At the Nikkei Conference, I met a young Japanese woman who visited Singapore as a college student and was taken aback by National Museum exhibits that said Japan "invaded" Singapore. Too many Japanese like her still grow up thinking the Japanese soldiers were knights in shining armour.

But the truth is, it is in nobody's interest, least of all our own, to dwell on the past and let the issue dominate our diplomatic agenda. Singapore's approach has been pragmatic. It is about looking to the future and securing that which benefits us as a nation.

Yet, I don't like how pragmatism seems to carry a negative connotation (read: mercenary or unprincipled). To me, forgiveness in this case can and should be celebrated as a sign of strength.

On this, I think we might learn from the late Eric Lomax. He was a British soldier in Malaya who spent time in Changi Prison after the Japanese triumphed in 1942.

Lomax was sent to build the Siam-Burma Railway, known as the Death Railway for the massive casualties it caused. There, he was caught planning an escape and subjected to endless beatings and half-drownings by the Japanese military police, but miraculously survived.

For years after the war, he kept up his hatred for his interrogators, but later in life, he tracked one of them down, and met him to tell him that all was forgiven.

His story is told in a moving book he wrote, The Railway Man, later made into a film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.

The closing line in his book reads: "Some time the hating has to stop."

It does, does it not? And it can - not just for individuals like Lomax, but for nations too.

elgintoh@sph.com.sg


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