Wednesday, 5 February 2014

How do we stop it?

This evening I've been to see The Railway Man which - as Wikipedia will tell you - is the story of how one Japanese Prisoner of War - Eric Lomax - comes face to face with one of the guards who tortured him - Takashi Nagase. At the end, when the two men meet, Eric asks Takashi what he tells people about what he did. Takashi replies that they don't talk about it; Eric nods in agreement, "Neither do we." Because what we have here are two men who are both tormented by their memories of war both, as Eric's friend Finlay says of the two British officers, are unable to sleep or to love because of the torment their minds inflict on them.

There are no winners in war, but still it goes on.

In one scene in The Railway Man, Eric Lomax is shown being subjected to water boarding by Takashi Nagase. After the war, Japanese soldiers were tried and executed for water boarding, but the French used it in the Algerian war, the British used it during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the Americans used it on Al-Qaeda suspects in 2003 - despite being signatories to the United Nations Convention against Torture since 1988, a convention that specifically bans torture under any conditions.

The film does end with Eric Lomax forgiving Takashi Nagase. While another film I saw recently - Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom shows how Nelson Mandela came out of prison instructing his followers to act peacefully when it would have been just as easy to encourage them to rise up in an orgy of violence, especially as violence was erupting in many areas of the country. During his presidency, Nelson Mandela set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way to build peace between the various factions within South Africa who had spent so long perpetrating or being victims of gross human rights violations. But his beloved ANC is riven with factions and in-fighting while his family do battle with each other and the ANC over rights to his name and the country continues to add to its history of violence.

If even a man of Nelson Mandela statue cannot leave a legacy of peace in the country he loved, what hope is there for the rest of us, and what of those wars still waging across various parts of the world?

But it remains so pointless - as Neville Chamberlain said, at Kettering in 1938, "In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers." And still it goes on. Still young men (and now young women) are told - as Takashi Nagase was - that they will win, and they will have honour. Nobody mentions that they may die, as 160 million people did during the 20th century, or that they may return home with bodies permanently damaged or - like Eric Lomax and Takashi Nagase - they may remain physically fit and healthy but so mentally scared it impacts the rest of their life.

It is madness, but how to stop it?

I was one of the million people who took to the streets of London in 2003, in an attempt to stop Tony Blair declaring war on Iraq. It made no difference. I support various charities who work either to campaign against war, or to try and pick up the pieces left behind by war. I sit up late at night, writing irate blogs about the futility of war.

But still it goes on.


  1. I so agree, Izzy! We seem to have learned nothing from history... And how can acts that would incur a life sentence be legal on the battlefield? Graham C, ICR

    1. If we made it illegal for soldiers to shoot people we wouldn't have battlefields!!! :-) But - however insane it sounds - we do have international laws that regulate what is acceptable in war. However, those laws are often ignored.

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