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How Asians see World War II, 70 years on

In the seven decades since the end of World War II, Asia has slowly become more prosperous. The region's economies are connected like never before. Yet there are still deep divisions between neighbors. Memories of colonialism and imperialism continue to breed distrust.

     As time passes, there are ever-fewer opportunities to hear from those who survived the war. Younger generations have their own perspectives. To mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, the Nikkei Asian Review asked more than 40 people across Asia to share their thoughts on the conflict and its lessons. Their comments have been edited for clarity.

Zhou Yongsheng

Age: 52

Professor, Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University


The words "peace and development" summarize the postwar period in Asia, although there have been conflicts. Overall, World War II liberated the countries and peoples of Asia and led them to independence. It's very important for major powers and advanced countries to tame their ambitions and engage with weaker countries and ethnic groups on equal footing.

     I'd like to point out that Japan was able to invade China because China was divided. Ethnic consciousness and unity can only be awakened by outside pressure.

     The Soviet Union did not treat small countries and ethnic groups equally and demanded at the Yalta Conference that Mongolia and some other regions be divided. After the war, the Cold War began. But on the positive side, Japan realized the importance of peaceful development.

     China understands that peace helps the country prosper and improve living standards. Much of Asia shares this same understanding. The only country that fails to pay due attention to the economy is Russia, which is obsessed with territorial issues.

Yu Zhiwei

Age: 34

General manager, Beijing Kuaiman Times Technology


My impression is that prewar Asia was a second-class region. After the war, Hong Kong and Japan grew significantly and became comparable to the U.S. and Europe. The postwar period can be summed up in four words: the rise of Asia.

     Based on reflections on the past, both China and Japan have changed their perceptions of themselves. Although China had been the center of the world 150 years ago, it reconsidered its international position after its bitter wartime experience. Japan also redefined itself.

     While countries tend to hold their enemies responsible for war, they should reflect on what their own weaknesses were. China lacked the spirit of solidarity. Although China's military defeats are often blamed on Empress Dowager Cixi, there is more to them than that.

     Why did Japan wage war against other nations? Why did the country choose kamikaze attacks? Japan has to seriously think about these issues and convey sincere regrets to future generations.

     After World War II, the global order was created, led by the U.S. Even today, the world is under the country's influence. China, for its part, should support weaker countries and expand its friendly relationships with nations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Zhu Jianrong

Age: 58

Professor, Toyo Gakuen University in Japan


War is no longer a means of solving international issues. After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. became the dominant power in the world, but it has struggled in the Middle East. In today's world, any country that tries to use force, at the end of the day, will lose more than it would gain through economic sanctions. 

     China is learning about this. My generation of Chinese was sent from urban homes to live and work on rural farms during the Cultural Revolution. Although our living standards are much better now, this generation continues to try to become richer because of the fear of returning to poverty.

     The same can be said for politics. While understanding that the world has moved on to a new stage, China still feels that it has to be prepared for battle, because of its history of being occupied.

     China's younger generation, born in and after the 1990s, is much more interested in culture than war and has no hesitation about visiting Japan. When these youngsters become the core of society, and when the middle class becomes the majority of the population in the mid-2020s, China will undergo a conclusive transformation.

Zhang Zizhi

Age: 25

Online catering company owner


My grandfather fought in North China during World War II with the Communists. My grandmother fought with the Nationalists. But they avoid talking about the war in front of me. I just want to say that I don't have that much hostility when it comes to World War II. In that era, my grandparents just joined the war because after they became soldiers, they were able to get clothing and food. That was how they survived.

     The war shook the Chinese awake and made them aware of China's true lack of strength. In the past, we kept thinking we were the greatest nation and race on earth. Sadly, the war shocked us. World War II united Chinese to fight against a common enemy.

     In my childhood, I really longed for a nation that has no war, such as Switzerland. I love peace and I feel anxious about the situation in Asia nowadays. I always think about whether war will start again or not. World War II makes Asian people feel unsafe and nervous. 

     A war is like a fight. After a fight, the victims certainly hate those who beat them for a while. But we will carry this pain and become stronger with forgiveness. In the long term, it is a chance for Asians to reflect on others and ourselves. It is a good chance to start developing something brand new.

     I tell my kids that you have to be strong and make your own country thriving and powerful. After that, you need to be helpful and kind to other countries. This is the only way a big nation can achieve long-lasting development.

     I think China will be the economic center of the world in the end. This will make the relationship between China and Japan better. A strong nation will be treated kindly by others. According to a famous saying, "A country has no permanent friends, only permanent interests." If China can project its permanent interests, it will gain peace. I am quite confident that Asia can be a peaceful neighborhood in the future.

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Liu Xi

Age: 25

Research assistant, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


I learned about the war from textbooks and museums. I think it is unbelievable that human beings could commit such carnage and enjoy it. I also feel offended that some Japanese political parties try to deny what Japan did.

     I think the biggest legacy of the postwar period is peace, at least in East Asia. Although we have many disagreements between Japan, China and the Koreas, no country will start a war easily. That is because we all have been there. We know how destructive war can be. We value peace so much, which makes East Asia the fastest-developing region in the world.

     I don't know the answer to the question of how to achieve reconciliation. It is complicated. The past does raise hatred among countries, especially against Japan. However, this resentment has not stopped economic cooperation. We are using a lot of Japanese products and China also exports lots of agricultural products to Japan. I won't say the situation is negative after 70 years. We are starting to forget it and move into a new era.

     The first thing I want to tell my son is to learn from how Japanese treat traditions. I feel a little bit ashamed that we have lost a lot of culture in this fast-changing era. We have lost our manners, patience and reverence. I see these qualities in my Japanese friends and feel it might be why Japan became strong right after World War II.

