Singapore recalls dark days of Japanese surrender

Singapore on Monday marked the 60th anniversary of the formal Japanese surrender in the island during World War II which ended what many regard as the darkest chapter in its history.

“This remembrance ceremony honours the sacrifice and suffering of many during the dark years of World War II,” Information Minister Lee Boon Yang said in a speech at the Kranji War Cemetery close to the Malaysian border.

“For those who lived through the war, the wounds have taken a long time to heal and the memories will not be forgotten,” he added.

Japanese ambassador Takaaki Kojima joined envoys of allied nations in laying a wreath and bowing before a memorial as about 800 guests including British Minister of State for the Armed Forces Adam Ingram and former prisoners of war in wheelchairs watched from the sidelines.

Historians and survivors say as many as 50 000 ethnic Chinese men between 18 and 50 years of age were massacred in Singapore after Japan’s lightning victory over British-led forces defending what was then thought to be an impregnable island.

The “Sook Ching” [wiping out] exercise was believed to have been ordered as vengeance for Singaporeans’ support for China’s resistance against Japan, and to prevent able-bodied men from posing a threat to the occupation forces.

Singapore’s independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, who was 19 when the Japanese invaded the island and narrowly escaped being rounded up for the massacre, said in his memoirs that “after seeing them at close quarters, I was sure that for sheer fighting spirit, [the Japanese] were among the world’s finest”.

“But they also showed a meanness and viciousness towards their enemies equal to the Huns’. Genghis Khan and his hordes could not have been more merciless,” he wrote.

“I have no doubts about whether the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary. Without them, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Malaya and Singapore, and millions in Japan itself, would have perished.”

The fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942 dealt a severe blow to imperial Britain, whose wartime leader Winston Churchill described it as the “worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”.

After the atom bombs finally forced Japan to surrender on August 15, 1945, its forces in Singapore gave themselves up to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander in Southeast Asia, on September 12.

Singapore’s information minister Lee warned at Monday’s ceremony about the fragility of peace and said the city-state, which now boasts the best-armed military in Southeast Asia, will remain vigilant against all threats including international terrorism.

He also noted that newly re-elected Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had formally apologised for the war, most recently on August 15, the 60th anniversary of the main Japanese surrender.

“We must face history squarely so that we can move on to build a new chapter,” Lee said.

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