A natural element in both Christian fiction and non-fiction deals with forgiveness. It’s a popular topic, with the promise that forgiveness helps not just the one being forgiven but also the person doing the forgiving.
I was reminded of this theme over the weekend when I saw the movie The Railway Man, a story of a man who survived being a POW during the Second World War, when he was also tortured by his Japanese captors. It was a movie I wasn’t sure I wanted to see, not because of the grim subject matter but because my own father was a POW of the Japanese as well. I wasn’t sure I wanted a visual representation of some of the things he went through.
To be sure, it wasn’t easy to watch young men being herded into cattle cars under a sweltering sun and transported for who-knows-how-long on yet another version of the Death March my father traveled. The beatings, the slave labor, the general shaming each prisoner met were all common stories from camps like the ones my father endured.
I recalled my father saying to me some time before he died that if he’d had the chance he’d have returned to the Philippines (where he was taken) and then to Manchuria where he spent another long segment of time during his POW experience. Although I couldn’t understand why, this must have been a rather common feeling. The movie touched on this as a part of healing as well.
Since the war ended, China has preserved the very POW camp that housed my father. Obviously my father wasn’t the only POW who wanted to return to the scene of such a devastating time in his life.
My dad was one of the strong, silent types as so many of his generation were. To the end of his life he suffered bouts of malaria, one of several diseases afflicting those who were malnourished and kept in appalling conditions at such camps as Bilibid and Cabanatuan before being transferred on the “Hell Ship” Tottori Maru to Mukden, Manchuria where he was used as unpaid labor until the end of the war.
I often think about the things he endured, because it somehow makes the comparatively trivial challenges I face easier to deal with. But this was the first time I wondered how my father felt about forgiveness toward those who held him captive.
What do you think? If you’d been held for 3 1/2 years of your life, do you think forgiveness would come . . . with time? In fiction we often remind our characters that withholding forgiveness only hurts the one hanging on to the pain. I do know, somewhere along the way, my father let go of any anger or bitterness he might have held. He said his time served was done in the name of his country; he wasn’t alone; he mattered. He went on to live what I saw as a productive, happy life. He wasn’t often haunted by his memories that I could tell, perhaps partly because he’d been so young at this time of his life. The only time I saw any resentment toward the Japanese was when I was older and brought home a Toyota. All he said was that he’d wished I bought American. 🙂