Tam King Tat

Age: 22

College student

Hong Kong

I should be quite angry but actually I am not that emotional about the war. The historical problem needs to be resolved, so definitely the Japanese government owes an apology to all Asians who suffered in World War II.

     We watch Japanese anime, we know the culture of Japan and they know ours. There are not that many conflicts in culture or economics. Only the political issue of World War II hinders better relations between China and Japan. One good thing about the war was that it aroused the national spirit of the Chinese. We never felt that united before.

     I think communication between ordinary people is quite important, but it is not the main thing that can overcome the negative impact of the war. I think communication between the Chinese and Japanese governments plays an essential role, including the policies of the Abe government and President Xi Jinping.

     I want to tell my future kids that I love peace, but sometimes war is an inevitable tool that countries use. Therefore, it is quite important to manage war properly. This requires skill. Simply committing violence and massacres will not force a people to submit.

Toyoo Gyohten

Age: 84

President, Institute for International Monetary Affairs


Since 1945, Asia has been continuously ascending. The question is, ascending to where? It is clear that Asia has the greatest dynamism and vitality in the world, but this region is also full of elements that could create instability and confrontation.

     Part of the reason is constant change in the balance of power. First it was Japan that developed, followed by newly industrialized economies such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Then, in the 1990s, China joined the race.

     Asia is made up of Western colonies that became independent after the war. What we have now is a group of countries that are quite diverse in terms of economic systems -- some have a state-controlled economy, others an Anglo-Saxon type of market-oriented economy -- and the same can be said about political and social systems. In addition to that, there are many religions.

     If you ask young people in Europe, they will say they are European citizens. It is difficult to find a young person in Asia who will say "I am Asian." If all countries in Asia were to embrace the same values, there would be a greater opportunity for regional unity. But that is an open question.

     During the last century, so-called Western values -- typically democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression -- permitted many countries in Asia, including Japan, to convert from their old values to these common ones. But there are countries, such as China, that argue their values are not exactly the same. They talk of a market-oriented economy with Chinese characteristics; the same goes for democracy and human rights.

     Although we think of India as the world's largest democracy, and a country that believes in the market economy, if you look closely you will find subtle differences there, too.

     It will not be easy for Asia to reach a stage where we share common values. After the global financial crisis and the turmoil in the Middle East, Western values lost some credibility. In order to establish stable cooperation among Asian nations, we need a framework that allows for some internal divergence, but under which all members accept the need for convergence. Each country will have to sacrifice certain elements of its sovereignty.

     Tolerance will be created if all countries in the region study history. If there is one thing I would like to tell younger generations, it would be to learn from history. With humility, you can learn how important it is to make the necessary compromises. Arrogance will distort history.

Makoto Iokibe

Age: 71

Chancellor, Prefectural University of Kumamoto


Japan ran amok during World War II. Within the army, there was a belief that they had to try to beat the accomplishments of their predecessors, who had won wars against the Qing dynasty in China and against Russia, and acquired the land of Manchuria -- modern-day northeast China. The army, therefore, was determined to conquer the whole of China.

     Most Asian countries were then under the colonial rule of Western powers. They were bound to become independent sooner or later, but in hindsight, Japan's rampage accelerated the independence movements in each country. Japan cannot take credit for liberating Asia, though, because it was driven by its own imperialistic goal of expanding its influence.

     In the latter days of the Vietnam War, the U.S., burdened by the conflict, began to ask Japan to help Southeast Asian countries through official development assistance and infrastructure building. According to the diaries of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, when he met President Lyndon Johnson in 1967, arrangements for returning Okinawa to Japan within three years went smoothly, but Johnson spent another hour convincing Sato about the need to assist Southeast Asian countries by giving out televisions, etc.

     Japan helped Asian countries build coastal industrial zones, highways and electrical infrastructure. Unlike European countries, which would give grants to developing countries in exchange for following their cultural and ideological doctrines, Japan judged it would be more beneficial and sustainable if it offered assistance in the form of loans. Asian countries would pay back the money through the fruits of their development. Japan acted as a consultant for nation-building -- a partner for discussing the bottlenecks that were constraining development.

     In 1977, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda toured the region and pledged that Japan was committed to peace, would never become a military power, and would build relationships of mutual confidence and trust with Southeast Asian countries in a range of fields. This so-called Fukuda Doctrine serves as the basis for Japan's Asia diplomacy.

Lin Kobayashi

Age: 40

Founder and chair, International School of Asia, Karuizawa


World War II was a period in history that we cannot and should not forget. The extreme nationalism and imperialism of a few countries, including Japan, led to fateful crises at home and subjected others to tremendous damage and suffering. Over the seven postwar decades, however, Asia has sought to recover from the devastating war, ensure peace and pursue development. 

     There is no denying that troubles stemming from World War II are negatively affecting Japan's relations with its neighbors. But based on reflections on its wartime past, Japan sticks to the principle that international issues should be resolved peacefully. Japan's miraculous postwar reconstruction has allowed the country to contribute to the peaceful growth of other nations in Asia and elsewhere -- through official development assistance and other means. 

     As a Japanese citizen, I hope that Japan, the only country that experienced atomic bombings, will maintain this attitude and contribute to peace in Asia and the world.

     World War II showed us what the advance of weapons technology can bring. Humankind learned, shuddering with fear, that once a war breaks out, technological "achievement" enables mass killing of not only military personnel but also civilians. Nevertheless, people continue to fight over borders, religious beliefs and values. How can we minimize such mistakes? History poses this question to those of us living in the post-World War II era.

     Postwar development in Asia has sown the seeds of new conflicts, such as economic gaps and inequality. We have to learn from World War II and stop these problems from escalating into another large-scale war.

