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Government ‘Ministries of Loneliness’ Bridge the Gaps of Social Distance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 6:00pm in

A Ministry for Loneliness might sound like a poignant literary creation from José Saramago, Haruki Murakami or Gabriel García Márquez. But this governmental office is non-fiction — an official response to “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time,” as former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May put it in 2018 when she launched “the world’s first ministerial lead” to tackle loneliness.

The move was designed to address a widespread problem. Even before the pandemic, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that loneliness affected about one in four U.K. adults. The global coronavirus pandemic and its lockdowns have made loneliness even worse, particularly among groups that already suffered from it

Now, countries around the world are recognizing the public health effects of loneliness, which England’s national strategy defines as what happens “when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want.” Such mismatches, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, are “associated with poor physical and mental health outcomes, including higher rates of mortality, depression and cognitive decline.” 

Following the U.K.’s lead is Japan, which announced in February the creation of its own Ministry for Loneliness to coordinate efforts and promote policy across ministries and agencies to address loneliness and isolation. According to a statement from Japan’s Office for Policy on Loneliness and Isolation, the ministry “will act as a kind of control tower for efforts by the government as a whole to provide more appropriate assistance to those who need it.”

A “control tower” for loneliness

 Japan’s Health Ministry revealed that 20,919 people died by suicide in 2020, marking “the first year-on-year rise in suicides in more than a decade, with women and children in particular taking their lives at higher rates,” according to one media report. How many of these suicides had loneliness as a contributing factor is unclear. According to Tetsuya Matsubayashi, a professor at Osaka University who studies suicide prevention, “Loneliness is certainly an important determinant of suicidal risk, but we need more evidence to say it is more important than other major determinants, such as economic difficulties and family matters.” 

“The government,” observes Matsubayashi, “needs to continue to collect more evidence to develop an effective prevention strategy.” 

lonelinessA quiet street in Tokyo. Credit: Guiseppe Milo / Flickr

To this end, Japan’s new ministry has established a task force that will engage “in practical study toward future efforts” on loneliness and isolation. Following the creation of the loneliness initiative, an emergency forum was held in February to gather local input from organizations that assist efforts to combat loneliness. The government also held a coordination conference between ministries and allocated emergency funds of approximately six billion yen (USD$54.6 million) to nonprofits.

These steps represent a pivotal change in mindset in a country where social isolation has long been considered an issue to be dealt with personally. “In Japan, solitude can be seen as a virtue and something you are ultimately responsible for addressing yourself,” Junko Okamoto, author of Japanese Old Men: The Loneliest People in the World, told Nikkei Asia. “The government needs to swiftly conduct foundational research and craft strategy based on scientific evidence.” 

England’s experience

In its endeavor to craft such a strategy, Japan has, to some degree, borrowed from the U.K.’s approach. On December 7, 2017, a report from the British government’s Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness recommended that officials there implement actions and policies to alleviate loneliness and social isolation, including the appointment of a ministerial lead on the issue. The position was created the following month, a clear acknowledgment from the government that, through its strategy, it had a role to play in reducing loneliness.

This strategy, titled A Connected Society and unveiled in 2018, is an ambitious cross-departmental set of over 50 commitments laying the structure for long-term work on loneliness and changing how public services are viewed. It has three overarching goals: developing a national conversation on loneliness to reduce stigma, building evidence on loneliness, and driving a governmental shift so that relationships and loneliness are considered in policymaking.

lonelinessThe “A Connected Society” strategy aims to involve the public, government and many different stakeholders in combating loneliness in the U.K. Credit: HM Government

In England, where 45 percent of adults experience some degree of loneliness, the issue is both social and economic. A 2017 report by the New Economics Foundation found that loneliness costs U.K. employers £2.5 billion (USD$3.4 billion) per year in employee health problems, productivity losses and staff turnover.

To support organizations working to combat loneliness, the government announced £20 million (USD$27.5 million) in funding, including £11 million in grants to 126 organizations. It also made social prescribing one of its strategy’s central commitments, funding the recruitment of 1,000 additional “social prescribing link workers” within primary care networks by April 2021.

Social prescribing link workers — also known as community connectors, well being advisors, community navigators and health advisors — support non-clinical needs in a wide range of people, including those who feel lonely, according to England’s National Health Service (NHS). They are recruited for their listening skills and empathy, and may connect people in need to community groups and services for practical and emotional support.

In another of the strategy’s pledges, Royal Mail postal workers were tasked with checking in on older people as part of their delivery rounds and referring those who reported feeling lonely to appropriate support. An evaluation of this program by the Loneliness Action Group, jointly chaired by the British Red Cross and the Co-op Foundation, showed that “three quarters of people valued visits by postal workers” and “trial partners were exploring ways to scale-up the service.”  

lonelinessRoyal Mail postal workers in the U.K. have been tasked with checking in on older customers and referring them to support networks if necessary. Credit: Neil Moralee / Flickr

The government’s strategy also included collecting and tracking evidence to inform future policy, prompting the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to develop national standards for measuring and tracking loneliness — for instance, by surveying citizens with standardized questions on the topic, with variations on wording for children and detailed guidance on how to administer the surveys.

Still, quantifying progress on reducing loneliness can be difficult. One government campaign launched in 2019 called “Let’s Talk Loneliness” aimed to challenge the stigma surrounding loneliness by encouraging the importance of talking about it. The campaign was advertised across 20 big digital screens around the country and included a toolkit for organizations that help those experiencing loneliness. But according to the Loneliness Action Group, “little is known” about whether this or other types of public campaigns are effective in tackling loneliness. The report recommends measuring the impact of this campaign: “Using this data to inform future work will be vital.”

The Loneliness Action Group produced a one-year progress report on England’s strategy and found that while “progress has been made” in setting up the policy structures to drive action, there is “still more to do to secure tangible change in the levels of loneliness across the country.”

A tricky issue to tackle 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness, established in 2018 to raise parliament’s awareness of loneliness, recently published a report echoing the Loneliness Action Group’s call for consolidating and building on what was learned from the pilots in England’s loneliness strategy, such as the Royal Mail initiative. 

“Most of these pilots have now been completed, but best practice has often not been shared or spread,” says Olivia Field, head of health and resilience policy at the British Red Cross.

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Progress across departments has been uneven. For instance, transport and housing require more concrete action on loneliness, according to the Loneliness Action Group’s report. The APPG notes that both of these areas play an important role in supporting people’s ability to connect, calling on the government “to ‘loneliness-proof’ all new transport and housing developments.”

“During inquiry,” Field says, “the APPG heard how poorly designed or unsuitable housing environments can make it harder for people to host visitors as well as get out and about.” In other cases, says the APPG report, “a lack of affordable and suitable housing forced them to move away from the communities with which they were most connected. For others, poorly repaired or cramped housing conditions made it hard to maintain social connections.” 

When designing new housing developments and transport, says Field, groups at risk of loneliness and exclusion should be consulted. “Simple things like putting in more benches, putting seating in apartment block corridors, communal gardens and warm lighting can help neighborhoods connect.” Survey respondents highlighted the role of lobbies, shared outdoor spaces and lounges, access to the nearest bus stop, and ensuring all residents have the same access — to play areas, for instance — to foster connection between neighbors.

Inequities, inevitably, play a role. “The inequalities exposed and exacerbated during the pandemic show the need to do more to support areas with higher levels of deprivation and limited community and social infrastructure,” says Field. “It has also further exposed the link between financial hardship, mental health and loneliness.”

