Slava Novorossiya

Slava Novorossiya

Saturday, June 21, 2014


            On this date, June 21, 2011, Takashi Nagase, an interpreter of the Ministry of War of Japan, passed away. He is someone I respect and admire for being repentant. I will post information about him from Wikipedia and other links.

Military portrait of prison camp guard Takashi Nagase
Takashi Nagase (永瀬 Nagase Takashi?, c.1919 - June 21, 2011) was an interpreter of the Ministry of War of Japan. He was born in 1918 in Kurashiki, Okayama, Japan. He learned English language from a U.S. Methodist in a college in Tokyo. He was one of the officers in charge of the construction of the "Death Railway" which ran between Thailand and Burma and included the famous bridge over the River Kwai, and is known for the use of forced labor of Allied prisoners of war, though the majority of the labor (and resultant deaths) was incurred by romusha, or local civilians pressed into labor.

Nagase was first introduced to the British Public in the documentary made by ex-POW John Coast about the realities of life on the Thai-Burma Railway, which was broadcast in the UK on BBC2 on 15 March 1969 (it was repeated on Boxing Day 1974). The documentary was called 'Return to the River Kwai' and featured interviews with Nagase and two other Japanese soldiers who had worked with the prisoners on the Railway. Nagase acted as both interpreter for the two other soldiers and interviewee. A transcript of the documentary and Nagase's responses to Coast's questions about the treatment of the POWs and some of the Japanese accused of war crimes after the war (plus some of Nagase's responses that did not make it into the final edit of the documentary) can be found in the new edition of Coast's book "Railroad of Death".

Nagase was also noted for his reconciliation with former British Army officer Eric Lomax, whom he interrogated and tortured at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in 1942. Lomax then went on to mention his reconciliation with Nagase in his autobiography, The Railway Man. The book chronicled his experience before, during, and after World War II. It won the 1996 NCR Book Award and the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.

Nagase also wrote a book on his own experiences during and after the war entitled Crosses and Tigers, and financed a Buddhist temple at the bridge to atone for his actions during the war. The meeting between the two men was filmed as a documentary Enemy, My Friend? (1995), directed by Mike Finlason.

After the end of World War II, Takashi Nagase became a devout Buddhist priest and tried to atone for the Japanese army's treatment of prisoners of war. Takashi made more than 100 missions of atonement to the River Kwai in Thailand.

He died in 2011.

In films

Nagase is portrayed by Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada in the film The Railway Man, based on Lomax's autobiography. The film also stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.

He was previously portrayed by Yugo Saso in the 2001 film, To End All Wars.

The statue of Nagase Takashi (Fujiwara) at the river entrance to the JEATH Museum, with the bamboo hut of the museum in the background. [Photo: Kim McKenzie] [PHOTO SOURCE:]
Takashi Nagase helped torture British POWs in WWII. He has tried to make amends ever since

Takashi Nagase still breaks down when he remembers the young British man he helped torture. "I couldn't bear his pain," he says, choking back tears. "He was crying Mother! Mother! And I thought: what she would feel if she could see her son like this. I still dream about it."

Nagase was a military interpreter for the dreaded Kempeitai, or special Japanese police in the prison camp made famous in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai," when POW Eric Lomax was caught with a concealed radio and map.

Neither man has ever completely recovered from what took place in the following days as Lomax was relentlessly tortured. For the 22-year-old Signals Corps' engineer from Edinburgh, it was the beginning of a nightmare that has taken him 60 years to shake off. "The psychological damage stays with you forever," he says.

For his 21-year-old tormentor, it was the start of one of war's most remarkable and courageous stories of repentance.

Lomax was beaten relentlessly and dragged broken and weak before Nagase and his commanding officer for interrogation. He remembers the officer's face "full of latent and obvious violence." But it was "hateful little" interpreter, for days intoning in a flat inflectionless voice: "Lomax you will be killed," who he really despised.

Nagase's voice droned in his ear as he was repeatedly held down and water was hosed into his nose and mouth, filling his lungs and stomach. Lomax survived -- barely -- to spend the rest of the war in a brutal military prison, and for half a century nursed his hated against his interrogator. "I wished to drown him, cage him and beat him," he says.

This informal photo shows Australian Sergeant Lloyd Rankin of the War Graves survey party with Japanese assistants while locating POW cemeteries and grave sites along the railway in October 1945. These men are (from left) interpreter Nagase Takashi, Lance-Corporal Iwamoto, Private Hayashi (rear) and an unidentified steam train driver. Nagase Takashi later wrote a memoir of his experiences on the railway, Crosses and Tigers, and devoted himself to acts of reconciliation in Kanchanaburi. [AWM P01910.027] [PHOTO SOURCE:]

Today, Nagase is a frail 87-year-old retired English teacher who says he understands the hate directed at him.

