We’ve written about forgiveness quite a lot lately; without it, one cannot move on. Repressed anger has a way of keeping us blocked, unable to let go and look to the future. It’s something Colleen Haggerty, who lost her leg in an automobile accident at 17, spoke about most powerfully in this must-watch TED talk last year:
“I could tell that the weight of my unexpressed emotions were limiting my life.” (Source)
Miss Haggerty’s anger was directed at one person in particular: the man who ran her over. But what about victims of war? In the news lately is the plight of the comfort women of World War 2. Mostly Koreans, but including women from Indonesia, China, and the Philippines, the women resided in special “comfort stations” meant for the Japanese army.
In the early 90s, the Japanese government made an investigation into the matter; in 1993, they released a public apology, known now as the Kono Statement, and it includes the following text:
The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.
It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.
We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterate our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history. (Source)
In 1995, the government set up the Asian Women’s Fund, a foundation created expressly to provide over US$14 million dollars to survivors in Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines; multiple medical facilities and homes were set up in Indonesia, and medical fees were paid out for all Asian survivors, plus 79 more survivors in the Netherlands. In 2001, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent personal letters of apology to all the survivors.
At the time, from all accounts, these actions of atonement were well-received by Japan’s neighbors, including- notably- South Korea. However, the issue has of late become a source of very high tensions between the two countries’ governments.
In the following video, Catalyst for Peace President Libby Hoffman talks about “Forgiving the Unforgiveable”:
The lessons of war must never be forgotten- it’s how we ensure that atrocities aren’t repeated. But to truly move on, and look to the future, one must at some point choose forgiveness.