One component to fixing this, as the government’s strategy envisioned, is the roll-out, currently underway, of social prescribing as a universal offer in health care by 2023. Field says the British Red Cross has seen first-hand how effective social prescribing can be in tackling loneliness. The organization’s evaluation “found this service helped two thirds of the people it supported to feel less lonely and 76 percent saw an improvement in their well being,” she says. 

Taken as a whole, England’s strategy reflects a growing consensus that, while loneliness may be something that happens to an individual, the remedies for it can be supported by policy and government programs. As the APPG report puts it: “While we know that it’s locally, in our own communities, that people make friends and find companionship, national leadership is vital in setting the strategic direction, providing the impetus for action, and funding the activities and infrastructure needed to connect.” 

The post Government ‘Ministries of Loneliness’ Bridge the Gaps of Social Distance appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

How China Is Offering an Alternative to the IMF

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/04/2021 - 7:45pm in

China has been setting up currency swap lines with many countries. But is this an idea that is ahead of its time?

Tories Once Again Demanding Clampdown in Schools for No Reason At All

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/04/2021 - 8:49pm in

Why do the Tories hate schoolchildren? Why are they so determined to make school as miserable as possible? I ask these questions, ’cause yesterday Mike put up a piece on his blog about the education minister, Gavin Williamson. Williamson has claimed that there’s a lack of discipline in schools because children were allowed greater freedom during the lockdown. Mobile phones are a particularly destructive influence, and shouldn’t be allowed.

Now I agree with Mike about this, who does agree with Williamson. They shouldn’t be allowed in schools because of the danger that children can use them to cheat. Quite apart from the temptation amongst some pupils to play Tetris or whatever at the back of the class instead of concentrating on Miss trying to teach them trigonometry. But this isn’t a new problem. People have been talking about the problems caused by mobile phones in school ever since children started taking them into class in the ’90s. What is remarkable is Williamson going on about the lack of discipline among school students when there’s absolutely no evidence for it. I haven’t heard anyone complain about a decline in schoolchildren’s behaviour in my neck of the woods, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either.

In fact, not only is there no evidence that the returning pupils are particularly badly behaved, there appears to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. One of our friends down here in south Bristol is a school governor. They told us that the children coming back to school had actually been better behaved. So where does Williamson’s claim that discipline has declined come from?

I think it’s partly due to an habitual Tory distrust of youth. Ever since the ‘youthquake’ of the 1950s and the emergence of modern youth culture, there’s been a particular distrust of young people on the right. This wasn’t entirely unwarranted. I remember the annual fights during the Bank Holidays between Mods and Rockers at Weston Super Mud and elsewhere in the country, and those were frightening. There was a rise in juvenile delinquency, and for years the papers were full of stories about the terrible lack of discipline and poor educational standards in many schools. These were real problems. Private Eye devoted a whole section in one issue to complaints from teachers about the problems they were faced with teaching entirely uninterested, disruptive and sometimes violent students, compounded with lack of support from the headmaster or the education authorities. I dare say in some schools this is still the case, but it doesn’t seem quite the issue it once was. But school discipline is something of a Tory ‘talking point’. School standards are breaking down, and it’s all due to modern, progressive schooling. Kids are being indoctrinated into rebellion by Marxist feminist teachers of ambiguous sexuality.

Except that I don’t think they are. I wondered if this was a response to events at Pimlico academy last week, when the children and some staff decided that the headmaster’s new dress code was somehow racist, as was the flying of the union flag, which some idiot decided to burn. I don’t support the protests there – I think they’re unwarranted and show instead a nasty streak of racism amongst the protesters. But as far as I can make out, it was an isolated incident that was a response to very specific circumstances that has not been repeated elsewhere.

But it also seems to fit with the Tory determination to remove any kind of joy from schooling. When the Tories took over ten years or so ago, they declared that they were going to enforce school discipline and make sure the children worked hard, introducing homework for primary school children. There does seem a determination on the Tories’ part to make school as grim as possible.

And this attitude is shared by some of the academy chains that have been brought in to run schools. Before I came down with the myeloma I did voluntary work listening to children read at one of the local school in south Bristol. This was a normal primary school, whose walls were decorated with the children’s work and paintings along with the usual school notices, and the usual hubbub when the children came in from playground or moved between classroom. It came across as a normal, happy British school, full of normal, happy children.

And then the school was handed over to an academy chain, whose headquarters, incidentally, were registered in Eire as the usual tax dodge. The whole ethos changed. When next I arrived, the walls were bare except for the school notices and children were expected to move from class to class in silence. The children still seemed to be as happy as ever, but a vital part of the school experience had been excised. The place seemed far more dour. I suppose this new austerity was to show that there was now an emphasis on learning and the importance of discipline. It now seemed actually rather joyless and forbidding. I think that putting students’ work up on school walls is enormously encouraging – it rewards pupils for their good work but putting it up for the appreciation of the rest of the school. Or the kids’ parents at parents’ evenings. Ditto with the art. I think it helps to create an attitude among schoolchildren that it is their school, and creates a sense of a common school community. It’s what makes a school a school, rather than a prison.

I think this dour, very authoritarian attitude to education comes partly from Tory authoritarianism. The people at the top set the rules, and the lower orders have to obey, work and suffer. Conditions must be made as hard as possible to encourage people to work and improve themselves. It’s an attitude they’ve introduced into the welfare system by trying to make it as hard as possible to discourage people going onto benefits. This means making benefits all but impossible to obtain and doing their best to hide the fact that people are dying as a result. Now they’re introducing it to education.

I think it also partly comes from the Japanese school system that the Tories are desperate to emulate over here. I got the impression that discipline is extremely strict in Japanese schools, with staff even checking the children’s underwear to make sure they’re the right colour. It’s so strict in fact that in one year in the ’90s, five school kids were beaten to death by their teachers. But this discipline, supposedly, has led to the Japanese and other far eastern countries leading the world in high educational standards. However, a friend of mine told me years ago that this isn’t quite the case. Yes, the east Asian countries do lead the world in their educational standards, but the discipline and extremely hard work are actually typical of a relatively few Chinese and Japanese schools, not the system as a whole. And seeing how hard the schoolchildren in these countries are expected to work, you wonder if something is being lost. Hard work is important, but childhood should also be a time for fun.

Except to the Tories and Gavin Williamson, who seems to be so obsessed with a decline in school discipline that he’s seeing it where it doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps it’s another attempt to put state schools down after the failure of the algorithm he introduced a year ago to predict exam results. This aroused massive outrage because it unfairly assumed that pupils from state schools were perform far less well than those from private schools. Mike and the peeps on Twitter have suggested that Williamson might be trying to revenge himself on schoolkids after one of them tore apart his wretched algorithm on social media.

Whatever the cause, the fact remains that there has been no decline in school discipline. In fact, I’ve heard that in some schools the kids were actually better behaved. This means, as Mike has pointed out on his blog, that children have actually developed self-discipline. And good for them!

As for Williamson, this just shows how out of touch he is with real conditions in schools, and how determined he is to push the Tory view that all schoolchildren and young people are ill-behaved and need the firm hand of authority to keep them in order.

Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/04/2021 - 8:02pm in

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.

China and US: Stumbling into War?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 4:33pm in

China and the US are doing an awful lot of chest-poking, and if anything, it's getting worse under Biden. Could this sparring lead to war?

Students of Colour Object to Oxford Music Curriculum Because of Slavery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/03/2021 - 2:19am in

The Telegraph ran a story yesterday claiming that they’d received documents showing that Oxford University was considering changing their classical music course. This was because, following Black Lives Matter protests, students of colour at the university had complained that they were left very distressed by the course on European music from Machaut to Beethoven, because this was the period when the transatlantic slave trade was developing. They also made the same complaint about western music notation.

