the ultimate form of apology was ‘hara kiri’ – though the newspaper did not say whether just the Prime Minister or perhaps the Japanese people as awhole ought to commit ritual suicide.88 In all of the discussion of Japanese war crimes the question of whether the Allies ought to apologise for the firebombing and atom bombs on Japanese cities was passed over. Nor was the question ever asked why there were so few Japanese prisoners of war, since the onetime allies would never admit that they had refused to take prisoners, but executed surrendering Japanese troops.

The European Resistance

The official historians of the Allied Powers, Britain and the United States, played down the contribution of the resistance, as a potential challenge to their authority as the new occupying powers in Europe. In Greece the British army waged war against the main resistance army, ELAS, in collaboration with German commanders and the Greek paramilitaries the Nazis had raised. The official British historian of the Special Operations Executive in Europe, M.R.D. Foot made sure to write the resistance movements a secondary role. In Italy, the government sought to control the historical record, sponsoring an official Istituto Nazionale per la storia del Movimento di Liberazione in Italia (INMLI) in 1949 to try to moderate the influence of more radical accounts.89 The Italian government’s efforts to steer the history of the resistance were adopted by authorities across Europe, and in 1958 the first International Conference on the History of the Resistance Movements was held in Liege.

Just as the Cold War served to isolate the left, their wartime record of resistance became more important, and they generated a very different account of the war. In 1953 Roberto Battaglia’s Story of the Italian Resistance, revealed that the Allied Commander Alexander had encouraged the partisans to fight the Wehrmacht in open combat, only to abandon them to their fate, by postponing the promised autumn 1943 offensive. The record of the Italian resistance was a sore point. Post war Communist leaders tried to rein in the partisan veterans’ status in the party in favour of a newer generation of recruits. The record of armed struggle against the state was an important source of self-belief for the left wing terrorist groups that organised in the 1970s.90 Among Greeks exiled in France and America, while the Generals ruled in Athens, the wartime record of the resistance army ELAS, and the Allies’ betrayal of it, was treasured as a serviceable alternative national idea.91 These exiles would make up the a new governing class many years later, when the Socialist PASOK government took over from the military authorities, and the history of the resistance and subsequent civil war remained fiercely contested. In Yugoslavia, the post-war government was created out of the partisan movement, which quickly attained the status of a national epic that militated against critical self-reflection. For other East European states, where the resistance was more marginal or divided, the Communist bloc countries struggled to manufacture a myth of resistance out of scant examples.92 As the left’s star waned in the 1980s, the reputation of the resistance, being the left’s central claim to stand for the nation, was itself subject to the harsh light of scrutiny. Accounts of the brutal methods and settling of private grudges that had been only muttered by right wing critics after the war were now said much more stridently. In Italy, the historian and Mussolini biographer Renzo de Felice led a frontal assault on the ‘resistance myth’. In Claude Berri’s 1990 film Uranus, the Communists in the resistance are portrayed as villains, while the collaborators are treated sympathetically. Elsewhere, the disintegration of the Yugoslav state along ethnic lines gave rise to a much more critical examination of Tito’s partisans, and much greater scepticism towards their pan-Slav reputation.93


Scepticism towards the resistance was more in keeping with the post-heroic age of the 1990s, and so too was a greater interest in collaboration between European elites and the Nazi occupiers. In 1972 Marcel Ophuls’ film for German television The Sorrow and the Pity packed French picture houses with its remarkable account of the extensive collaboration between the French people and the German occupation (it was not shown on French television until 1981). Ophuls fled Nazi Germany for France in 1933. Before Ophuls’ film French wartime memories were an un-reflective mix of overstated resistance heroism and a vague nostalgia for Vichy France. Historians and scholars from America, like Robert Paxton and Stanley Hoffmann disturbed the official account, explaining that collaboration was not imposed upon France, but actively sought. According to Paxton, Marshall Petain’s grandiose ‘National Revolution was not Hitler’s project’,94 it was not, as the Journel Officiel reported ‘imported into the country by the tanks of the invaders’ (13 October 1944). In 1997 the Columbia University historian Paxton was mobbed like a superstar, when he came to give evidence at Vichy official Maurice Papon, who signed the order deporting French Jews to Germany.95 The trial of Papon, ten years after the trial of the SS Commander Klaus Barbie for war crimes in Lyons underscored the new position of the French government. President Chirac accepted national responsibility for the persecution of the Jews in a speech in 1995.

The corrosive impact of the re-examination of the Petainist record had damaged his predecessor, Socialist François Mitterand, who had as a younger man, served as a Vichy functionary.

The hidden record of collaboration was too tempting a scandal for researchers, who scanned all of the governments and institutions of post-war Europe looking for the opportunity for more revelations. Former seminarian John Cornwell wrote the story of Rome’s collaboration in Hitler’s Pope (1999).96 In 1997 Journalist Tom Bower and Isabel Vincent both published books on economic collaboration between Swiss Banks and the Nazis, to hide funds looted from victims of the Holocaust.

Allied Atrocities In 1967, Allan Bosworth, a former Naval Public Relations Officer in Japan published America’s Concentration Camps, telling the story of the wartime internment of JapaneseAmericans. It was the first of a welter of books and films that re-cast the internment as a wrong committed by the US government,97 the launch of a Redress Movement that culminated in a public acknowledgement to that effect by President Ford in 1976. Here was a turning point in the understanding of the Pacific War and a telling moment of selfknowledge in American attitudes towards the Japanese. Amongst historians at least, there is a greater understanding of the racialization of the war against Japan, following the publication of John Dower’s War Without Mercy in 1986. Knowledge of the suffering at Hiroshima was put before American public in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima that first appeared as a special in Time magazine in 1946. It was not until Gar Alperovitz’s book Atomic Diplomacy in 1965 that it was first understood that US intelligence knew that Japan was on the verge of surrender, and the case has been resisted ever since.

After the publication of Jorg Friedrich’s book, The Fire, in Germany in 2002 (Gunter Grass’s novel about the Allies’ sinking of the refugee ship Wilhelm Gustloff, Crabwalk was published in the same year) some German newspapers took the opportunity of a visit by the Queen to Germany to demand that she apologise for the bombing of Dresden and other cities. ‘How Josef Goebbels, the original spin doctor must be chuckling’, wrote Tony Rennell, author of Tail-End Charlies: The Last Battles of the Bomber War: Goebbels’ ‘clever manipulation of the truth about the Allied bombing of the city of Dresden still has life in it’.98 The record of Bomber Command had already been raised with the Royal Family when the Queen Mother unveiled a statue of Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris in central London in 1992. Antiwar protestors crashed the ceremony and threw red paint over the statue. Later a London jury acquitted them of any crime.

British historians have in the last ten years been more willing to acknowledge that the Allies, too, have blood on their hands. The military historian Max Hastings has written of summary executions in the Normandy landings and other atrocities. Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper have done much to shed light on the colonialist outlook that drove the British war effort in the Far East. Mark Curtis and David French have done much to show that the British re-taking of the colonies was far from a liberation.

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