Speechless Monarchs

Emperor Akihito Visits London – The Times 28-05-1998

The Editor
The Times, London


Two heads of state can lay on lavish receptions for each other at public expense, but neither of them is permitted to comment on any 'political' topic of everyday concern to their people. Indeed, they appear to be the only individuals in the land without a view on the hottest topic of the day and one which causes deep distress or confusion among thousands of their respective subjects. Isn't life odd?


48 Vincent Square, SW1P 2NR.
May 27.

In May 1998, Japan's Emperor Akihito paid a state visit to Britain which was entirely over-shadowed by the issue of Japan's failure to 'atone' for its war crimes in World War ll.
More than 12,000 British prisoners of war had died of brutality, starvation or disease when forced into Japanese slave labour camps. Several hundred survivors of those British POWs 'turned their backs' on the Emperor as he drove in state procession with the Queen through London and toured Britain.
Their demands for an unequivocal apology – and compensation in line with that given to hundreds of thousands of other victims of Japanese atrocities around the world – embarrassed both the Japanese and British governments who had hoped the issue could be glossed over and who had mis-judged public opinion.
The demonstrations entirely dominated the news and media coverage of the visit for several days. But the Queen and the Emperor were unable to make any formal statements on behalf of the countries they represented because 'protocol' precluded them from making 'political' statements...

Historical note:

In World War ll around 67,000 British servicemen were captured within the first 100 days of Japan's military advance through south-east Asia. Thousands more were captured subsequently.

Of these around 12,000 died as a direct consequence of forced labour, brutality, starvation and disease – all in violation of The Geneva Convention.

On the notorious Burma (Kwai) Railway alone around 6,500 were worked, beaten or starved to death. Tens of thousands more were permanently scarred by their treatment at Japanese hands, while hundreds of thousands of other nationals were massacred, abused or forced into slave labour or prostitution.

At the subsequent war crimes trials, 920 Japanese were accused, 811 convicted and 265 condemned to death.

In 1951, British officials at the San Francisco Treaty with Japan negotiated a one-off payment to each British POW survivor of £76 (about one year's salary at the time) – a fraction of the sum awarded to victims of most other nations.

Fifty years after the war Japan had still made no formal apology or 'atonement' for its atrocious record of state-sponsored war crimes and the Japanese public were almost entirely ignorant of its country's wartime record.

By 1998, Japanese authorities were making increasing efforts to hide or obscure such information from the public and school text-books and syllabuses ensure that children are protected from such uncomfortable truths.

© (1998) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Christopher Long

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