Now this comes from the Torygraph, part of Britain’s exemplary right-wing press, who are known for their rigorous commitment to journalistic truth and integrity, ho, ho. So you wonder if it true, or is the product of some Tory hack’s fevered imagination, like many of the stories about the Labour party produced by Guido Fawkes. Is this all made up to discredit Black Lives Matter?

Thinking about the issue, it seems very much to me that the problem isn’t the curriculum’s links to colonialism, but an attitude of entitlement and the cultural prejudices of the rich and monumentally uninformed.

Let’s deal with their objection that western musical notation developed during the time of the Black slave trade. As the Torygraph pointed out, it didn’t. It developed before the transatlantic slave trade from the church’s Gregorian Chant. This is absolutely true. The origin of the western musical tradition is in the music written for church services. This soon expanded to take in secular subjects, such as the courtly lyrics of the troubadours, the celebration of kings and princes, drinking, war, and just about every aspect of life. As a genre, the emergence of western classical music has nothing to do with the slave trade. Machaut, the French composer mentioned as the beginning of that part of the Oxford music course, lived in the 12th century, three centuries or so before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th. The modern system of musical notation was also developed in that century by Guido d’Arezzo. The scale, Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Te Do, comes from the initial syllables of a line in the Latin Mass. And whoever thinks that Beethoven is connected to the slave trade is clean out of their tiny mind. Beethoven, I think, was a German liberal with a profound sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution. His Eroica was originally dedicated to Napoleon, until the Corsican bandit invaded Austria. His Ode to Joy looks forward to a world where nations live together in peace and fraternity. Furthermore, it’s also been suggested that he may have had Black ancestry. Either way, I doubt very much that he had any sympathy for slavery or any other form of human servitude whatsoever.

The complaint about that part of the music course is just so wrong, that I do wonder about the motives of the people making these complaints. Assuming they exist, and that the complaints are genuine. Because the complaints are so wrong, and so ignorant, that either the complaint is some kind of mickey-take, or else the people making them are simply monumentally stupid and lazy. For example, what kind of individual, who seriously wants to learn music, objects to learning the notation? Yes, people can and do play by ear, and many non-western musical traditions don’t have a system of notation. But if you seriously want to play music, and certainly if you’re studying it an advanced level, then understanding its notation is very much a basic requirement. This includes not only classical music, but also Jazz, rock and pop. Much of this is composed through improvisation and jam sessions by the musicians themselves, and its form of reproduction is primarily through records rather than print. But nevertheless, they’re also published as sheet music. I’ve got several books of pop, rock and Jazz music on my shelves. They’re published as sheet music as people not only want to listen to some of these great pieces, but also play them for themselves.

So basic is an understanding of written music as well as the development of western music from the Middle Ages onwards, that I really do wonder if the people behind these complaints actually want to study music, or do so to the extent that they have to do some serious work that might stretch them. It doesn’t look like they do to me. I also wonder why, if they consider western music so intimately linked to colonialism and slavery that it causes them distress, that, if they’re foreign, they wanted to come to Europe to study it.

It’s therefore occurred to me that, if the complaints are real, the people doing the complaining may not actually want to study the subject. They just want the cachet of studying at Oxford. Years ago I read a history of Japan, which warned about giving in to the insularism and xenophobia of many Japanese. The Japanese highly value an education at Oxbridge and/ or the British public schools (God help them!) but they don’t like mixing with non-Japanese. Thus one or the other of Oxford or Cambridge was building a separate college to accommodate Japanese students so they wouldn’t have the inconvenience of mixing with people of other nationalities. Perhaps something similar is the case here? Do they want the prestige that goes with an Oxford education, but have their own racist prejudices about European culture and music?

If this is the case, then it’s a scandal. It’s a scandal because education at one of Britain’s leading universities is being dumbed down for these morons. It’s a scandal because it cheapens the real problems of Britain’s Black community, which were behind many of the Black Lives Matter protests. For example, there’s a programme on the Beeb this evening investigating the reasons Black British mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Whites. It’s a scandal because there are doubtless plenty of kids of all colours in the UK, who would just love to study music at Oxford and have a genuine love of classic music. There’s a campaign at the moment to get more Black and Asians into orchestras. It’s been found that people from these ethnicities are seriously underrepresented. Hence there’s an orchestra, Chinikwe!, purely for non-Whites, in order to produce more Black and Asian orchestral musicians. This has also followed attempts to recover the works of Black classical composers. Back in the 1990s one of the French labels issued a CD of harpsichord pieces written by Black composers. Earlier this year, Radio 3 also played the music of Black classical composers. The best known Black British classical composer, I’m sure, is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who lived from 1875 to 1912. His father came from Sierra Leone while his mother was British. He was the composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on Longfellow’s poem, which is still performed by choral societies up and down the country. And yes, it’s written in western musical notation. But these attempts to encourage the performance of classical, orchestral music by Black and Asian performers, and to restore and include Black and Asian classical composers in the western musical tradition, has also been effectively spurned by what seems to be rich, entitled, lazy brats.

The fault therefore seems not to lie with the Oxford music course or with Black Lives Matter, but with an admissions policy that favours the wealthy, even when they are racist and xenophobic, over those from poorer backgrounds, who are genuinely dedicated and talented. If, on the other hand, the people making those complaints seriously believe them, then the response should be to educate them to dispel their prejudices, not accommodate them.

Yi Hak-nae and the Burma–Thailand Railway

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 9:02pm in


Japan, War Crimes

August memories

August in Japan is a time of remembrance—of family dead (honoured in the festival of Obon) and of war dead (those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in particular). Seventy-five years after the end of the war, the ranks of those who remember it have grown thin, but in August 2020 one story caught my eye. It was the story of Yi (or Lee) Hak-nae, born in the then Japanese colony of Chosen (Korea) in 1925 and known during the war and during his trials by his Japanese name, Hiromura Kakurai. Now aged in his nineties, Yi is the last survivor of 148 Koreans convicted of war crimes in the Allied trials that followed the East Asian and Pacific wars and continued to 1947. His story, published by Reuters in 2020, was headed ‘The Survivor: Last Korean War Criminal in Japan Wants Recognition’.1 

Yi, tried by an Australian court in Singapore, was first found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. Similarly convicted, twenty-three others were in due course executed. Yi’s sentence, however, was commuted to twenty years’ imprisonment. He was transferred in 1951 from Singapore’s Changi prison to Tokyo’s Sugamo, and eventually released in 1956, after ten years in prison. The guilty verdict cast a shadow over his subsequent life. 

Following the Reuters account on 5 August, the story was retold in Japanese two days later, introduced by Yi himself, on the NHK Morning show to a nationwide television audience, there focusing not so much on the ‘war crimes’ and the allegations of brutality as on the injustice of the discriminatory treatment afforded to ‘non-Japanese’ former convicted ‘war criminals’ (senpan) after the war.2 On 14 August the daily Tokyo shimbun carried a further story focusing on that problem and on the movement Yi had long spearheaded demanding of the Japanese government equal treatment for non-Japanese (Korean) and Japanese ex-prisoners.3 At around the same time, Japan’s monthly journal Sekai published an interview with Yi and an article addressing his case by a leading scholar in the field of war and treatment of prisoners.4 

I researched and wrote about the Burma–Thailand railway and the Yi Hak-nae case almost thirty years ago,5 so these stories in this August month of remembering, seventy-five years since the war’s end, drove me to reflect once again: what was the Burma–Thailand railway? Why was a Korean, Yi Hak-nae, working there as a POW camp guard? How had he been punished and on what grounds? What ‘recognition’ does he seek, and with what right? In pondering these questions, I also felt that it was time to pay some attention to the recent work of Australian military historians on the Australian war-crimes trials, notably resulting in the 2016 publication of a substantial tome on the subject.6

Building the railway

During the crucial war years of 1942–43, Japan’s Imperial Army command attached high priority to the construction of a railway linking Thailand to Burma (as Myanmar was then known). The ‘Burma–Thailand Railway’, crossing 414.9 kilometres of jungle and mountain terrain between Ban Pong in Thailand (about 88 kilometres from Bangkok) and Thanbyuzayat in Burma, was designed to open a secure overland route for the transport of troops and supplies to Burma for the war against British India. 

