By ORVILLE SCHELL
New York Times -- Book review December 14, 1997
THE RAPE OF NANKING: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
By Iris Chang. Illustrated. 290 pp. New York: Basic Books. $25.
[W] hat happened just 60 years ago this month in the city of Nanjing (then called Nanking), China, is almost beyond words. During the two months after their entry into the Nationalist capital on Dec. 13, 1937, Japanese troops perpetrated a massacre that has virtually no parallel in recent history. Expert witnesses at the International Military Tribunal of the Far East, held in Tokyo in 1946 to try Japanese war criminals, estimated that some 260,000 noncombatants were slaughtered in cold blood. Many experts now believe the number to be over 350,000, an extraordinary figure for a city with a population of only 650,000, several hundred thousand of whom had already fled. The carnage was the result of a secret order sent to Japanese forces in China under the seal of Prince Asaka, uncle of Emperor Hirohito: ''Kill all captives.'' Soon competitions arose among soldiers to see who could kill most efficiently.
After being coaxed into surrendering with promises of fair treatment, prisoners were shot, blown up with hand grenades, bayoneted or decapitated. ''The Japanese soldiers already encircled them in a crescent formation along the river,'' Cpl. Riichi Kurihara wrote in his diary. ''Suddenly all kinds of guns fired at once. The sounds of these firearms mingled with desperate yelling and screams.''
A Japanese newspaper reporter watched Chinese prisoners being bayoneted on top of the city wall. ''One by one the prisoners fell down to the outside of the wall,'' he wrote. ''Blood splattered everywhere. The chilling atmosphere made one's hair stand on end and limbs tremble with fear.''
And then there were the samurai-style decapitations. ''Those in the second row were forced to dump the severed bodies into the river before they themselves were beheaded,'' the military correspondent, Yukio Omata, wrote of one mass execution. ''The killing went on nonstop from morning until night, but they were only able to kill 2,000 persons in this way. The next day, tired of killing in this fashion, they set up machine guns. . . . Prisoners fled into the water, but no one was able to make it to the other shore.'' So great was the slaughter that Lieut. Gen. Kesago Nakajima was soon complaining in his diary that it was difficult to find ditches deep enough to bury the enormous piles of corpses.
During the same period, tens of thousands of Chinese women were raped, often in schools and nunneries. Thousands more were put into sexual slavery. In fact, Japan's first wartime ''facility for sexual comfort'' opened in Nanjing in 1938, with Chinese women forced into prostitution referred to in Japanese as ''public toilets.''
Neither young nor old could escape being raped. ''We sent out coal trucks from Hsiakwan to the city streets and villages to seize a lot of women. And then each of them was allocated to 15 or 20 soldiers for sexual intercourse and abuse,'' one soldier in the 114th Division in Nanjing recalled.
In her important new book, ''The Rape of Nanking,'' Iris Chang, whose own grandparents were survivors, recounts the grisly massacre with understandable outrage. So dehumanized did Chinese become in the eyes of the Japanese troops, she tells us, that ''many soldiers went beyond rape to disembowel women, slice off their breasts, nail them alive to walls. Fathers were forced to rape their daughters, and sons their mothers, as other family members watched. Not only did live burials, castration, the carving of organs and the roasting of people become routine, but more diabolical tortures were practiced, such as hanging people by their tongues on iron hooks or burying people to their waists and watching them torn apart by German shepherds. So sickening was the spectacle that even Nazis in the city were horrified.''
One of the most inspiring if unusual aspects of the massacre was the presence of John Rabe, an Oscar Schindler-like Nazi businessman who along with a number of other unsung foreign educators and missionaries not only stayed in the beleaguered city through the worst of the bloodshed, but helped set up an ''International Safety Zone'' to minister to wounded, homeless and starving Chinese and to protect those being preyed upon by Japanese soldiers.
Rabe, a bald, bespectacled and mild-mannered German, worked for the Siemens China Company and kept a diary that Chang, the author of a book about the Chinese missile industry, ''Thread of the Silkworm,'' unearthed while researching ''The Rape of Nanking.'' Rabe wrote: ''I want to make sure with my own eyes about this cruelty, so I can someday tell others about it as a witness.'' The day Japanese troops entered the city, he described the scene as one he would have ''scarcely believed if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.''
With his swastika armband as his only protection, Rabe began making regular patrols of the city in an attempt to protect Chinese from Japanese predations. But perhaps his most important effort was his work in setting up the safety zone, a special area into which a quarter of a million desperate Chinese ultimately fled and were watched over by a small handful of heroic Westerners. As one of Rabe's Nanjing colleagues, the Harvard-trained surgeon Robert O. Wilson, wrote of Rabe, ''What a splendid man he is and what tremendous heart he has.'' However, Wilson hastily added, ''It is hard to reconcile his personality with his adulation for Der Fuhrer.'' Nonetheless, for his heroic efforts, Rabe earned the name ''the living Buddha of Nanking.''