     At the root of war is the confidence that one's ideology is the only truth -- and the willingness to use force, not dialogue, to pursue that ideology. We think education can shake this belief. By promoting understanding and respect for diversity from a young age, I believe that education can contribute to a more peaceful, sustainable world.

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Huh Ge-on

Age: 70

Employee of a transportation company in Seoul

South Korea

Asia has enjoyed a period of freedom since 1945. Before that, Asian countries were largely deprived of their freedom under the rule of different colonial powers. At the end of the war, Korea was divided into North and South under the influence of the Soviet Union and the U.S., respectively. Even so, it is significant that Korea restored its independence.

     Japan's colonization of Korea left us with infrastructure, such as railways and ports. Even though these facilities were initially constructed by the Japanese for their own benefit, they became useful to our country. On the whole, however, the Japanese colonization had more negative effects than positive ones.

     Korean "comfort women" and forced laborers have not yet received a satisfactory apology or compensation from Japan. I think some sort of compensation should be provided to them, though I know that these issues have already been settled by the Japanese and South Korean governments.

     I want to convey to the next generation the importance of maintaining our national independence. Young Koreans should collaborate more actively with the government to promote industrial development and enhance our national strength.

     I, myself, took part in the Vietnam War. After seeing the misery of war with my own eyes, I am keenly aware of the value of keeping our independence.

Ki Won-han

Age: 56

Commissioner, Invest Korea

South Korea

If one trend or issue stands out in postwar Asia, it is the economic gap caused by politics.

     I think emerging Asian countries are divided into two groups. The first comprises countries where wealth has not been well-distributed due to corrupt politicians. The second is made up of countries that channeled wealth they gained, in part, from Japan into industrial development. 

     In the 1960s, Japan achieved economic growth of over 10%. This success can be traced to the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951, which allowed Japan to avoid paying punitive reparations to the Allied Powers. U.S. forces' supply needs during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, also played a role.

     As its economy soared, Japan distributed wealth to Asian countries through loans and war compensation. Private Japanese businesses also moved into Asian markets, building the country's economic influence.

     Japanese reparations to the Republic of Korea, or South Korea, helped the country build steelworks and roads, and generally raise its industrial standards. Japanese companies also expanded into China, forging close economic ties between the neighbors.

     Today, China and Japan are Asia's leaders. The two have a territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea. This has been a thorny issue since the 1960s. Speaking about this matter, a former leader once said: "Let's stop talking about this issue and leave it to the next generation. If the next generation cannot find a way, let's leave it to the generation after that."

     The statement exemplifies how Asian governments put regional development first. We need to learn from the wisdom of our forerunners.

Youngsik Chang

Age: 44

General manager of public relations, Hyundai Steel

South Korea

If one were to summarize Asia's postwar experience in a couple of words, they would be "wounds and healing." 

     After the turn of the 20th century, Japanese imperialism and the idea of a "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" engulfed the region in a storm of violence. Many countries are still recovering.

     The end of World War II brought the era of colonization to a close, liberated Asia from the threat of imperialism and cleared the way for democracy and development. To ensure the region never descends back into the abyss, though, future generations must be taught the importance of respecting others.

    The first step, I believe, is for a country that committed wartime atrocities to acknowledge its responsibility and apologize to victims in other countries. I think sincere self-reflection is the only way to realize Asian integration and greater prosperity down the road.

     This is why Japan needs to show it recognizes its responsibility.

Kim Seo-young

Age: 21

Student at Konkuk University in Seoul

South Korea

Postwar Asia has been about growth and integration. The region's economies and cultural assets have reached world-class standards. For example, South Korean pop star Psy, as well as Japanese fashion brands, have become popular in the U.S. and Europe. Economic ties in the region have deepened steadily.

     Japan's colonial rule left strong feelings of resentment and regret among Koreans. I know there is an argument that the Japanese colonization of Taiwan and the French colonization of Vietnam helped these territories modernize, but this way of thinking ignores the feelings of the victims of colonial oppression.

     I really want future generations to understand the cruelty of war and ensure it never happens again. I am deeply concerned that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine and made remarks that seemed to justify Japan's aggression against much of Asia.

     Even if I concede that colonization brought some economic benefits, I must say that the emotional wounds still run deep. I love Japanese food and culture and I feel comfortable when I visit the country. But that's another story. When it comes to historical issues, as long as wartime victims remain dissatisfied, I want Japan to offer a more sincere apology and compensation to them.

Koo Kwang-ming

Age: 88

Chairman, New Taiwan Peace Foundation


I was born in Taiwan under Japanese rule. The war ended when I was near 20; until then, I was a Japanese national.

     For Asia, the postwar period can be characterized by the word "independence." Before the war, most Asian countries, excluding Japan and Thailand, were colonized by European powers and the U.S. Consequently, the start of the war in Pacific opened the way for Japan to oust the U.S. and Europe from Asia, leading the region's countries to self-determination. Although I think Japan really had no intention of helping Asian countries gain their independence, it should be given more recognition for its role in ending the colonial period.

     Although World War II took the lives of many, causing immeasurable damage, it also led to more positive consequences. It laid the foundations for Asian countries to become independent and experience long-term development with dignity.

     Before the war, territorial expansion was a "righteous" means to realize a nation's growth. But even the Allies did not make sufficient gains from their efforts in the war. The war left feelings of emptiness and, I believe, served as the impetus for spreading the values of freedom, equality and peace throughout the world.

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Sok Touch

Age: 47

Deputy director general, International Relations Institute of Cambodia


World War II is the most tragic war in the world's history. It also showed that if big powers are divided, it can lead to destructive conflict.

     The war made Asia a proving ground for the big powers' weapons. It also led to the Cold War, and the region was divided between socialism and capitalism.