It was Japan’s first large-scale, multinational engineering and construction project. A massive labour force was organised. Two regiments of the Imperial Japanese Army, some 10,000 men, were assigned  around 55,000 Allied POWs from the roughly 250,000 who had fallen into Japanese hands since war began in December 1941, plus 70,000 or so locally recruited civilian Southeast Asian (Tamil Indian, Burmese, Thai, Malay) romusha (labourers), and even a squad of 300 elephants, for work in the jungle.7 To guard the prisoners Japan recruited some 3000 Koreans from Chosen. Work commenced in November 1942. 

The task was hard enough, given the jungle and mountain conditions, but it was made even harder by the early and unusually severe onset of the monsoon and the afflictions that ravaged the workforce (cholera, malaria, dysentery, beriberi, ulcers). In February 1943 the projected construction time was cut from twelve months to eight and a ‘speedo’ campaign was launched that forced prisoners to work longer days with less rest. As the pace was stepped up, more than 12,000 Allied prisoners died, including 2646 of about 13,000 Australians, and a much greater but unknown number of romusha. They died of starvation, exhaustion, illness (cholera in particular) and general ill-treatment. There was said to have been one death for every sleeper laid for the line. At Hintok construction camp (adjacent to the infamous Hellfire Pass and about 150 kilometres from Banpong), where Yi was one of six Korean civilian camp guards, about 100 of 800 prisoners died. On the camp’s worst days in mid-1943, that meant up to six each day.

No sooner was the line opened, in October 1943, than it was smashed by Allied bombing. Few trains ever ran on the line, and those that did carried defeated, wounded and sick Japanese troops back after the Battle of Imphal in India (which commenced in March 1944).

In Australia in particular, once the war ended and POWs returned home, war-crime trials, with their stories of forced heavy labour, beatings, general ill-treatment, hunger and disease, fed bitter, lasting negative images of Japan. In 1991, my Australian National University (ANU) colleague Hank Nelson, a specialist on the war experience in Australia, and I, a modern Japanese historian, together with Aiko Utsumi, a Japanese academic specialist on the war and Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbours, convened a conference in Canberra that sought to bring together as many survivors as possible, i.e. including formerly hostile parties, to reflect on the episode across the gulf of half a century. 

Notable former Australian POWs included Edward (‘Weary’) Dunlop (1907–93), Tom Uren (1921–2015) and Hugh Clarke (1919–96). Dunlop was already a distinguished surgeon and widely revered national figure, Uren a prominent politician and former deputy prime minister, and Clarke a highly regarded novelist. From the ‘other’ side just the Korean, ‘civilian auxiliary’ or gunzoku,Yi Hak-nae, confronted and sought forgiveness from and reconciliation with his former charges. The book of this conference was published in English in 1993  and in Japanese in 1994.

The trials

In 1946–47, Australia conducted twenty-three war-crimes trials in Singapore, with sixty-two defendants. It found eighteen guilty and sentenced them to death, acquitted eleven, and sentenced an additional thirty-three to varying prison terms. Yi was tried on 18 and 20 March 1947. The charges were that during part of the period March to August 1943 Yi had ‘occupied the position of Camp Commandant’ and during that period: 

The prisoners of war lived under the most appalling conditions, shelter and accommodation were totally inadequate and most primitive. They were also denied sufficient food, medical supplies, clothing and footwear… [while being] forced to perform heavy manual labour on the railway line for which they were totally unfit by reason of their physical and medical condition… As a result of this treatment sickness and disease among the prisoners of war became rife and by the end of April 43.2% of the camp strength were in hospital…out of 800 Australian prisoners of war who went into the camp over 100 of them died there, and that the accused was responsible for their death.8

Found guilty of having ‘inhumanely [sic] treated prisoners of war’—in effect, guilty of mass murder—Yi was sentenced to death. His defence counsel petitioned the court and in October his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. 

Yi’s trial was marked by multiple irregularities, but the overwhelming one was the assumption that he had been ‘Camp Commandant’, himself responsible for the ‘appalling conditions’. It was a major mistake that should have been corrected at the outset. Because guards such as Yi were the principal point of contact between prisoners and camp authorities they tended to be seen as responsible, but they had zero control over the conditions of the camp, their status was lower than a private and they were themselves subjected to multiple abuses and discrimination from the Japanese military. Tasked with forcing POWs to work on the line construction, and under tremendous pressure from the Japanese army camp command to meet daily prisoner work norms, Yi had to maximize the labour force, while Dunlop, then a 36-year-old Australian army surgeon and the senior prisoner command, had to minimize it, doing what he could to prevent prisoners who were ill or enfeebled from starvation from being allocated to work detachments. 

For some weeks in March-April 1943, in the absence or illness of regular Japanese authorities, Yi did indeed serve as acting camp commandant, but he was obliged to implement policy, not determine it. Though Yi was charged over matters to do with his having ‘occupied the position of Camp Superintendent’, a status that continued until August, in his account (discussed below) Colonel Dunlop made no such claim. He referred only to the very different charge, that in April-May 1943 ‘while in charge of works parade arrangements (italics added) [Yi was] forcing doctors to discharge patients from hospital to work’. He was clear and specific as to time, and made no reference to any beatings or brutality, or to any act of Yi’s causing death. He added the names of two other prisoners from whom details could be sought.9 Since no statement from either appears in the file it would seem either that they were not asked or that they declined. 

Yi’s account to the court confirmed Dunlop’s statement. His spell as acting commander of the camp was indeed brief (March-April 1943). ‘After May’, he told the court (which did not dispute the fact), ‘I was ordered to assist in the orderly room so I did not have any connection whatever with the work parade’. Dunlop’s own diary, not published until much later but meticulous in its detail, makes clear his hatred for Yi as ‘a proper little bastard’ (17 March 1943), ‘a terrible thorn in the side’ (6 April 1943), who ‘against all medical judgment, forced more sick men out to work’ (12 April 1943), but he made no reference to ever having been beaten or personally ill-treated by him.10 He also confirms that Yi’s spell as acting camp commandant ended in April. The indictment was therefore fundamentally flawed by falsely charging Yi with overall responsibility for camp conditions continuing to August.  

Much later, to the Canberra conference of 1991 and as if to settle the matter, Dunlop said:

I was bashed by others…but [Hiromura/Yi] he wasn’t a basher. I didn’t regard him as a major criminal. I regarded him as a pawn. His powers were very limited. Most of my real fights were with the Japanese engineers.11 

Not only that but, far from being camp commandant at the time he was accused of committing the offences, Yi was an 18-year-old boy (born 1925), a fact that Colonel Dunlop and other former prisoners in the camp were shocked to learn when they re-met him in Canberra in 1991. 

