Wednesday, 8 August 2007
Victory in the Pacific Day
Of all the days on which Australians recall the sacrifice and courage of our people, the anniversary of Victory in the Pacific Day, which Australians commemorate on 14 August, must have the highest significance. The surrender of the forces of the Japanese empire marked the end of one of the darkest chapters in Australia’s history. Three years before the surrender the Australian mainland had been under attack with the bombing of Darwin, Broome and other areas. More than 60 vessels were torpedoed off our shores and, as residents of Sydney recall, Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour, sinking the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul with the sad loss of 21 lives.
Unlike other wars fought by Australians, the Second World War was fought on our doorstep. Indeed, we had good reason to expect to have to fight off an invasion on our shores and even to surrender part of our landmass to the enemy. That was the extent of our fear. Men like Cabramatta resident Barney Moore, now aged 87, fought in Bardia, Tobruk and later in Crete before returning home to fight in New Guinea. The bravery of men like Barney Moore and the thousands of service men and women, the commitment of our government led by John Curtin and the wholehearted support of the Australian people built our victory in the Pacific. And although the Japanese forces were in retreat for some time before the surrender, Victory in the Pacific Day was certainly remembered by many as the most significant day for the observance of our deliverance from the grave threat to our freedom and the unimaginable horrors of enemy occupation.
So it is fitting that we should observe Victory in the Pacific Day as one of the most important events in our history. I am pleased to congratulate the combined initiative of the Canley Heights RSL, Liverpool RSL and Cabra Vale ex-services to commemorate Victory in the Pacific Day again this year. The ceremony will be held in Cabra Vale Park next Tuesday, 14 August. I particularly commend Tony Woollett and Taffy Pritchard of Canley Heights RSL, John Baron of Liverpool RSL, Cabra Vale ex-services and many others for their work in organising this commemoration. The ceremony will be attended by children from a number of local schools and I am sure that the students will be keen to participate and will appreciate the significance of the event.
Sixty-two years have past, and relations between Australia and Japan are very different today from how they were in 1945. This week in Sydney we witnessed the visit by family members of the crew of one of the Japanese midget submarines, which has been located off Sydney’s northern beaches. And, while there have been expressions of admiration for the courage of those submariners, many older Australians cannot allow themselves to forgive the criminal actions of Japanese commanders against our service men and women, especially those taken prisoner of war.
While we have made our peace with the people of Japan, and now enjoy close trading links, the lessons of the Second World War are far from learned. This week also marks the 62nd anniversary of the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the official justification for the use of such weapons of terror was that it would save the lives of many allied servicemen, the question remains as to whether another course of action may have been as effective in bringing about the surrender of Japan. In Hiroshima, 140,000 civilians died in the bombing or in the months following. A further 60,000 died a slow and painful death in the years that followed as a result of their exposure. Seventy-thousand civilians died in the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki and thousands more died later. Since the horror of those two bombs dropped on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world has built a nuclear stockpile that could bring to every city in the world that same destruction and even greater loss of life. But instead of phasing out weapons, new developments are taking place. We must remember Victory in the Pacific Day. But we should not forget the risk of destruction that nuclear weapons present to the world and to our beloved country, Australia.