     Proliferation of nuclear weapons, unbalanced economic growth and terrorism all raise the risk of war. People may think the South China Sea is a problem between China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. In fact, it is just a steppingstone for competition between China, the U.S. and Japan. If the big powers fail to consider their actions carefully, a regional war could break out.

     Future generations must understand history while avoiding feelings of hatred and the desire for revenge. They should solve disputes in good faith, striving for peaceful coexistence.

Tiev Sarakmony

Age: 52



I was told by my grandmother about the war. At that time, Cambodia was colonized by France, and Japan fought against France. She escaped from Battambang Province to Thailand.

     Cambodia was a victimized country. But Japanese people were also the victims of World War II -- the bombing of Hiroshima, and the families that were separated when their members were recruited to join the war.

     In Cambodia, many remember that Japan gave parts of the country to Thailand. That is why some say Japan gave a lot of aid to Cambodia, in order to compensate for the past.

     The war's legacy includes border issues -- for example, between Cambodia and Thailand, between Cambodia and Vietnam, and between Japan and China and South Korea. The war also made people distrust each other. Now Japan is changing its self-defense law, and in South Korea, they have statues to represent the Korean women who were raped by Japanese soldiers.

     We must make great efforts to avoid war and solve disputes peacefully, based on the principles of international law. Nationalism is natural for human beings, but ultranationalism poses a threat.

     Young generations need to know the truth about history without being manipulated by politicians. They should also avoid excessive nationalism and do their utmost to avoid war, which has no winners and only losers. Understanding the consequences of war can help to prevent it. 

Sov Sovann

Age: 67

Phnom Penh resident


It was a long time ago. As for Japan, I have no bad feelings. The long-lasting legacy is in Korea, which was divided into two. The economy is still bad. And Japan has border disputes with Korea, Russia and China. If the countries cannot solve their problems, they should leave things as they are -- not turn to war.

Atmono Suryo

Age: 89

Former director general for foreign economic affairs, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Even though World War II had severe political and social impacts, and caused grave human suffering and losses, it also had positive aspects. It propelled Indonesia toward independence, development and growth. Japan's fighting spirit and mental strength after the war inspired Asia that it has the capability to reach the top of the world.

     Aside from the misery brought about by the war, its overall impact on Asia was positive. It brought the end of Western colonial rule. It signaled the beginning of brighter times for the people of Asia. Today, Asia has grown to become the epicenter of the global economy, with China, Japan and India as the key countries.

     Another war should be avoided at all costs. The damage would be too heavy, especially for the millions of people in the countries involved.

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Finny Mythia

Age: 36

Assistant vice president, Standard Chartered Bank, Indonesia 


I have no sentiment about the war after 70 years. We are now living in a more peaceful era, with more solid relationships or connections between countries. Nations work hand in hand to solve problems.

     I never relate Japan to World War II. In fact, Japan is a great example of a country that has very strong positive aspects -- especially the character and manner of its people, and the way its systems are run.

     I don't feel the overall negative effects of World War II on Asia. I see its positive impact, where some Asian countries became independent. The war made them stronger and allowed them to grow. 

     History cannot be changed, forgotten nor dismissed. Whatever our history, no matter how hard it was, there must be lessons we can learn, in order to change the future for the better.

Denny Fikri

Age: 42

General manager, CKB Logistics 


The war is perceived differently in Indonesia than in other Asian countries. Indonesia has since received a lot of financial support from Japan. We see Japanese industrial technology across the country. In China and South Korea, the perceptions are based on political issues.

     The legacy of World War II reminds Asia of the importance of human rights. 

     Japan should focus on working with China and South Korea to overcome the past, just as it did with Indonesia and the Philippines. Japan's next generation should not repeat the same mistakes and should avoid getting involved in any conflict.

Hilda Kolibu

Age: 25

Flight attendant at Garuda Indonesia


I really don't agree with war. It is generally characterized by extreme collective aggression, destruction and, usually, high mortality. Total war -- warfare that is not restricted to purely legitimate military targets -- can result in massive civilian or other noncombatant casualties. While some scholars see war as a universal aspect of human nature, others argue it is only a result of specific socio-cultural or environmental circumstances.

     At the end of World War II, borders were redrawn and homecomings, expulsions, and burials got underway. But the massive effort to rebuild Asia had just begun. Allied forces became occupiers. Efforts were made to permanently dismantle the war-making abilities of certain nations; factories were destroyed and the former leadership was removed or prosecuted. War crimes trials took place in Europe and Asia, leading to many executions and prison sentences. Allied occupations and United Nations decisions created many long-lasting problems.

     I think government systems must be repaired. We have problems in our country that need to be fixed. But rather than just blaming the government and the system, start with yourself and consider what you can do to bring about change. I hope future generations will care more about each other and the nation. Supporting children's education would help in a big way, if every well-paid person would contribute. Stop participating in corruption and strive to be better neighbors.

Hikmahanto Juwana

Age: 49

Professor of international law, University of Indonesia


As part of a generation that did not experience World War II, my sentiment is very different. The Japan I see now is not the same as the country I was told about. However, the unfortunate experience lingers, as we were told by our teachers in school.

     We still feel the impact of the war. We are more sensitive when dealing with Japanese than Koreans or Chinese. If a Japanese person is harsh to an Indonesian, we are quick to complain about Japanese cruelty to Indonesians. If a Korean or Chinese person acts the same way, we do not react like that.

     I think Japan should commit itself to pacifism by not amending Article 9 of the constitution. Ties between people should be strengthened. Japanese people are committed to their leaders -- it was because of the leaders that they went to war. We should be cautious of Japan's leaders when it comes to anything to do with the armed forces.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan

Age: 40

Chief executive, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs


It is very difficult for me to relate to World War II. I did not go through it and in Malaysia, we were on the fringes of the war. We were not a main actor. Add the fact that in our education system, history as a subject is handled disastrously, and I think many Malaysians my age -- 40 and under -- cannot relate to the war. We didn't learn about it very well, we don't read too many history books on the topic, and we don't read analysis of the war widely.