Perhaps even more remarkable, when Yi was arrested and put on trial in 1947 it was on the same charges—ill-treatment of prisoners—over which he had been arrested and imprisoned, but then released, the previous year. On 17 October 1946, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert C. Smith, commander of 1st War Crimes section, Singapore, had minuted the Yi file: ‘Case not serious enough to warrant trial. Close file’. He then wrote to headquarters, Singapore district, to say: ‘It is now advised that the case against the above-named has been dropped as it is only of a minor nature’. 

That should have been the end of the matter. Charges against him dismissed, Yi was duly released on 10 December 1946. Boarding a repatriation vessel, he got only as far as Hong Kong before being removed from the ship, re-arrested, and subjected to the same charges as those Lieutenant-Colonel Smith a year earlier had thought ‘minor’. The major difference in charges was the addition of the following words: ‘…out of 800 Australian prisoners of war who went into the camp over 100 of them died there, and that the accused was responsible for their death’. In short, with Yi being found guilty in 1947 of the charge of mass murder that had been dismissed in 1946, the trial offended against the fundamental legal principle of autrefois acquit. Astonishingly, the court in 1947 was unaware of those 1946 proceedings until they were brought to its attention by Yi’s counsel after the 1947 judgment and sentence.

The proceedings were brief, even summary in character, no small matter when the accused is facing a capital charge. There were no witnesses to be called or cross-examined, and just eight pieces of written testimony—seven sworn affidavits and one unsworn ‘Q’ form, discussed below. Yi estimates (and the transcript suggests that the figure is about right) that he confronted the tribunal for about forty minutes. Yi understood little of the proceedings save the three heavy words with which they concluded: ‘death by hanging’. 

The evidence was thin. Of the 600 or so former prisoners from Hintok camp, just seven (two majors, two captains, one lieutenant, one sergeant-major and one private) submitted sworn affidavits. Three in particular made serious allegations against Yi. Captain Cecil George Brettingham-Moore referred to ‘one classic occasion’ sometime between 25 May and 14 July, when conditions at Hintok were at their worst, on which Yi had beaten Dunlop with a bamboo stick after the latter had interceded to try to prevent sick men from being assigned to work brigades. Sergeant-Major Austen Adam Fyfe testified that Yi had often beaten him and he had witnessed one occasion in around July 1943 on which he had seen Yi bashing Colonel Dunlop severely across the head and body. Major Hector George Greiner referred in particular to an incident some days after Dunlop’s arrival in the camp (i.e. April 1943) in which Yi had attacked and beaten him. He also referred to Yi as having been ‘in charge’, and described him as ‘one of the most brutal guards I had experiences with’, the very phrase that in 2020 Reuters stretched into a general prisoner consensus: ‘Trial records reviewed by Reuters show prisoners [sic] remembered Lee (Yi/Hiromura), known as the Lizard, as one of the most brutal guards on the railway’. Although the Greiner charge was plausible, the problem with the Fyfe and Brettingham-Moore testimony is that it refers to a July bashing (Fyfe), and a ‘classic occasion’ between late May and July that Brettingham-Moore remembered, neither of which could have occurred on Yi’s watch. 

Three other former prisoners made some mention of Yi. Major John Chauncy Champion de Crespigny said that Colonel Dunlop suffered abuse, slapping and humiliation at Yi’s hands practically daily but had no recollection of any ‘severe’ beating. Captain Richard Hastings Allen described Yi as ‘no worse than most of the camp staff where beating of PW was a daily occurrence’. Lieutenant Reginald Gilbert Houston referred to Dunlop having been frequently ‘ill-treated’ by Hiromura/Yi, but he mentioned no specific incident. One further ex-prisoner was Private Harry Ashley Hugal. Though present at the camp throughout the period in question, and the only ordinary soldier to lay any complaint over his treatment there, Hugal made no mention of Yi at all in his affidavit.

The evidence was thus far from decisive, and Dunlop’s testimony, as senior officer in the camp and himself the subject of alleged beatings at Yi’s hands, was plainly crucial to the prosecution case. Yet there was no sworn statement from him but simply a pencilled ‘Q’ form (‘a piece of unsworn paper’, as defence counsel put it). The fact of his declining (or refusing) to submit any sworn accusation or to give direct evidence amounted, in this capital trial, to pointed silence. The only explanation for why the trial’s ‘Exhibit One’ was being presented in such an unsworn format only would seem to be that the war was over and Dunlop had no interest in retribution.12 The court likewise gave no explanation as to why the ‘Q’ forms of other prisoners were not before it.13 

In an affidavit dated 27 June 1946, Dunlop referred to a Lieutenant Hirota [Eiji], a young engineer attached to the railway corps who had been responsible for work parties, ‘enjoyed a reputation for ruthlessness’, and was ‘directly responsible for many deaths’.14 Brettingham-Moore and Hugal also mention Hirota in their depositions, and at one point in Brettingham-Moore’s deposition the letters ‘ta’ (of Hirota) have been crossed out and replaced by ‘mura’ (of Hiromura), so the possibility of mistaken identity in the judicial process, the confusion of Hiromura and Hirota, is real. Hirota, tried in September 1946 on charges of ill-treatment of prisoners, was found guilty, and executed on 21 January 1947.15

After the 1947 tribunal returned its guilty verdict (‘inhumane treatment of prisoners, causing death of more than one hundred’) and sentence against Yi, however, both in Singapore and in Canberra doubt seems to have persisted. The case lacked a decisive piece of evidence. Exhibit One, Dunlop’s Q form, was a remarkably thin basis upon which to warrant a death penalty. When the tribunal referred the file to the judge advocate-general in Canberra, L. B. Simpson, for advice, Simpson on 2 June wrote an initial opinion in which he saw ‘no reason in the proceedings why the finding and sentence should not be legally confirmed’ but then went on to add, almost as an afterthought, the following, contradictory, comment: ‘In comparison with the other cases, this is not a particularly bad one, and I strongly urge the confirming authority to mitigate the sentence to imprisonment for a long period’.

Had Dunlop in 1947 added his voice to make serious accusations against Yi, either by a sworn deposition or by an appearance in person before the tribunal in Singapore, the sentence would almost certainly have been confirmed and carried out. On the other hand, had he appeared in person and made clear—in either format—that Yi had been an underling rather than camp commandant and that several of the affidavits were problematic, it is conceivable that Yi might have been found not guilty, or guilty of some lesser charges. At least Dunlop’s non-cooperation meant a reprieve for Yi. On 7 November 1947, after almost eight months on death row, he was advised that his sentence had been commuted to twenty years. In due course he served ten before release.

The aftermath

The Japan into which Yi and other Koreans emerged in 1956 was a country that they had never known, where they had no family or friends. Since in Korea they were thought of as Japanese ‘collaborating’ war criminals, and since the peninsula had been devastated by the Korean War while they were in prison, they could not go home.  

By a bizarre irony, very soon after Yi emerged from Tokyo’s Sugamo prison Japan came to be headed by a former A-class (major war crimes) prisoner, Kishi Nobusuke (1896–1987). Where B- and C-class Koreans at the lowest level of the Japanese military system, regularly bashed and beaten themselves, with zero power or authority to delay or block orders, were required to serve out their sentences until 1956, Kishi, an undisputed member of Japan’s militarist elite as architect of colonial policy and signatory to the declaration of war on the West in 1941, together with other A-class prisoners, was released in December 1948. Escaping the gallows and being suddenly freed on the very day that seven others of the A group were executed, Kishi went on to become prime minister in 1957, an invaluable US asset as occupation policy shifted from punishment to recovery and incorporation of Japan into the Cold War system. 

