Cruel, buck-toothed little men with pebble glasses yelling 'Banzai!' were all the stuff of the comic books of my youth - Victor and the like. Smirking brutes with samurai swords would inevitably get their come-uppance at the end of a solid British fist after inflicting their dreadful brutalities. In reality, it may be that far too few got their come-uppance. Maybe we should have hanged lots more Japs. Perhaps we should have hanged their Emperor.
Unlike the Germans, whose breast-beating and self-incrimination over the NS period has now gone far too far, the Japanese nation have never even come close to admitting the truth about their barbarity during those years. School history books have been censored to remove all references to slaughter, enforced prostitution, bio-warfare experimentation on prisoners and the casual cruelties of invaders who regarded their captives, particularly the Chinese, as sub-human. It says something when, during the rape of Nanking, the atrocities were so bad that even the Nazis in the city gave shelter and protection to the native Chinese. Guttentag's 'Nanking' is due for DVD release here on 24th February. It will end up being seen by every nation on earth except one - Japan.
This is dangerous. Just as the myth of the 'stab in the back' in 1918 allowed the rise of National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s, Japan's institutional refusal to come to terms with the reality of the Tojo years is allowing a dangerous militaristic resurgence. The US is as mistaken in not only permitting but encouraging Jap militarism now as they were after 1946 by the softness of their occupation policy. Of course, Japan is not solely responsible for the rise of tensions in the Pacific. In becoming a global power with interests from African copper mines to European car plants China has discovered she needs a naval fleet to match. With Chinese carriers on the way, Japan already has HMS Ocean-sized carriers in service - and bigger ones planned.
The truth is that until the characteristic and dangerous pit-bull like aggression has been bred-out of the Japanese race they remain a threat to peace. The plea in today's Telegraph by the Chinese Ambassador is of course one-sided, but he's asking a question that the UK may soon have to ask itself - which side will we be on?