     I don't think World War II has much impact on our policy. It may have an impact on China or Japan, but not here. Malaysia introduced a "Look East Policy," which was to learn from Japan in developing the country. We have forgotten about the past, or moved beyond it.

Azhar Mad Aros

Age: 56

Lecturer, Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya


Seventy years after the atomic bombings, I feel younger generations tend to forget about the war. They are less interested in knowing about the suffering or learning from mistakes.

     I think people who went through the war have a stronger sense of nationalism. People in Southeast Asia suffered during the war under Japanese militarism, but they also came to realize Western powers were not invincible. This gave rise to movements for independence.

     Japan, of course, rebuilt itself quite quickly and impressively to become an industrial nation. I think it managed to do so due to its culturally inherent traits of diligence, respect for elders and resourcefulness. It probably wanted to prove to the world that it could survive and triumph.

     My advice to youths is to learn about the war and its destructiveness. They must also understand the importance of self-rule, loving their own country and participating in nation building through positive endeavors. Young people must be nationalistic and have aspirations for their nation. They must not let others influence their opinion.

Nay Win Thaw

Age: 60

CEO, Quick Computer Center, Yangon


The war was a battle among the big powers, The Allied countries won the war, and finally we saw superpowers like the U.S. and Soviet Union.

     We can see the freedom of Asian countries. We also saw the collapse of the communist system and the reunification of divided countries. Then the new countries of Asia developed economically. Especially, we should acknowledge postwar Japan. It is amazing.

     We need to build up our nation with unity and bring up the younger generation with better education. We have to look at Japan, South Korea and Singapore -- how their past generations built their countries up.

     We have to give peace to the younger generation, who have not seen the cruelty of war.

Ko Ko Soe

Age: 54

Adviser on government-partner relations, Nobel Oil JS Company


All wars, including World War II, should not have happened because wars result only in death and destruction. Postwar reconstruction requires a lot of time, money and energy, which would have contributed to a better world for all humankind if there had been no war. The impact was huge. It ruined the lives of all the people.

Kyaw Thaung

Age: 53

Director, King of Crystal Gems and Jewelry and founder of the House of Mogok Art Gallery


After 1945, there was development in the industrial sector, the medical field and scientific improvements. People are now willing to work and they are becoming more optimistic. They are trying to help each other.

     A lot of people were lost in the war. Most people hate war and don't want it. They want a peaceful community. We need unity within Asia. Firstly, we should make the alliance of the 10 ASEAN countries like the European Union.

     War never gives advantages to countries and people. That is why people must cooperate for peace and be kind to each other.

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Ricardo Jose

Age: 57

History professor, University of the Philippines

Seventy years is a long time, but while time may heal wounds, many issues and legacies of the war remain unaddressed -- such as a sincere official apology to those who suffered the most. I think this is an opportune time for Japan to make a sincere effort to finally close this chapter and confront these issues head-on. Otherwise, the problems arising from the past will continue to fester.

     One lasting legacy was the opening up to Asian ideas. Through the Great East Asia Conference of 1943, some Asian leaders got to see the importance of an Asian identity. For countries such as Indonesia, this hastened the process of gaining independence.

     For the Philippines, the lasting legacy was death and destruction, and a setting back of prewar plans to develop a strong state. But the war also brought out a sense of nationalistic pride, in the sense that a new breed of heroes who fought for the country proved Filipinos were willing to defend the nation and what it stood for.
     There has been some tension in Philippines-Japan relations, because of the lack of a concrete and sincere apology from Japan, as well as a seeming reluctance to accept responsibility for the horrors of war. I think the Japanese government should make a really sincere statement relating to war responsibility, and also apologize for the death and destruction -- especially Asian deaths. Many of the personal apologies have focused on the Americans, Australians and others, with no clear mention of the Asians who suffered and died.
     War should not be glorified. Governments, businessmen and others should realize that wars do not solve problems. I would also highlight the personal sacrifices made by individuals in defense of their families, homes and ideals for the good of all -- these should be examples for today's youth.

     War is always terrible, but the heroism of men and women sticking to their beliefs for a better world [without war] should be an inspiration to the next generation.

Audrey Morallo

Age: 25

Graduate student, University of the Philippines


The war devastated economies and destroyed so many sources of livelihood for millions of people around the world, resulting in extreme poverty -- some manifestations of which persist today. The sheer number of lives wasted, and forever altered, was simply unimaginable. It could even be argued that no one won the war because humanity itself lost. Economies, as well as societal and political institutions, can recover and correct themselves in due time. But the cost to humanity is something even time itself has tremendous difficulty healing.
     Generally, I have a somewhat favorable attitude toward Japan seven decades after the war. The recovery from the ravages of conflict they experienced is simply spectacular. This is a testament to the resilience and industry of the Japanese. The world in general has benefited from the emergence of Japan from the ashes of war and its subsequent development.
     World War II has many lasting legacies. But two of the most prominent are the political and economic influence of the U.S. in the region as well as the liberation of many Asian nations from the shackles of colonization.
     Following the rise of many independent nations in Asia, the region has succeeded in lifting millions, if not billions, from poverty. However, many remain mired in it. And this is the challenge that every nation in the region faces: How to empower the millions more who are impoverished so they, too, can benefit from the unprecedented levels of growth the region is enjoying.