Once freed, Yi organised a group of around seventy former Korean B- and C-class senpan into a mutual welfare society, setting up and running a taxi company in Tokyo. Yi became leader of the movement to secure compensation for the Koreans equivalent to that enjoyed by regular Japanese ex-soldier senpan (beginning in 1954 and in today’s termsaround $41,000 a year), but since Japan’s claims to Korea and Taiwan had been extinguished with the San Francisco Treaty of 1951, Koreans and Taiwanese, suddenly ‘non-Japanese’, were excluded from compensation. Today Yi is the last representative of those Koreans who were first mobilised and then punished as ‘Japanese’ but then involuntarily stripped of their ‘Japaneseness’ upon dissolution of the Japanese empire. He has been seeking recognition for more than sixty years since then. 

In 1991, in an unforgettable scene, meeting for the first time in over fifty years on the campus of the Australian National University, Yi proffered, and Dunlop graciously accepted, an apology: 

From the bottom of my heart I wanted to apologise profoundly, as one of the aggressor side, to Colonel Dunlop and all the former POWs, for the bitterness and pain of the loss of so many of their comrades under such harsh circumstances. Before you all, I apologise from my heart.16

Two things in retrospect are notable about the Yi apology. First, he was clear and unambiguous about his share of responsibility for the pain and suffering caused to Allied prisoners. Second, he sought their understanding for the plight of the Korean senpan, powerless to influence the oppressive, violent nature of the war system, of which they, like the Australians, were victims. He asked them to understand that he, too, as POW of the Allied forces, especially in Singapore, had been treated cruelly. Former POWs listening to Yi’s talk to the 1991 conference were left surprised and uncomfortable by his insistence on the second of these points. 

Yi was so overwhelmed by the 1991 meeting that he made one further trip to Australia a year later, visiting Dunlop at his Melbourne home to present him with a gold watch inscribed ‘No More Hintok, No More War’.17 Dunlop died shortly afterwards.

‘The Apology’, Australian National University, August 1991 (Yi Hak-nae, Edward (‘Weary’) Dunlop, Tom Uren, and author Gavan McCormack as interpreter. Photograph courtesy Utsumi Aiko.

Seeking recognition

In November 1991, months after the Canberra conference, a group of seven compatriot senpan, including Yi, launched a suit in the Tokyo district court seeking compensation from the government of Japan equivalent to the emoluments they would have been entitled to had they been Japanese. Their suit was rejected in successive actions, but the Tokyo High Court in July 1998 added to its judgment a rider to the effect that it was up to ‘those in charge of political affairs’ to strive for an early and proper legislative resolution of the Korean claims. In December 1999 the Supreme Court again rejected their claim, but, while leaving it to the legislature, expressed understanding of their discontent at the lack of any legislative measures to resolve their grievances.

In 2008, responding to the urgings of the courts and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the (opposition) Democratic Party of Japan framed a bill for the economic relief of the Korean senpan, prescribing a payment of three million yen each (about $28,000).18 However, it failed to persuade the then governing Liberal-Democratic Party and was dropped without debate. Another bill, setting a slightly lower figure of 2.6 million yen per head, was proposed by the Japan-South Korea Parliamentarians League but got nowhere. Yi Hak-Nae, the last survivor, continues to press the B- and C-groups’ case and the legislature continues to drag its feet.19  ‘Not a day passes’, said Yi in 2020, ‘without my thinking of the pitiable fate of those B- and C-class senpan who have already passed away. I insist that Japan respond properly to our claims’.

Guilt and reconciliation

Shortly before he died in 1993, Dunlop took me aside during a function at the Australian War Memorial to ask about Yi. Whenever he looked at the gold watch Yi had presented to him, he said, he felt a certain ‘guilt’. Surprised at his use of the word guilt, I put it to him that, given what he and other prisoners had been through at the hands of their captors, it was surely not for him to feel guilty. He gently demurred. Leading me to a nearby chair, he sat me down and told me the following story. It is one that, it seems, he had not told before, and one that many might find shocking, as did I.

I quote here from the Sydney Morning Herald of 10 July 1993 (though I am the source of this story):20

Sir Edward Dunlop died with guilt in a corner of his heart. ‘Weary’, the Australian hero who knew there was no future in hatred, revealed a few months before he died…that he had once hated a man so intensely that he had planned to kill him. On the Burma–Thailand railway 50 years ago, the Australian surgeon had fashioned a club to kill the Korean guard known as the Lizard, whom Dunlop called in his diaries ‘a proper little bastard’. Dunlop planned to ambush the Lizard and ‘beat his brains out’. The moment Dunlop planned to go to the ambush site, however, he was summoned to attend to business in the prisoner-of-war camp.

It was an astonishing revelation. It should be corrected now in just one detail. As I recall the conversation, Dunlop had actually taken up a position to carry out his plan, hiding behind a rock or a tree near the camp entrance to await Yi’s return, when he was suddenly called to the camp office. Dunlop would have known very well that the act he contemplated would, had he carried it out, have attracted savage retaliation, not just on himself but on all POWs. Yet he was, he implied, so boiling with rage and hatred as to be temporarily blind to such consequences. The moment passed, but it left a weight on his conscience.

Worlds apart in culture, status and life experience, Dunlop and Yi were linked by fate and shared humanity, each touched by the encounter with the other. Meeting Yi first at Hintok in early 1943, Dunlop conceived of a hatred for him that he could only barely contain. Four years later, by choosing not to cooperate with the Singapore tribunal, he ‘spared’ (or, it could be said, re-spared) Yi, his non-cooperation mute testimony to his disquiet. Eventually, in 1991, the two were reconciled, with an apology offered by Yi and accepted by Dunlop. The reconciliation was sealed the following year by the gold watch. 

On learning of Dunlop’s death, Yi sent a message of condolence: 

…I owe you my life…you were gracious enough to accept those apologies…and you showed understanding of the position of Koreans under Japanese imperialism. After speaking together of the unhappiness of war, you shook hands with me and the warmth of your large hand still remains with me. From my heart I thank you, and I pray that you may rest in peace.21 

The history

Yi is one of a tiny minority in Japan to apologise for his role in the war and to seek out those towards whom he feels particular guilt, even though his responsibility for what happened in the camp, including the deaths of ‘over 100’ Australians, was at least attenuated by the fact that he was at the time an 18-year-old discriminated-against menial at the lowest level of the Japanese military machine. That he was non-Japanese should also have been taken into consideration. For the Koreans, Japan’s defeat in war spelt liberation and liquidation of Japan’s colonial empire. Yi’s defence counsel at the 1947 trial attempted to make the defence that as an allied national he should not be tried as a Japanese (enemy) subject,22 but the court briskly dismissed that objection. It was no more interested in the oppressive, colonial nature of the Japanese–Korean relationship than it was in Yi’s being a juvenile.

Today, Weary’s statue stands in front of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Seeing his image, recollecting his grasp of history, his personal warmth and his sense of justice, I bow in respect and remembrance. In 1995 the government of Australia conferred upon him he extraordinary honour of minting 16 million 50-cent coins with Queen Elizabeth on one side and Weary on the other. I recall him speaking to the Canberra gathering in 1991, saying:

I personally felt that the Japanese had an excuse for getting involved in the last war. I think the Americans put them down as a tinpot economy and really screwed them down as a minor power. [But] As one who was quite prepared to forgive the Japanese and get on with business with them in the world, one thing has just irritated me a little: they do not seem to me to really teach history.23

Edward (‘Weary’) Dunlop, statue by Peter Corlett, 1995, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Photograph: Gavan McCormack, March 2021

On 23 April 1993, the book of the 1991 conference was launched at the Australian National University by Prime Minister Paul Keating, who spoke memorably and movingly to the assembled former POWs of his own family’s experience of wartime loss, his uncle having been a casualty of the Sandakan Death Marches in the Philippines in early 1945. Only long after the expiry of his allocated time could his minders detach the prime minister from his intimate conversations and shared family stories with the former soldiers. These were years in which Hellfire Pass was gradually taking its place alongside Gallipoli and Kokoda as a key site in the formation of the modern Australian identity.

