Nothing is pure
fact in this world. While we tend
to think history to be an account based on facts, data, and past happenings, it
is more often the case that it is subject to human bias, and personal
interpretation. History often molds
itself to what we want it to be, based on personal interest or a one sided point
of view. If we take a journey and
reflect on past “historical” events, we see that in almost every case, the
interpretation, explanation, and manifestation of the event is dependent on
which “side” you talk to, what part of the world you live in, and what
society you belong to. For example,
the North and South still have different views concerning the Civil War of 1860,
as do the different colonies and Britain during the long reign of British
Imperialism. If you enter into a classroom in Japan and one in America, the
historical “facts” concerning the atomic bombing of Hiroshima are very much
biased towards each owns country. In
the former, Japan is seen as the victim of an unwarranted act from a stronger
and bigger country. In the latter
America is seen as the defender of national security and honor after the bombing
of Pearl Harbor. Whether it is seen through colonial imperialism, internal civil
wars, or in this specific case, the Rape of Nanking, we clearly see that based
on what side you are on, your interpretation of history will often be subject to
personal interest, national interest, and cultural values.
Views on Nanking
To this day, Japan, America, and China have very
different views concerning the Rape of Nanking. While their exist photographs,
films, diaries, interviews, and other sources which depict the tremendous
atrocity committed by the Japanese towards the Chinese, Japan to this day either
belittles the “Nanking incident” or denies it altogether.
While China wants an official apology, and desires the world to know
about the largest single city massacre in the history of the world, Japan is
simply annoyed that people are still dwelling on what is to her a “hazy
past.” Yet somehow to the
Chinese, the death, rape, torture, and mutilation of what some suspect to be
more than 300,000 civilians and surrendered soldiers in a city of less than
650,000 inhabitants, is not so hazy, and cannot be simply forgotten and pushed
Yet in modern day Japan, the revisionists and ultra-nationalists deny the
occurrence of the Rape of Nanking, and if they do concede that something
happened, they rationalize it and blame others, instead of themselves.
The revisionists within Japan bear no responsibility for the wholesale
murder of civilians anywhere during the war.
They rationalize all actions to be necessary in order to ensure its own
survival, and to free Asia from the grips of Western imperialism.
Likewise, the ultra-nationalists either deny the “Rape of Nanking,”
or they put a definite Japanese spin to the narration and retelling of the
event. They go to such extremes to
protect their version of the Rape of Nanking, often threatening those whom
object or counter their argument with lawsuits, death threats, and
assassinations. Though some
scholars and liberals in Japan do seek after the truth of Japanese involvement
and actions during China’s occupation, they are in a minority and under heavy
scrutiny and threat from ultra-nationalists and revisionists.
Even high level authorities such as the Minister of Education are in the
majority and try to downplay Japanese involvement in brutal acts against the
The education system within Japan is perhaps the most sinister aspect of
their malaise. Japanese education is notoriously known to be one of the most
rigorous, competitive, and “study hard” system in the world.
Yet in this slippery pyramid of education, the Japanese do not provide
students with an accurate account of World War II, one of the biggest and
greatest influence within the twentieth century.
Not until 1994 were Japanese school children taught that Hirohito’s
army was responsible for the deaths of more than 20 million Asian civilians, and
allied soldiers during the war. Critical
elements such as the Japanese role in the Rape of Nanking, the forced
evacuations of Chinese and Korean prisoners to labor camps in Japan, the
exploitation of “ Korean comfort women,” and other atrocities are all
glossed over, rationalized, or omitted from Japanese textbooks, society, and
often from Japanese memories. As Iris Chang, the author of The Rape of Nanking puts
it, “Denial is an integral part of atrocity, and it’s a natural part after a
society has committed genocide. First
you kill them, then the memory of killing is killed.” Because the academic community in Japan has failed to
properly research the truth on the Rape of Nanking, it has been primarily left
up to those operating outside academia, such as journalists or freelance authors
to present the truth of the massacre to the Japanese public.