Until recently, scant attention was paid to the Nanjing Massacre. Then a spate of books reminding the world of this almost unbearably savage episode began to appear. In 1995, the novelist R. C. Binstock published ''Tree of Heaven,'' a spare but beautifully written piece of fiction exploring the complex relationship between a Japanese soldier and a Chinese woman whom he both protects and sexually exploits. An expanded second edition of Shi Young and James Yin's ''Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs'' (Triumph Books, $75) -- a large-format book filled with photographs of beheadings, bayonetings, rapes and mass executions, many taken by Japanese soldiers and then surreptitiously copied and hidden by a Chinese employee of a local photo shop -- was published last month. To thumb through this volume is an almost unbearable experience and helps one understand continuing Chinese sensitivity to even the semblance of foreign domination. And because of Chang's book, Rabe's 1,200-page diary is now being published in Japanese, German and Chinese.
These books raise several troubling questions: How could such mass barbarity have remained so neglected by historians for so long? Why have the Chinese never asked Japan for reparations? How could the Japanese Army have engaged in such a monstrous and protracted crime against humanity with so little evident awareness of the moral significance of what it was doing? (Indeed, if photographs in these books of smiling soldiers standing over their victims are any indication, many Japanese seemed to enjoy the savagery of what the Chinese call ''the three defoliations'': ''Kill all, loot all and burn all.'')
The West's failure to focus on the Nanjing Massacre is perhaps explained by the advent of the cold war, when our alliance with Japan was forged alongside a growing hostility toward China as Mao seized power and the Korean War erupted. China's reluctance to press claims against Tokyo has had much to do with the Chinese Communist Party's eagerness to win diplomatic recognition from Tokyo (this year is the 25th anniversary of Chinese-Japanese diplomatic ties) and then to enjoy aid and trade advantages from Japan. But the reluctance of Japanese to fully and officially acknowledge the crimes their army committed in what they often refer to now simply as ''that war'' is a far more complex issue. Japanese avoidance makes a fascinating counterpoint to the experience of Germans coming to terms with the Holocaust.
''When it comes to expressing remorse for its own wartime actions before the bar of world opinion, Japan remains to this day a renegade nation,'' Chang writes. ''The Japanese managed to avoid the moral judgment of the civilized world that the Germans were made to accept for their actions in this nightmare time.''
Although starting in the early 1990's tentative apologies did begin to be proffered, Japanese leaders have not made the kinds of unalloyed gestures of contrition that Willy Brandt did early on, falling to his knees in the Warsaw Ghetto to apologize for Germany's crimes. Indeed, right-wing political leaders like Shigeto Nagano, a former Minister of Justice, and Shintaro Ishihara, a former cabinet minister, who yearn to find an unbroken vessel for Japanese national pride and honor, remain in almost complete denial, calling Japanese atrocities ''a lie'' made up by Chinese ''to tarnish the image of Japan.'' Such sentiment caused the Japanese distributor of ''The Last Emperor'' to edit out the documentary footage of the Nanjing Massacre that Bernardo Bertolucci had pointedly put into his film.
The impulse behind denials like these is not obscure. ''The person who has inflicted the wound pushes the memory down deep, to be rid of it, to alleviate the feeling of guilt,'' Primo Levi wrote in ''The Drowned and the Saved,'' a book that recounts his Holocaust experience. ''The best way to defend oneself against the invasion of burdensome memories is to impede their entry, to extend a cordon sanitaire. It is easier to deny entry to a memory than free oneself from it after it has been recorded.''
But, of course, suppressing memory denies the perpetrator and victim alike the ability to ''bear witness,'' something that in Europe has been viewed as fundamental in the process of ''dealing with'' the collective trauma of the Holocaust. What is bitterly ironic is that not only have ordinary Chinese been denied the catharsis of heartfelt apology and the benefits of reparations from Japan, but they continue to be denied, by their own Government, the right to protest publicly against Japan. Chinese Communist Party leaders are fearful of the political implications of such popular protest (especially when connected to such intense emotions) and of damaging economic aid and trade relations with Tokyo through such an overt expression of anti-Japanese sentiment. So Chinese seeking to come to terms with the Nanjing Massacre find themselves in a double jeopardy. They confront not only Japan's reluctance to face up to its past but their own leadership's disinclination to let them fully express their sense of long-repressed grievance. This is perhaps not surprising given the party's history of savaging its own people. While the horrors that Japan visited on China certainly qualify them as a world-class holocaust, they pale in terms of the number of people who actually perished because of the party's own misguided policies. It is this unspoken awareness of its own complicity in abuse, and its continuing unwillingness to ''reverse the verdicts'' on politically repressive ''movements'' from the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Great Leap Forward to Democracy Wall and the June 4th Massacre, that now makes the party less than a forceful advocate for bearing witness to Japan's crimes in Nanjing and elsewhere.
