Speech by Verhagen at British Commonwealth War Cemetery
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a special year in Japanese-Dutch relations. The 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Netherlands forms the main backdrop to my visit to Tokyo. But the unique and longstanding history between our countries dates back even further, spanning more than 400 years. Our history has been characterised by friendship, trade and the exchange of cultural experience and scientific knowledge. The Second World War, of course, is a notable exception to this happy and rewarding relationship. We are gathered here today because in 2008 we commemorate our common history in its entirety, including the dark days of war.
Let us take a moment, then, to reflect on the scourge and suffering of war. Here, in the peace and serenity of the British Commonwealth War Cemetery, the remains of 21 Dutch prisoners of war are interred. Their bodies were washed ashore after the ship transporting them to Japan was torpedoed.
All in all, some 870 Dutchmen died in Japan during the war years, including 71 in the coal mines of Mizumaki on Kyushu. Around 20,000 of my countrymen were taken as prisoners of war and detained throughout Asia. And many, many more
– men, women and children – were held as civilians in internment camps after the Japanese army overran what was then the Dutch East Indies in 1942. The hunger, disease, violence, forced prostitution, forced labour and brutal treatment they suffered must never be forgotten. Today I would ask you to join me in honouring their memories and the memories of all those who suffered in Asia during those terrible years.
Sixty-three years have passed since the end of the Second World War. Japan and the Netherlands have long since been reconciled and we have rebuilt our longstanding friendship. Yet the war and the past are important elements of our bilateral relations. We cannot allow the pain of the victims to be forgotten. The importance of memorial services such as today’s has not diminished in any way: we must not forget what happened, for out of the past comes the future. So it is a genuine pleasure to see so many young faces from Setagaya Elementary School and to welcome them to this enduring memorial to our war dead.
I should also like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr Kobayashi of the British Commonwealth War Cemetery. This beautiful cemetery and the memorial services you hold here annually serve as important reminders of the past and of our firm resolve to build a peaceful future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Since 1945 both Japan and the Netherlands have been spared the suffering of large-scale war. Perhaps this is one reason why our governments are committed to resolving international peace and security issues on the international agenda. Today’s service not only commemorates the war dead of our parents’ generation but reminds us of the crucial importance of peace and respect for human dignity in our contemporary international relations. In honouring those who perished more than sixty years ago, we are also voicing our dedication and gratitude to the men and women who have risked life and limb since then to promote international peace and security all over the world; soldiers who fight not to seize territory or other spoils of war but to protect those who need our protection, to help those who need our help and to bring peace where there is conflict.
Finally, may I ask you to join me in one minute’s silence to honour the memory of all the men, women and children who lost their lives and who suffered in Asia during the Second World War.