When Japan opened up their national museum on World War II, the world was
horrified to see they had left out Japan’s negative role in the war and solely
concentrated on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the film, The
Last Emperor, the films distribution company removed a thirty second scene
depicting the Rape of Nanking, because it was “too gruesome,” and would not
serve the moral of the country.
the Japanese were and still are very concerned with “saving face,” an Asian
concept which focuses on preserving one’s dignity, integrity, and pride, they
often deny and rationalize things so that they are seen in a better, more
favorable light. Yet ironically, not only do their horrific actions speak
contrary to that ancient Asian philosophy, hiding and denying the occurrence of
the Rape of Nanking is more shameful than anything else.
Chang’s novel written in1997, was widely criticized in Japan. The
contract to have her novel translated into Japanese, to be published and
distributed throughout Japan was canceled due to opposing views on the veracity
of the book. Many Japanese scholars
and high level officials denounced this book as false and fictitious, or at
best, a great exaggeration. When
Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited Japan in late 1998, he succeeded in
extracting from his hosts a more forthcoming, yet still grudging apology for
past “misdeeds.” In this, Jiang
was trying to unite China while attempting to bring open both dormant and raging
issues in Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. All Chinese, whether Nationalists or Communists, are united
in their fight for justice, and their quest for acknowledgment of war crimes
committed against them during the war.
The historical past has been a source of friction in China-Japan ties,
and passions, resentment, and anger are easily inflamed when in the face of
provocation. Unlike Japan, Chinese students are reared on tales of Japanese
atrocities during the brutal time period of 1937-45, when they occupied China.
At the age of eight, school children are shown their first photograph of
the Japanese bayoneting and beheading Chinese civilians in Nanking.
Therefore in the past sixty years tensions between the two nations still
can run high. After a Japanese
Right-wing convention denied that the 1937 massacre happened, many Chinese voted
to boycott Japanese goods. After
the conference that ironically took place in the Osaka International “Peace”
Center in January 2000, where right winged Japanese derided the Rape of Nanking
as a myth, computer hackers struck at Japanese government Internet web sites,
taunting Japanese authorities with insults.
As the Japanese write books to counter argue Chang’s novel, and as they
use media to create for themselves a better history, I believe China’s,
People’s Daily puts it best when it states, “Lies written in ink, cannot
cover up facts written in blood.”
Sadly enough, very few Americans know about the Rape of Nanking.
Many may have heard of the book written by Iris Chang, as it caused an
international storm of controversy, but very few know the facts of this enormous
massacre of innocent civilians and allied, unarmed soldiers. That is why many people call the Rape of Nanking the second
and forgotten Holocaust. Who today
can possibly deny the occurrence of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, who
does not know of Adolf Hitler and the atrocities committed against the Jews
during World War II? Can you
imagine Germany today declaring that ethnic cleansing and the killing of
millions of Jews never happened, or at most that it is an extreme exaggeration
of events? I think not. Thus I must ask, what has caused this vast difference in
world perception of these two holocausts?
One of the reasons information about the Rape of Nanking has not been
widely disseminated lies in the postwar differences in how Germany and Japan
handled their wartime crimes. While
Germany has conceded that the wartime government itself was guilty of the crimes
committed, not just individual Nazis, the Japanese government (those who
actually admit that the events occurred) treat their war crimes as the isolated
acts of individual soldiers, not Japanese society as a whole.
While the world, and predominantly the United States confiscated and
microfilmed Nazi government records, created war crime trials in Nuremberg,
Germany, demanded Germany to formally apologize, and make reparations to all
those who have suffered at their hands, Japan was not subject to this public
humiliation and repentance. Instead,
there existed a surprising dearth of primary source material available to judge
Japan’s role in the Rape of Nanking. For
example, while tens of thousands of Nazis were convicted through the Nuremberg
trials, fewer than 25 Japanese officials were ever brought to trial during the
Tokyo War Crimes tribunals. After
the war ended, America returned all confiscated documents back to the Japanese
government before they could be copied and microfilmed.
Japan was never made to formally apologize, and to this day has never
given compensation or made any reparations for the crimes they committed.
On the other hand, Germany has paid individual victims, payments based on
state regulations, final restitution in some cases, and money for global
agreements with Israel and sixteen other nations for war damages, totaling close
to $60 billion.