"People who have been to hell do not forgive easily," he says. "And we were in hell. But I wanted to help him in some way. I searched my brain for the right English expression and as he was leaving the camp I said to him quietly, 'Keep your chin up.' I still remember his astonished face."

The Thai-Burma Railway was one of the great evil follies of World War II, a 415-kilometer track hewn mostly by hand through rock and tropical jungle that consumed the lives of up to 100,000 men, including an estimated 16,000 slave laborers conscripted from the ranks of the decimated Allied forces. 

Gravestone of one of the thousand of POWs who died working on the "Death Railway." [PHOTO SOURCE:]
By the time what became known as "Death Railway" was completed, the line was lined with thousands of flimsy wooden crosses marking the bodies of young men from Glasgow, London and Liverpool, who had succumbed to starvation, disease and beatings; 60 years later some are still held in the jungle's swampy embrace, lost forever.

Nagase, who was chosen as interpreter because he had been taught by U.S. Methodists in a Tokyo college, remembers entering the stinking, malaria-ridden Kanchanaburi prison camp, on the railway's route to Burma (now Myanmar) in September 1943. "It was surrounded by these brazen vultures attracted by the stench of the corpses. I still shudder when I think of it."

His halting, imperfect English was often the only conduit between the camp commanders and thousands of prisoners, and he helped interrogate many POWs, but it was the memory of Lomax that lingered. "As I watched him being tortured and heard his cries, I felt I was going to lose my mind. I though he was going to die and I still remember my relief when I felt his pulse."

When the war ended, Nagase spent seven weeks locating 13,000 abandoned bodies along the line for the Allied War Graves Commission; many now lie in a cemetery in front of Manchanaburi Station. For most, this gruesome work would be penance enough for sins committed under orders during wartime, but Nagase was only beginning his long journey to redemption.

"The work of searching for bodies changed my whole life," he says. He began to write and lecture in Japan about the horrors he had seen, harshly criticizing, at some personal risk, the Japanese military, and the Emperor system that survived the war. "It should be completely abolished," he says today. "The Emperor should apologize for what was done in his name."

He used much of his own money to build memorials across Thailand, including a Buddhist peace temple near the Tham Kham Bridge over the Kwoi Noi River -- the bridge on the River Kwai -- and to fund education programs in the area. Most remarkably of all, he has returned to Thailand 125 times, the last time in June this year, trips he says 'calm his soul.'

In 1976, he organized the first of a series of reunions between ex-POWs and Japanese soldiers, a tense affair on the famous bridge which was overseen by Thai riot police, "just in case." Nagase was criticized by the Japanese press for holding the Thai national flag rather than the Rising Sun that had once fluttered over the camp. "Do they know how many Thai people were slaughtered under that flag," he asks.

But he had to wait until March 1993 before a reunion on the banks of the Kwai with the tall, blue-eyed Scotsman he had helped interrogate. Although not yet ready to forgive, Lomax had been disarmed by an "extraordinarily beautiful" letter from Nagase. He had gone to Thailand not knowing what to expect and ended up comforting a shaking, crying Nagase who simply kept saying: "I am so sorry, so very, very sorry."

The formal forgiveness that Nagase craved came later. "I knew he had hated me for 50 years and I wanted to ask him if he forgave me, but I couldn't find a way," says Nagase today. So I said: 'Can we be friends,' and he said 'yes.'" And the old soldier who will again travel to Berwick-upon-Tweed next month to see the man he now calls "my friend" is again wracked by sobs.

Takashi Nagase, Eric Lomax and his wife Patricia meeting for the first time since the war on the rebuilt Kwai bridge. [PHOTO SOURCE:]
When they meet, the men swap war stories and share their astonishment at the 'utter futility' of the project that scared their lives so profoundly. Lomax wrote in his biography, The Railway Man: "The Pyramids, that other great engineering disaster, are at least a monument to our love of beauty, as well as to slave labor; the railway is a dead end in the jungle...The line has become literally pointless. It now runs for about 60 miles and then stops."

Nagase has never got over his bitterness at the waste of lives and believes, controversially, that young Japanese today share responsibility for what happened. In July this year, he astonished a group of British high students on an Imperial War Museum-sponsored trip in Japan by tearfully apologizing to them and demanding that a Japanese student to do the same. "This is not a problem of our generation," said the bewildered Japanese, a reply that infuriates Nagase.

