Today is the annual national memorial day of the Nanjing Massacre: a six week episode of rape and murder by Japanese forces against the citizens of China’s capital city in 1937. As many as 300,000 people were killed.
Yesterday was the UK premiere at BAFTA of the film Yasukuni, a documentary about the Tokyo site in which the spirits of 2.4 million war dead are enshrined. The shrine is controversial because it includes over 1000 convicted war criminals, 14 of which are A-Class. Visits to the shrine by Japanese government officials add to on-going tensions with China.
On the way to the way to the premiere, I passed a statue in the shadow of Big Ben, looking across the Thames at the London Eye. The statue is of General Gordon, who volunteered to join the Opium Wars; Prime Minister William Gladstone said he’d never known of “a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace.” Gordon was a commanding officer in the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, which Victor Hugo described as ‘two robbers breaking into a museum, devastating, looting and burning, leaving laughing hand-in-hand with their bags full of treasures; one of the robbers is called France and the other Britain.’ Gordon’s statue stands on a plinth engraved with the words “Charity and Justice.”
My head was still reeling with the stories on the front pages of the previous days’ newspapers about the ‘land of the free’ using torture in the ‘war on terror’ and a British mother of 6 urging family and friends to sacrifice themselves in the ‘holy war.’
The Chinese director of the Yasukuni documentary, Mr Li Ying, has lived in Japan since 1989. He said the film – which took him 10 years to make – is a call for us all to examine how we remember and forget the horrors of war. The call could not be more timely.