     For me, for this to happen, Asian governments must make further investments in education, science, technology, research, health care, infrastructure, communication facilities, and other areas of the economy that will have an impact in the long run. To directly benefit the neediest, efficient, effective and targeted welfare benefits could be implemented. Governments must also become more efficient and transparent and the rule of law should always prevail. All these steps should help lift millions more from penury.
     Eighty million: This is the number of people who perished during the war. And many of these individuals did not even take part in the decision-making process that led to it. So, if there's something that this generation must take from the conflict, it should be a reminder that every individual has a responsibility to be vigilant and ensure no such conflict, or any conflict for that matter, occurs again. This, I think, is a small price to pay for the sacrifices of those 80 million souls.

Horacio Pagcu

Age: 82

Former telephone operator at a sugar company in central Luzon

The Japanese stole our food. When the Americans invaded us, they brought their own food. The Japanese destroyed our livelihood.

     I think the United Nations should intervene and help find ways for countries to move on. Young people should avoid situations that could lead to another world war. The U.N. should intervene in the South China Sea issue, because that is a potential flashpoint that could lead to another war.

Chin Kah Chong

Former Southeast Asia head of Pan Asia News Agency

Age: 84


I was a little boy during the war and I concentrated on my studies. My feelings toward Japan now are OK, no hatred. It was a challenging time, but I didn't suffer much. After the war, the standard of living in Asia improved, but the region is not peaceful. I don't know what the countries -- particularly Japan and China -- are fighting over. Is it for their own people, or are they competing to be the police chief of the region? When I came back from my first visit to Japan by ship in 1954, I saw nothing but two whales in the South China Sea. It was so calm. Today it must be filled with warships and land reclamation. That's sad.

     We have learned nothing. There have been many wars after World War II, and we are still quarreling. It is very sad that we didn't learn from history, and I am afraid history may repeat itself.

     What Japanese Prime Minister Abe is trying to do in passing the security bill has alarmed people outside Japan. Japan may have its own position and intention, but outsiders may not understand what it is, and Japan hasn't explained itself fully enough to other countries. The same can be said of China.

     For me personally, the war was not totally negative. The neighborhood I lived in wasn't touched by the "screening" [to capture Chinese male residents]. Once I went to the screening point when I was 11 or 12 years old, thinking that it was like camping or something. But I was turned back as I was too young. We grew tapioca, sweet potatoes and vegetables on our farm, and supplied the Japanese military. I went to school and learned Japanese, as my father believed there is no harm in learning any language for the future, although neighbors criticized us for learning the enemy's language. After I graduated, I joined the naval academy. I was lucky the war ended when I was there, otherwise I would have been sent to Taiwan or somewhere. Life was challenging and not enjoyable, but it was not a time of suffering for me and my family.

     History has to be taught, for the sake of knowledge. Singaporeans have forgotten everything about the war. From what the young people see regarding Japan now, it is hard for them to believe what happened. Time passes and many things are forgotten. Politicians sometimes bring out issues for their own purposes, and the way they do it may not be fair.

Alody Lau

Age: 23

University student


To be honest, I don't know if apologizing would help anything, since what's done is done. Bringing up the matter again might cause pain to the older generation. At the same time, the current generation needs to be aware of what war actually is and not repeat the same mistake again.

     In Southeast Asia, people are more accepting of Japan now, compared with other countries like Korea and China. Perhaps it's because the pain is more intense in Korea and China, due to the longer occupation by the Japanese. But I believe colonized places like Singapore learned that they could not depend on their colonial masters to defend them; they can only depend on themselves to protect the country.

     I feel we can overcome the legacy of war through education. There is no point in finding who is at fault now. The important thing is to bring awareness to the younger generation that we should do everything possible to avoid war.

     We must remember that the war was a terrible time of pain and suffering and, as much as possible, not allow another war to happen.

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Anand Panyarachun

Age: 83

Former prime minister of Thailand


It is tragic that we had this world war. Japan at that time was seen as a warmongering nation, seeking opportunities to attack China, Korea and also get into Southeast Asia.

     The negative impact on Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines was very significant due to the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. We can see that there are still some anti-Japanese feelings in those countries, which is understandable. But in general, in Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand, we welcome the Japanese presence in our part of the world -- economic, cultural, and so on. This is because Japan has since proved to be a peaceful county and has not shown any aggressive intention.

     The drawback is that Japan is not seen as really a part of Asia. It has close ties and security links with the U.S., and there are still unresolved problems with China and Korea pertaining to World War II, such as the occasional visits of the prime minister to the shrine that honors war criminals, and the "comfort women" issue.

     I think from the Chinese and Korean perspectives, they have reasons to mistrust the Japanese. Japan is unlike Germany, which has come clean now, admitting their historical responsibility.

     The war did not have much impact on Thailand. Our relationship with Japan is based strictly on domestic reasons, policies and bilateral interests. We don't have the historical enmity.

     We are a fortunate country and we must recognize the fact that we are an exception.

     Japan's history with the other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, or with China and South Korea, is not the same as that with Thailand.

     I was still quite young during the war, but I remember the Japanese invasion of the south of Thailand. But since we were not an enemy country, Japanese soldiers in general did not misbehave badly, unlike the atrocities they committed elsewhere.

     Japan has to come clean. They have to admit the mistakes they made. Every country makes mistakes. Even Thailand made mistakes if you ask the region -- the Cambodians, the Burmese -- though the seriousness was not the same.

     I think Japanese can take lessons from Germany. Seventy years ago, nobody thought there would be reconciliation between Germany and countries such as France and England. But now they are all together. Something is holding the Japanese back; I don't know what it is. First comes the ambition [to accept responsibility], then the apology, then understanding and eventually trust.

