Friday, March 21, 2008

Forgive Them, Lord ...

I skimmed over the grimmest of my own experiences. For instance, I said little of how I had been made to watch Japanese soldiers having bayonet practice on live prisoners of war tied between bamboo posts; of how I had been taken to witness executions of persons of all races and nationalities for obscure reasons like "showing a spirit of willfulness" or not bowing with sufficient alacrity in the direction of the rising sun. I had never known there could be so many different ways of killing people--cutting off their heads with swords, bayonetting them in many variations, strangling them, burying them alive. But, significantly, never by just shooting them.

I say "significantly" because the omission of this contemporary form of killing was for me striking evidence of the remote and archaic nature of the forces that had invaded the Japanese spirit. Awareness of this dark invasion actually made it impossible for those of us who were prisoners to have personal feelings against our captors. Even at our worst moments of torment, we generally viewed the Japanese as puppets of such immense impersonal forces that they did not really know what they were doing.

It was amazing how often men would confess to me, after some Japanese excess worse than usual, that for the first time in their lives they had realized the truth, and the dynamic liberating power, of the first of the Crucifixion utterances: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." I found that the moment one grasped this fundamental fact of our prison situation, forgiveness became not an act of will or of personal virtue, but an automatic and all-compelling consequence of understanding. The tables of the spirit strangely and promptly turned, and we found ourselves without self-pity of any kind, feeling instead deeply sorry for the Japanese, as if we were the free men and they the prisoners--men held in some profound oubliette of their own minds.

It's difficult to put yourself in his shoes. I imagine I'd be filled with hate and fear, not pity.

Laurens van der Post on Japan and Hiroshima.


UPDATE - the link's a bit iffy - I think their site's got the bonnet up. If you can't link, go to the home page and search (box is top right) for "Laurens". It's the first returned piece.

3 comments:

TDK said...

When I was younger I knew a man who had been captured at Singapore. He was a family friend. He certainly didn't have a "forgive them" attitude. He retained an unmitigated loathing for the Japanese, which in my Marxist days, I mistook for racism. I had excuse because even then I knew he was friends with Thais and Chinese.

The reason I bring this up is because I can't imagine many people watch one of their colleagues get beaten near to death and then feel "they know not what they do". I nearly avoided the link to the full Laurens van der Post article assuming it to be based upon hippy dippy bullshit. On the contrary it really is worth reading in full.

TDK said...

Should say:

"I had no excuse"

dr cromarty said...

A family friend of a friend had a pub in South Wales. Such was his loathing of the Japs 30 years after his capture Out East that he smashed up a customer's Sony transistor radio when he placed it on the bar.

Extreme, but you get the picture