Clark: VJ Day Service
Rt Hon Helen Clark
VJ Day Service
Monday 15 August 2005
Sixty today years ago the Second World War ended with the surrender of Japan. On 15 August 1945, the people of our country marked the end of a conflict which had cost us dearly. As they had on VE Day, a little over three months before, New Zealanders left their places of work, their homes, and their schools to take part in official ceremonies and spontaneous celebrations.
The war was over, and the Allies had won. Those who had fought against brutality and oppression had prevailed. New Zealanders embraced a peace to which our country had made a significant contribution.
Six decades on from the end of the war we pay tribute to our countrymen and women who served New Zealand at that time, and we acknowledge their sacrifice. We sent 140,000 men and women overseas in World War Two. We suffered 11,625 deaths.
On VJ Day we especially recognise the courage and the suffering of those who fought in the Pacific.
Theirs was a theatre of war which demanded no less fortitude than the battlefields of Europe but which received, perhaps, less publicity. Our servicemen and women in the Pacific played a brave part in the Allied assault on tyranny. They endured the privations of war, its incarcerations, its long periods of unrelenting tedium, and its moments of sheer terror. They fought in unfamiliar environments, at risk from tropical diseases and deadly snakes and insects, as well as from the enemy.
All this they did with a sense that their own country might soon be imperilled. For this was a time when New Zealand began to identify more explicitly as a nation of the Pacific. In fighting here we demonstrated clearly that we wanted a say in the future of our region.
The returned servicemen here today remind us of those men who never came home; whose lives were lost, perhaps in the deserts of North Africa, perhaps on the hills of Cassino, perhaps in the jungles of Vella Lavella or Mono. The more-than-sixty years since is a long time, long enough for young men to have become old men; long enough, indeed, for the great majority of New Zealand’s current population to have been born.
Around half our population today was born after the end of the Vietnam War. These New Zealanders have never experienced war in the way their grandfathers and grandmothers did, and one hopes those terrible times will never be relived.
The significance of 15 August 1945, the end of World War Two, is still very clear to us as a nation. It is lit by our knowledge that the Allies’ battles were then over. It is lit too by the terrible power of nuclear fission.
The atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. They also signalled that there was a new force in the world, and that that force had a fundamentally apocalyptic potential. New Zealand entered the post-war period cherishing the peace which had been achieved, and aware, like other countries, of what the cost of future conflict might be.
Where we can, New Zealand helps to keep the peace. We play our part in world affairs; and we are active in our own region. New Zealanders have in recent times served in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville, demonstrating our commitment to the security of the Pacific.
New Zealand warmly respects, still, the strengths of the United States, that mighty country beside which we fought and with which, sixty years ago, we celebrated victory.
We respect too the modern Japan, and her singular journey over these past six decades. During that time, we have got to know Japan. It is no longer a nation of strangers whose aspirations are wholly at odds with our own. We recognise the Japanese today as a people who share with us an underlying desire for security and prosperity.
Today, as New Zealanders, we look back sixty years to the first VJ Day, and to the celebrations which were fired by relief that the hostilities were over, and touched by the inevitable sadness of loss.
This is the final day in a series of 60th anniversaries of the World War Two; a series in which we have commemorated especially the Battle of Crete, the Battle of El Alamein, the Battle of Cassino, D-Day and, most recently, VE Day. We know the significance of World War Two to our own history as a nation, and we know the sorrow it brought to our families.
We owe all those who served in the name of our country our continuing respect and gratitude.
We who are living in the future for which they fought must honour their sacrifice by our continuing commitment to building a more peaceful world.