     I cannot see anybody that wants to have war. You don't want fighting with neighbors or families. In Thailand we have had these fights between opposing parties for years, but I don't think reconciliation is impossible. We have to change our mindset and start engaging in a serious dialogue with all parties concerned. At this point, I give credit to the military government for restoring peace, but we are still disappointed that there has been no real progress on engagement with all sides.

Pailin Chuchottaworn

Age: 59

President and CEO, PTT


World War II was a time of misery, an experience that nobody wants to repeat. I was born after the war, so I only heard about the bad experience my father had.

     He was born in Thailand but was an overseas Chinese and went to China to attend school. The war prevented him from doing so. He had to flee back to Thailand, which was occupied by the Japanese army.

     We were always taught about the cruelness of the war and the negative impact on our families. I had to give up a high school scholarship to study engineering in Japan, due to opposition from my father.

     Four years later, I applied for scholarships to study abroad again. I was grown up and could make my own decisions. I chose Japan by chance, because the Japanese government happened to be the first to offer me the opportunity. I spent six years in Japan, from 1979. There, I saw that the Japanese were peace-loving people. They had learned their lesson the hard way.

     I would like to say that the Japanese are too timid to admit the mistake they made in the past. That is the difference from the German people. They should just say the words out loud: "Gomennasai" (I'm sorry).

     Still, neighboring countries' sentiments against Japan are being blown out of proportion. They have been playing politics too much.

     Thai people don't pay attention to what happened in the past. We may have been treated badly by the occupation army, but we don't take it personally or see it as something that we cannot forgive. I think forgiveness is the most important lesson from the war.

     There is a best-selling Thai novel titled "Koo Gum," a love story between a Japanese soldier and a Thai lady during World War II. I think it represents Thai feelings toward the Japanese very well: "We don't like you but we can be lovers."

     Japan developed rapidly after the war. Thailand and Japan have similar histories as the only two countries in Asia that were never colonized. We opened our countries in the mid-19th century and were equally flooded by Western technologies.

     But today, Japan has shinkansen (bullet trains) while Thailand is still very much behind. This, in my opinion, stems from the education reforms in Japan during the Meiji era, years before the war. Japan would have developed even without the war.

Visut Kirdgriangboon

Age: 77

Senior adviser, Asian Corp.


I remember military airplanes dropping bombs on Bangkok. I was simply excited by the sight, because I was too young to know how frightening the situation really was. There is no such thing as a winner in a war. I believe it is foolish for countries to spend money on weapons -- they should spend the money on social development instead.

     After World War II, it was a good thing that many Asian countries became independent of colonial rule. Even if the development of their economies became slower than before their independence, it was better to be free than to be under some other country's rule.

     Asian countries have made progress, but it is regrettable that people are going after only their own interests and are driven by materialistic desires. Enhancing the well-being of the entire society should be valued more.

Nguyen Chi Dung

Age: 75

Former president (colonel rank) of a vocational school run by Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security


Every war is terrible and cruel. World War II left sore and plaintive hearts among many Asian people, including Vietnamese. The war brought to humanity nothing but cruelty, sorrow and death, and it still inspires loathing in the minds of many. Towns and villages were ravaged and people were killed. The atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example, made an everlasting impression with their bitterness and cruelty.

     The war inflicted heavy losses on Asia. Almost every family lost members, and people were left in poverty.

     People are always in conflict with each other. Ethnic groups also have strained relations and are unwilling to help each other. Though Vietnam's war against France, and then the one against the U.S., ended decades ago, the losses suffered by the Communist Party of Vietnam, ethnic Vietnamese and military personnel were immeasurable.

     The party and the Vietnamese people have been making constant efforts to build good relations with many countries and forge closer ties on equal terms, while harboring no grudges and causing no strife. Vietnam has friendly relations with all countries in the world -- amicable relationships based on international standards.

     I remember I always hoped for peace before and after each of the wars. I used to be a solider. A soldier is a man who does good for human life. I participated in the wars for the sake of peace, seeing happiness for everyone else as my own happiness. The Vietnamese people fought long, fierce wars. But we have joined hands with people around the world and let it be known why Vietnam fought.

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Arvind Sinha

Age: 65

Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


Although World War II originated in Europe, in no time, it became a global war covering four continents. The conflict exposed the weaknesses of the colonial powers and encouraged struggles for liberation across Asia.

     By 1942, Japanese forces had overrun much of Southeast Asia. The brief occupation of many countries by Japan left bitter memories of brutality, exploitation and destruction, and made the people of this region realize the importance of self-rule. Japan's eventual defeat, meanwhile, shattered its dream of creating an Asian empire. 

     Looking through the prism of India, the war cleared the path for her independence. It led to a massive expansion of the Indian Army. 

     Of course, the overall impact of the conflict was negative -- the immense loss of human life, the costs in terms of material resources and the environment. One may say that the newly independent nations that rose from the ashes inherited the war's unresolved issues.

     European perceptions toward Asia have undergone a dramatic change, but production of weapons of mass destruction increased despite the war's horrors. Glaring economic disparities between nations still need to be addressed in tangible ways. 

     The present generation, which is accustomed to modern luxuries, may be unable to visualize how the war wreaked havoc on the lives of ordinary people. The fear of military attacks was constant. 

     What the countries of Asia need now is not war and destruction but sustained development and a strengthening of democratic institutions.

Deepak Oberoi

Age: 58 

Partner in a family business in New Delhi


It is not black and white for me. On one level, I see it as a just war between men and nations. The horrors of German atrocities against the Jews, and the silence of others, churn the guts even now. At the same time, I am amazed at the German strength -- technical, military and administrative. Such a small nation took on the whole world and nearly got away with it.

     So much is said about the cruelty of the Japanese but it seems to me they were very good -- winning a lot and fighting to a code the Western world could not get. In the end, I think Western history came to roost. Everyone was exposed. America made money and won the right to run the world.