When in view of the aftermath of the war, we must take into account the
views during the war. In 1937, after the conquest of Nanking, the Japanese were
at first very prideful and joyous of their domination over China.
The atrocities were printed on the front page of Japanese newspapers, and
people were prideful over their wartime actions.
Only until the world began criticizing Japan’s actions, did the cover
up begin. Japan then began cleaning up the piles of bodies lying in pits, and
the bodies that washed ashore from the river. Only then did they try to give the
world the impression that all was harmonious in Nanking. Yet in 1937, like the
newspapers in Japan, the monstrosities being committed in Nanking were also
broadcasted on the front pages of US Newspapers, magazines, and films. But the
US government did not disclose all the information it possessed during and after
the war; instead, it contributed to the Japanese censorship of the truth.
Why were our post war treatments of Japan different
from Germany? It is my belief that
we were politically motivated to become allies with Japan.
Japan was the sole non-Communist country in Asia, and in the midst of
what would be the cold war with Russia, and the spread of communism, America
felt the need to maintain Japan as a stable ally which could influence the
capitalistic growth of other Asian countries.
Perhaps the United States acted out of self-interest, motivation, or
gain. Maybe the threat of
Communism overpowered the need to bring war crimes to light.
If we look at history, we see that often people have personal motivations
and benefits for helping others. For
example, while the US chose to intervene in Bosnia’s social unrest, we played
a neutral role in Rwanda’s civil war due to our greater interests in
Bosnia’s political and economic climate.
caused the actions of Japanese soldiers?
researching on the Rape of Nanking, we can only speculate as to what drove the
soldiers to commit inhuman crimes of such enormous magnitude.
Is it because the Japanese are inherently an evil race?
Or is it because their environment and culture affected their actions? It
has been shown through Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, Milgram’s shock
experiments, and through past historical events, that when ordinary people are
given great power they are prone to misuse it.
Likewise, when other people are under the influence of an entity of great
power they are likely to commit crimes of obedience.
In the case of the Rape of Nanking, we must first understand Japanese
society and realize that it is one of extreme self-discipline and obedience.
Since elementary school, many Japanese were taught to believe that
Chinese were subhuman, and “no better than pigs.”
Schools were very competitive and Darwin’s “survival of the
fittest,” became the motto of students. Thus
students were taught to succeed at the expense of others.
Likewise, there existed much discipline and obedience within the military
arena. Within the Japanese army, there existed much abuse of power within ranks,
and “tough love” was the method of controlling troops.
Often lower rank soldiers were beaten and treated inhumanely all in the
attempts of making them more tough, callous, and unfeeling.
Thus when given the opportunity to lash out at the Chinese, they most
likely vented all anger which they’ve stored within themselves.
Suddenly, the lowest private became king over the highest level Chinese
nobility, and under such extreme amounts of power, it is of no surprise that
abuse of such power was rampant. The Japanese army also used “tough love”
when disciplining the Chinese. They
often describe their motivation for conquering the Chinese to be one out of
love. Japanese officials often
described themselves as older brothers disciplining and admonishing their little
Chinese brothers who have gone astray and wayward.
Often these theories were only used to rationalize and explain away the
barbarity of their actions.
from the Rape of Nanking
We need to understand the Rape of Nanking, only then will history not
repeat itself. To do this, the world needs to be educated, exposed to
information, and given different viewpoints on the massacre at Nanking. They
need to understand the horrors of the war crimes in order to make sure that it
never happens again. To extend this beyond the scope of Nanking, we need to
understand, question, and view from all different perspectives all events in
history. For it is ironic that
history, a subject that is based on the premise of studying and understanding
past events so that we can learn from previous mistakes can be so biased and
subjective. To make the study of
history reliable and effective we need truth, and to find truth we need unbiased
information. But in the case of the
Rape of Nanking, instead of learning from past mistakes and crimes, Japan hides
it, or worse, denies it. By doing
so, it creates tensions within Sino-Japanese relations, it affects the world’s
perception of Japan, and it prevents Japan’s younger generations from
understanding the full implication of their country’s role in World War II. By
not teaching the next generation of Japanese about their country’s history, it
leads to dangerous naiveté, an inaccurate view of world affairs, and the
possibility of recreating similar mistakes.