In the years since that 1991 conference and the 1993 book publication, one by one the participants, especially the old soldiers, have passed away. The last survivor, Yi Hak-nae, cannot be far behind. Since the publication of the 1991 conference proceedings, at least two major books have been published; one was subsequently turned into a film and the other won the Booker Prize.24 

The most substantial (865-page) tome, however, has been the 2016 publication of Australia’s War Crimes Trials 1945–1951. Enjoying the financial backing of the Australian War Memorial, the Australian Research Council and the Australian Department of Defence’s Legal Division, it might be seen as the considered opinion of official Australia on the Singapore trials, a comprehensive ‘not guilty’ (to any suggestion of impropriety by Australia) verdict. However, while one might reasonably have expected that important cases such as that of Yi would be given thorough analysis, that is not the case. The trial is briefly outlined, but no mention is made of the fact that Yi was convicted in 1947 on charges that had been dismissed in 1946, or of the contradictions and flimsy, hearsay character of the evidence. Other surely significant cases pass without analysis, including the ‘F’ Force trials over matters arising from the camps on the Burma side of the railway, which recorded the highest of all prisoner death rates (29 per cent, or 1060 deaths among 3600 prisoners),25 in which four death sentences were handed down (although all were later commuted). Another large trial, of Lieutenant-Colonel Nagatomo Yoshitada and others, led to the execution of three Japanese, including Nagatomo, and three Koreans, one of whom, Cho Mun-san (Japanese name: Hirahara Moritsune), was the subject of a documentary film by the national broadcaster, NHK, in August 1991.26 It too escapes mention.

Posing the question ‘Were the Australian trials fair?’, two of the editors of this volume offer their own answer, saying: ‘en masse, the Australian trials were as fair as might be expected given the particular circumstances of the immediate postwar period and in comparison to other Allied military practices’27 and ‘There is a certain satisfaction, as we come to the end of our project on the Australian war crimes trials, in attaining our conviction that no systematic abuse occurred in these trials’.28

Such a conclusion can only be reconciled with the Yi case (and the F Force, Nagatomo and other cases) by putting heavy weight on the words ‘en masse’, ‘as might be expected’, and ‘systematic’. It is a formula for forgiving abuses that were somehow less than en masse or ‘systematic’, while the phrase ‘as might be expected’ is too conveniently exculpatory and too readily allows Australian responsibility to be diminished. For what is clearly intended to be the ‘official history’, such equivocation is not good enough. The conclusion of this volume that the trials were basically fair hangs as a heavily begged question over the promised ‘comprehensive law report for each of the 300 trials conducted by Australia’ yet to come. 

I formed the view in 1991, after reading the available documents and talking with survivors, that the trial of Yi (and others, especially other Koreans) was a travesty. Now, nearly thirty years later, and contrary to the 2016 Australian volume, I see nothing to make me change my mind. Furthermore, reflecting on Yi Hak-nae’s long struggle to gain recognition and compensation from the government of Japan, I have a further, troubling concern: should he not also have a claim of some sort against the government of Australia over the deeply flawed judicial hearings to which it subjected him more than seventy years ago? 

Note: A shorter version of this paper appears in the print edition of Arena no. 5. After that issue had gone to press, Yi Hak-nae died in Tokyo after a short illness. He was aged 96.

1 Ju-min Park, ‘The Survivor: Last Korean War Criminal in Japan Wants Recognition’, Thomson Reuters, 5 August 2020, https://www.journalpioneer.com/news/world/the-survivor-last-korean-war-criminal-in-japan-wants-recognition-480917/

2 ‘Moto BC-kyu senpan no gaikokujin 95-sai kokunai saigo no shogensha’, ‘Ohayo Nippon’, NHK 7 August 2020, https://www.nhk.or.jp/ohayou/digest/2020/08/0807.html/. NHK published the same story in English a month later: ‘Seeking Answers to Clarify Wartime Chaos’, NHK World, 14 September 2020.

3 ‘Nakama no munen harashitai’ Chosen hanto shusshin moto BC-kyu senpan ga uttae, sengo 75 nen susumanu ho seibi’, Tokyo shimbun, 14 August 2020.

4 Yi Hak-nae, ‘Chosenjin BC-kyu senpan keishisha no munen ni kotaete hoshii’, Sekai, September 2020, pp 198–204, and Utsumi Aiko, ‘Shogen to shiryo: Yi Hak-nae san no baai’, ibid., pp 205–8. For a short, authoritative account of the state of scholarship on the issues, see also Utsumi Aiko and Okuta Toyomi, ‘Taimen tetsudo—gisei to sekinin’, Osaka keizai hoka daigaku Ajia Taiheiyo kenkyu senta nenpo, No. 16, 2019, pp 26–33. 

5 Gavan McCormack and Hank Nelson (eds), The Burma-Thailand Railway: Memory and History, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1993, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 1993, revised and expanded Japanese translation Taimen tetsudo to Nihon no senso sekinin (Gavan McCormack, Hank Nelson and Aiko Utsumi, eds), Tokyo: Akashi shoten, 1994.

6 Georgina Fitzpatrick, Tim McCormack and Narrelle Morris, Australia’s War Crimes Trials 1945–51, Brill Niihoff, 2016.

7 On these details, including the elephants, see Utsumi and Okuda. 

8 ‘Proceedings, Military Court—Trial of Japanese war criminal Korean guard Hiromura Kakurai’, Singapore, 18 and 20 March 1947. National Archives of Australia, NAA, A471, 81640.

9 Trial transcript, pp 57–9. The two he named were Major E. L. Corlette of the medical corps and Sergeant B. P. Harrison-Lucas of 2/2 Casualty Clearing Section. 

10 [Sir] Edward Dunlop, The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop: Java and the Burma–Thailand Railway 1942–1945, Melbourne: Nelson, 1986 (2005), pp 203–4. 

11 Tony Stephens, ‘Desire for Vengeance Touched Even “Weary”,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 10 July 2020.

12 For details of the tribunal, see the trial record cited above. See also Gavan McCormack, ‘Apportioning the Blame: Australian Trials for Railway Crimes’, in McCormack and Nelson, pp 85–119. (See especially ‘The Case of Yi Hak-nae’ at pp 91–5.)

13 Trial transcript, defence counsel, ‘Closing address’, pp 48–54.

14 Dunlop restated this complaint about Hirota in his paper for the 1991 conference. Edward Dunlop, ‘Reflections, 1946 and 1991’, in McCormack and Nelson pp 144–50. 

15 ‘War Crimes—Military Tribunal—Hirota Eiji’, Singapore, 18–21 September 1946. National Archives of Australia, A471, 81301.

16 From the address he delivered to the conference; see McCormack and Nelson, p. 120.

17 Author communication from Yi. I have no idea what happened to this watch after Dunlop’s death, but I assume it will surface one day in the Australian War Memorial or some other museum. It deserves to be seen as a symbol of reconciliation.