     I suppose war isn't a game played by any rules, even though they had and have lots of rules. Asia was ruined. They received tons of aid but India was always neglected. Southeast Asia got American and other military bases and a lot of other perks.

     I don't think it had much effect on us in South Asia, except to hasten the departure of the English. That set the stage for blundering and looting by the "natives." "What should we do" is a bigger question than World War II, one for bigger minds than mine.

     War is passe. Nations today have evolved so much that there is nothing dialogue can't solve.

Nanda Devi

Age: 68

Housewife in New Delhi


I was born a few years after the war concluded, so the memories were still fresh in the minds of my parents and others of their generation. I heard how the war, the worst global conflict ever, left millions of people dead.

     After the war, the process of decolonization accelerated, especially in the context of India. It is also said that the war drained the British of their funds, and it became increasingly difficult for the financially weaker empire to rule India. However, overall, I feel all countries involved in the war suffered.

     The United Nations was established following World War II to prevent a recurrence of such a conflict. Asian countries need to support its efforts toward establishing peace across the world. At the same time, they need to have a bigger say in the decision-making of the U.N. Security Council, where the five veto-wielding members remain powerful. It is good that India and Japan are among those seeking permanent membership.

     I would tell the next generation that war cannot solve problems. We live in a world where communication has become so easy and connectivity is not an issue anymore, so please have negotiations and diplomatic dialogue to resolve issues, instead of resorting to violence. I would urge them to follow the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace.

Devika Menon

Age: 26

Intern at Yoga Cafe, a restaurant in New Delhi


The war holds special significance for me, as my grandfather was a solider and was taken prisoner by the Japanese. I grew up listening to his stories. Now, people hardly remember the war -- it's only in textbooks. For most people of my generation, it doesn't hold any significance.

     It always saddens me when I think of the horrid stories my grandfather told. He had a really bad time. He told me that on some days he even had to eat rats. He tried to escape more than 10 times but was always brought back in chains.

     The war did help India evolve as a country. But for me on a personal level, the development of a nation does not justify the millions of lives lost, the sadness and the torture that people had to go through.

     In India at least, the end of World War II marked the beginning of the departure of the British. It brought more peace and stability. It basically united India with a central government. Possibly, if there had been no World War II, it would have taken Indian colonies 20-30 years more to gain freedom from British rule.

     I feel that today, a war would mean complete elimination of some countries. They would be wiped off the map entirely. The reason is that some countries, with money and resources, have developed nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. If countries or continents go to war now, the weaker, smaller nations -- those that possess no nuclear resources -- will be completely finished.

     It is therefore essential for all of us to realize this danger and engage in continuous dialogue, on both the bilateral and multilateral levels. We cannot afford to go to war again.

Pushkar Sharma

Age: 19

Computer science student at an institute affiliated with Delhi's Guru Gobind Signh Indraprastha University


Whatever I know of the war, I learned through the textbooks I read in school. Wars are always associated with violence and bloodshed, and World War II was no different. However, what made this war different was the use of atomic bombs that devastated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

     With the emergence of two superpowers -- the U.S. and Soviet Union -- after the conflict, Asian countries too were caught up in the Cold War. India joined the Non-Aligned Movement, and was seen as tilting toward the Soviet Union, while its archrival and neighbor Pakistan received a lot of support from the U.S.

     We need to spread harmony by educating people about the dangers of nuclear warfare. Some Asian countries' quest for developing atomic energy for peaceful uses is fully justified, because it is a clean fuel. But they must not harbor any nuclear ambitions that may harm humanity. I would tell them that the last world war was the worst conflict ever witnessed.

     A new world war would only bring devastation and misery to people around the globe who are already battling so many issues, such as terrorism, climate change, and poverty. It must be avoided at any cost.

Arefin Siddique

Age: 61

Vice chancellor, University of Dhaka


People in this region are basically peace-loving. They don't want to go to war. Because of widespread colonization, the region was pulled into World War II. But, yes, the war expedited the process of independence -- the independence of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

     I was born well after World War II, but my parents experienced it and taught me about it. Many people died because of food shortages. There was no security. The region saw genocide, torture, crime, rape and killing of innocent people. These atrocities were witnessed again in 1971, when our country had the revolutionary war with Pakistan. Pakistani forces and some betrayers of this region killed 3 million people of Bangladesh.

     During this war, two journalists -- one British, one Japanese -- were left behind in Dhaka even after the government of Bangladesh forced other foreign journalists to evacuate abroad. The two of them went into the streets and took photos. Dhaka was completely burned. They risked their lives to record the genocide. Some days later, once they had escaped to their home countries, they published the truth around the world. I admire their journalistic minds and will never forget them.

     Dhaka University established the department of peace and conflict studies around 15 years ago to study the history of war, peace movements, conflict scenarios, etc. The Islamic State has some influence in Bangladesh now. Domestic insurgents have sent me many threatening letters. It is really important for us to study the reasons why extremism and fundamentalism have risen, and how we should thwart terrorism. There is much to be done.

Abdul Rauf

Age: 52

Professor of political science, University of Peshawar


I feel sorry about the war fought among nations 70 years ago. I wish it did not happen. I am extremely ashamed when I see people are still fighting with each other, resulting in great human and material losses.

     It is a common perception that the war weakened the colonial powers' ability to retain their colonies in Asia, and thus it sped up the freedom struggle of the people against their European masters.

      I think the way Japan approached its national policy -- prioritizing socio-economic and technological advancement over a military buildup -- should be adopted by the rest of Asia. They should help each other in building a conducive environment for social, economic and political stability, which is possible only if they resolve or at least manage their conflicts. Asians should also pay attention to certain values, emphasizing morality and rejecting the use of violence for achieving objectives.

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