"It is not a generational issue," he says. "The shame belongs to the whole Japanese race." Needless to say, he is disgusted by attempts by some nationalist scholars and politicians in Japan to rewrite history. "The textbooks they have written contain the same things as we were taught in school in the textbooks in the lead up to the war. It is unforgivable."

And he has no tolerance for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the war memorial that he and Lomax visited together when the Scotsman came to Japan. Lomax was astonished to see a monument in the shrine to the hated Kempeitai, saying, "It is like seeing a memorial to the Gestapo in a German cathedral." Inside they found an "immaculate" C56 steam locomotive from the Thai-Burma railway, with no mention of those who died constructing it; Lomax calls it a "monument to barbarism."

"Koizumi is a fool," spits Nagase. "I don't care who I say this to. And why are the newspapers now writing that the war was good. What do they think the Japanese Imperial Army was doing in East Asia for 15 years? Why don't they listen to what other Asian people are saying? Sometimes this is an odd country."

But although he says he is considered a "traitor" in Japan, he also frequently criticizes the U.S. "What the Americans are doing in Iraq is not good," he says. "In war people identify exclusively with their country. It makes people crazy. There has to be other ways of solving problems."

At 87, Nagase knows his time is short and desperately wants the railway declared a U.N. World Heritage Site before he dies. In November, despite a dangerously weak heart, he will cycle with a group of Japanese peace campaigners along the remains of the railway as part of his campaign. He has cultivated good ties with Thai government officials and won the support of several embassies, but the U.N. designation is controversial.

There is little official support in Japan for a memorial to one of history's most barbaric episodes, and some veterans are still reluctant to embrace their former captors in a joint campaign; others believe that the railway should be allowed to sink back into the jungle. A 1987 commercial plan to renovate the line was criticized by the former Allied countries and withdrawn.

British Foreign Office spokesman Dan Chugg said the British government had not been formally approached about the move, but said any response "would depend very much on the views of the veterans about how we might feel about the proposal. If it comes up we would talk to veterans groups and take it from there. Because it is not a site in the UK we are simply an interested observer."

For his part, Lomax is unequivocal. "He has my complete support. This is very important to him."

After 60 years of campaigning, to make up for less than two years service in the Thai prison camp, those who know Nagase relentless say his search for redemption is humbling, awe-inspiring.

"He is so courageous," says Keiko Tamura, who runs an organization that helps locate former allied POWs in Japan. "The people who fought in the war forgot their humanity, so it is a long battle to get them to see each other as human beings again. That's what he does. He is often asked why he continues, and he says it is so we won't forget those who died."

Ex-Japanese military interpreter, philanthropist Nagase dies at 93.
OKAYAMA, Japan, June 22 Kyodo

Takashi Nagase, a former Japanese military interpreter who was involved in the construction of the infamous Thailand-Burma railway during World War II and later engaged in philanthropic activities to atone for his wartime acts, died Tuesday at a hospital in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, his family said. He was 93.

The 415-kilometer railway is also known as the ''Death Railway'' as about 16,000 Allied prisoners of war, including British, Dutch and Australian nationals, as well as 80,000 to 100,000 Asian laborers died while being forced to build it.

Nagase witnessed Japanese troops torture POWs in Kanchanaburi facing the River Kwai in western Thailand in the last years of the war. Shortly after the war, he was deployed by the Allied Forces on a mission to search for the bodies of Allied soldiers who perished while building the railroad and confirmed the remains of more than 13,000 POWs.

The railway construction was made famous in the 1957 British film, ''The Bridge on the River Kwai.''

To atone for his wartime activities, Nagase visited Thailand 135 times since 1964. In 1976, he organized a meeting of reconciliation between the former Japanese army members and POWs at the railroad bridge on River Kwai.

Nagase founded the River Kwai Peace Foundation, which has given more than a thousand scholarships to students in Kanchanaburi and helped build memorials to the war dead and temples in various places in Thailand.

In 2006, Thais built a life-size statue of Nagase at a war museum in Kanchanaburi to honor his philanthropic activities.

The railway linking Thailand and Burma, now Myanmar, was completed in October 1943 after about 18 months of construction work with a labor force of some 400,000. Currently the railway operates along a portion of about 130 km in Thailand.

COPYRIGHT 2011 Kyodo News International, Inc.

No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.


The Railway Man - Eric Lomax Documentary
Published on Dec 2, 2013 - The Railway Man ... a tortured soldier confronts his torturer after 50 years spent tracking him down. Film documentary about Eric Lomax that preceded The Railway Man.

VJ Day - Meeting The Enemy – Thailand


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