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When I was growing up in Britain in 1975, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” remained a popular film, regularly screened on television — to the victors belong the war stories, I suppose.

Intercultural understanding is not a new phenomenon, but I believe there remained in the popular mind the vision of the Japanese as cruel, secretive and inhumane, even 30 years after the end of the war. Certainly that vision would have been more prevalent then than it is now. Consider too that for those with family members who suffered or died in the likes of the Bataan death march, or in camps like Changi in Singapore — I had a girlfriend whose Dutch father was a Changi survivor — forgiveness may have been hard to find.

Particularly in light of America’s recent exploits, books such as Scotsman Eric Lomax’s “The Railway Man” make instructive reading. Lomax was subjected to waterboarding in a Japanese prisoner-of-war facility in Thailand. Surprisingly he dwells more on the decades-long lingering effects of that experience than on his suffering when left bound hand and foot and savagely beaten almost to death by a team of Japanese soldiers armed with pickax handles. Several prisoners received the same treatment for operating an illicit radio, and if I remember rightly, at least one died as a result.

Reading this firsthand account, are we really to believe that “waterboarding isn’t torture”? I believe it’s worth remembering that war’s pernicious effects reach much further than the conflict itself.

euan ferguson

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