18 ‘Nakama no munen’ gives the figure of three million, but Yi (Sekai, September 2020) says two million.

19 Yi Hak-nae, Kankokujin moto BC-kyu senpan no uttae, Tokyo, Nashinokisha, 2016, pp, supplement, pp 4–5.

20 Stephens.

21 Message to this author, reproduced in Stephens.

22 Captain D. F. H. Sinclair, assisting defence counsel, Hiromura trial transcript, 18 March 1947, pp 29–30. See also Georgina Fitzpatrick, ‘The Trials in Singapore’, in Australia’s War Crimes Trials, p. 592.

23 McCormack and Nelson, p. 148.

24 Eric Lomax, The Railway Man, Vintage, 1995 (the film of the same name was released in 2013); Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North (Random House, 2013) won the Booker Prize in 2014. A Japanese translation of Flanagan’s book was published in 2018 under the title Oku no hosomichi e.

25 Hank Nelson, ‘Appendix A: Australian forces on the railway’, in McCormack and Nelson, pp 160–61.For details on the ‘F’ Force case,  see McCormack and Nelson, pp 18, 100–10.

26 For details on the Nagatomo case, see McCormack and Nelson, pp 97–100.

27 Narrelle Morris and Tim McCormack, ‘Were the Australian Trials Fair?’, in Fitzpatrick, McCormack and Morris, pp 781–809, at p. 789.

28 Morris and McCormack, p. 809.

Fukushima: They Knew

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/03/2021 - 10:30pm in

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima tsunami and meltdown.
A nuclear plant is built with steel and cement and lies and fraud — and that’s the take-a-way for today.
Stacey Abrams has shown REAL courage in Georgia in her opposition to the Vogtle nuclear power plant — the last... READ MORE

Covid Baby Bust Has Governments Rattled

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/03/2021 - 8:43pm in

A falloff in baby production has capitalists very worried.

Video – Political Economy thought and praxis post pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/01/2021 - 4:59pm in


Inflation, Japan, Music

It’s Wednesday and I have been tied up most of the day on things that keep me from writing. But I offer some comments on today’s inflation data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which will help you understand that we have to be very careful in analysing that data because quite often CPI increases are driven by government policy which allows administered prices to rise. Short conclusion: a rising inflation rate does not signal a growing economy necessarily. I also provide details about my current lecture series at the University of Helsinko, which the broader public are invited to participate in. And then some fusion.

Today’s Australian Inflation results

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index – data today (January 27, 2020) for the December-quarter 2020.

I won’t provide a detailed analysis of it here but the release highlights something that many people seem to ignore.

I did several press interviews today about the release and the journalists were all interested in whether the 0.9 per cent rise for the quarter signalled that the economy was running out of fiscal space.

I noted the following:

1. Alcohol and tobacco was the major contributor to the increase in the CPI. Why? It reflected:

… the annual excise tax increase of 12.5% and the bi-annual excise tax increase … both applied on 1 September 2020.

2. The Health group rose 1.3 per cent. Why? “due to increases in private health insurance premiums on 1 October 2020″ – these are administrative increases allowed by the government to give rents to the private medical providers.

3. Education group rose 1.2 per cent. Why? Because the government terminated the ” free before and after school care from the ‘Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package’.”

4. The Transport group rose 0.9 per cent. Why? In part, because of “the cessation of discounts offered on Sydney off-peak fares” as part of the pandemic relief.

5. The Furnishings, household equipment and services group rose 3.4 per cent. Why? Mostly because “out-of-pocket expenses for child care fees returned to pre-COVID levels” after the government had provided free child care as part of its rescue package for that sector.

6. Within the Housing group, which fell by 0.6 per cent, Electricity fell by 7.5 per cent. Why? Because electricity prices fell significantly as a result of State government initiatives to provide a free power (a credit segment) as part of the relief.

The point is that all these shifts are administrative type influences. Decisions by government to extend relief or withdraw fiscal relief and in the case of health care to guarantee rents to the snivelling private health care provides.

They are nothing to do with spending intensity and relative resource availability.

In many cases, CPI movements are driven by these types of influences and bear no relation to the state of the fiscal situation in the nation.

When we observe rising inflation like this, we have to be careful not to fall into the mainstream trap that it is because the fiscal stimulus was too large.

In fact, I told the journalists that there is significant scope for fiscal expansion at present and the government would be acting responsibly to do that.

How do I come up with that?

The broad labour underutilisation rate is currently 15.1 per cent (meaning that that percentage of available workers is being wasted in one way or another – unemployment or underemployment) and the participation rate is below recent peaks (meaning that there has been a rise in hidden unemployment as workers have given up job search due to the lack of employment opportunities).

When we see that level of mass resource wastage then we know at least one other thing – the fiscal deficit is too low.

Public Lecture – Political Economy thought and praxis post pandemic

Last night, I presented this lecture, which is an annual event for me when I visit Helsinki each year as part of my professorial duties at the University of Helsinki.

The lecture was streamed on YouTube this year given the travel restrictions have prevented me from going to Finland.

This lecture opens my annual 6 lecture series, which are part of the post-graduate political economy program.

While this lecture aims to be accessible to the general public, the other lectures are more academic in nature and have technical aspects that may or may not appeal to a general audience.

The University of Helsinki have indicated they are happy for the general public to attend the additional five lectures should they wish.

Unlike, the public lecture last night, the remaining lectures will be via Zoom.

The time table is:

  • Public Lecture – January 26, 2021 – Last evening – see video below.
  • Lecture 2 – January 29, 2021
  • Lecture 3 – February 2, 2021
  • Lecture 4 – February 4, 2021
  • Lecture 5 – February 9, 2021
  • Lecture 6 – February 11, 2021

But be clear these are formal teaching lectures not aimed at the general public. MMTed will be launching lectures soon that covers similar material in a less academic way.

The Zoom link will be at: https://helsinki.zoom.us/j/61941922246?pwd=YXpPM0xYQWFFYUNsMjhtNGZMOUg5dz09
Meeting ID: 619 4192 2246
Passcode: 661432

The lectures start 18:15 Sydney/Melbourne time except for Friday, January 29, when it will start at 18:00.

This is 09:15 Helsinki time.

Music – Back to 1989 for this one – almost contemporary

This is what I have been listening to while working this morning.

I quite like – Marcus Miller – when he plays solo bass lines.

I also, obviously, liked – Miles Davis (his playing not his non-music behaviour) – and I have always been partial to – Kenny Garrett on sax and – Omar Hakim – on drums.

So it was also obvious that I would like this album – Amandla (Warner Brothers )- when it came out in 1989. It was one of the last albums Miles Davis released and it was produced by Marcus Miller who played bass, guitar and keyboards (therefore talented).

He wrote this song – Amandla – the title track from the album. The name Amandla means power in the Zulu and Zhosa languages.

This was the third album that Miles Davis and Marcus Miller recorded together from 1986, then 1987 and then this one in 1989. All great albums I should say.

It is fusion of the good variety although it was somewhat canned at the time by critics who claimed Miles Davis had had his day. The critics had hated his 1969 release Bitches Brew, which marked the start of his fusion days (to make a living given the decline of pure jazz opportunities) but hated this album even more because it when he teamed up with Marcus Miller, out came the programmed synths, samplers and drum loop/machines, which sent the ‘purists’ into conniptions.

The sound was great though so the purists missed the point.

He died two years later. This was one of his last albums and not his best but still better than most.

And if you listen hard enough you will sense the Zouk influence from the Caribbean. I might just drag some Zouk out for next week’s track. That should be entertaining.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2021 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.