What Does World War II Mean To You?

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[Warning: graphic images]

Imagine if the whole Singapore population of 5 million died. Multiply that by 12 and you get the death toll of World War II.

How do the post-war generations from various countries view World War II? What lessons do we need to remember from the deaths of 60 million people?

World War II to a young Singaporean

My generation grew up learning about the Japanese occupation as the dark years of Singapore and Malaya, where our grandparents and great-grandparents suffered at the hands of the Japanese invaders.

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My grandma told us how she had to quit school at 7 years of age to work as a child labourer to feed the family, running around plantations looking for odd jobs. Tapioca and sweet potato became the common food staple.

The British couldn’t protect our grandparents, so they surrendered to the Japanese in 1942. Then in 1945 after the atomic bombs killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the British came back to claim the lands of their previous empire, but things weren’t the same anymore.

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People were angry at how the British gave up the fight in 1942 and left, leaving the locals to suffer under the Japanese. So it wasn’t surprising that pro-communist sentiments took a stronger hold, which hastened a merger between Singapore and Malaya as a hedge against the communist ‘threat’ in South-East Asia.

Some say World War II was the catalyst that led to Singapore’s independence by weakening the British empire.

When I grew up, we learnt how the atomic bombs liberated us from the Japanese occupation, and although there was great loss of life in Japan, we owe our freedom to the US which had dropped the atomic bombs.

World War II was a bloody chapter where our country was a victim, the grass trampled on when elephants fight.

World War II to a young German

In one of my classes at NTU, a German classmate did a presentation on Germany and somehow the discussion veered towards World War II.

She said Germans, including those born after World War II, are very conscious of the role their nation played in the war and the Jewish Holocaust.

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It is a source of national shame and remorse that one of their own kind could be the driving force of one of the most atrocious mass killings in the last century.

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Germans are working hard to make amends by playing more than their part in the EU and making themselves useful by coming out with good quality, innovative products and services.

Questions arise how much moral responsibility should a German today continue to hold for the crimes of the past, and Jews are still treated differently, more carefully in fact.

World War II to a young Japanese

I also had a Japanese classmate in NTU, and one day we happened to be chatting about WWII. I asked her, as a Japanese, how does she feel about the war?

My Japanese classmate had a different response from the German one. She said her people suffered horribly from the effects of the atomic bombs that US dropped on them (read some survivors’ stories here)

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I replied that dropping the atomic bombs was a last resort as many areas in China and South-East Asia were under Japanese occupation, which also killed many people.

Her reply still focused back to US’ “cowardly act” that affected many innocent Japanese, and US should have fought with honor, meeting face-to-face with the Japanese soldiers and not resorting to bombing Japanese civilians while staying in the safety of their own country half a world away.

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It was only after I watched The Last Samurai movie that I understood a little better what my Japanese friend was referring to as a “cowardly act”, but I still wonder what she was taught in school that made her reaction vastly different from my German classmate, besides the fact that Germany didn’t have atomic bombs dropped on them.

Obama’s landmark visit to Hiroshima

Obama recently visited Hiroshima. He is the first sitting US president to do so. The following is a transcript of his speech there where he called for a world without nuclear weapons.

60 million died in World War II. The majority of deaths (62%) were civilians, who lived in the wrong time in the wrong place and died as a result of a decisions of a few leaders who wanted more power.

War, and any form of violence, does not benefit anyone, except those sitting in the back row pulling the strings for their own gain.

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World War II Deaths

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Jules lives and works in Singapore. She writes on her blog about her experiences being a working woman in Singapore, and hopes to discuss and further the interests of women here. Her blog features a wide variety of posts about work, education, parenting, travel, world politics and local issues.

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