Jews have made it impossible for Germany to dodge the consequences of National Socialism. In his book ''The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan,'' Ian Buruma describes the German obsession for ''memory'' as being ''like a massive tongue seeking out, over and over, a sore tooth.'' But neither Tokyo nor Beijing has been possessed of a similar urge to remember and thus has never really been forced to come to terms with the respective insults against humanity. Indeed, when littered with so many corpses and so much suffering, the past can be a terrible burden from which, as Levi has written, it is a temptation for leaders just to ''weigh anchor, move off, momentarily or forever, from genuine memories, and fabricate for themselves a convenient reality.''
Since the dead will never regain life, the more important question involved in ''weighing anchor'' and forgetting the past is the price paid by the living for such historical amnesia. Does it matter that witness is never borne, that historical verdicts are never accurately rendered and that latent guilt is never allowed to be cut by the solvent of repentance? Most Westerners, and certainly most Jews, believe that it does matter, that memory not only lies at the root of consciousness but is the only antidote -- Levi called it an ''immunizational defense'' -- against repetitions of such barbarity. As Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu writes in an introduction to the Young and Yin photography book, ''We can only forgive what we know.''
Perhaps societies steeped in so-called Asian values react to such evasions of recognition and repression of memory in ways that Levi would never have understood. In writing about Confucian-based ''shame'' cultures and Christian-based ''guilt'' cultures, Ruth Benedict suggests in her classic World War II book, ''The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,'' that a Japanese ''does not experience relief when he makes his fault public even to a confessor. So long as his bad behavior does not 'get out into the world' he need not be troubled and confession appears to him merely a way of courting trouble.'' Perhaps.
But now that the story of the Nanjing Massacre has started to ''get out,'' how will the Japanese deal with their shame or loss of face, if not their guilt? What form might repentance take? This is the crucial question that Chang's disturbing book raises, but cannot, of course, answer.
Orville Schell is dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a longtime observer of Asia.
From: Ignatius Ding Date: Mon, 15 Dec 1997 12:23:43 -0800
By Ken Ringle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 1997; Page C01
Iris Chang grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., the daughter of an academic physicist and a microbiologist. But the family stories she heard around the dinner table were of another place and time. Her great-grandfather was a Chinese warlord who died mysteriously in the 1920s among his several concubines. Her grandmother escaped to Hong Kong in 1949 by convincing China's new Communist rulers that her husband was being held captive there by a fictional mistress and needed rescue.
What happened in between -- to her family and to China -- was a little vague to her as a girl. Now it's her obsession.
At its core is that firestorm of World War II savagery known as the Rape of Nanking. Her grandparents barely escaped it. China did not. Chang, 29, wants to remind the world what that means.
It's not an easy obsession. She's just published the first narrative history in English of the event -- "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II" -- and after two years of hearing stories and looking at pictures of bayoneted babies, headless bodies and disemboweled women she discovered her hair falling out.
"I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. Even my editor lost 10 pounds just from the stress of dealing with all this, even secondhand," she says.
So horrific was the bloodbath that one sickened Nazi diplomat pleaded directly -- and vainly -- to Adolf Hitler for intercession.
"You think you know what evil is," Chang said, "how bad things can be. But nothing prepared me for what I found. Even stories and films of the Holocaust."
Unlike the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking is barely mentioned in most histories of World War II and is absent from almost every textbook. Few non-Chinese other than scholars and specialists remember that 60 years ago this month -- four years before Pearl Harbor -- the Japanese Imperial Army ran riot in the then-capital of China, now known as Nanjing, hacking apart in eight weeks between 260,000 and 350,000 people -- far more than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Chang finds the global amnesia obscene.
An estimated 80,000 Chinese were raped during those eight weeks, including young children, most of whom were then grotesquely mutilated or killed. Unlike the Nazis, who tried to hide or at least obscure the scope of their atrocities on civilians, the Japanese flaunted theirs in full view of horrified foreigners with cameras, most of whom tried futilely to stem the slaughter, even as they recorded it on film.
And unlike modern Germans, who have based their society on the bitter lessons of the Third Reich, the Japanese today still have shrines to some of their war criminals. Their failure to acknowledge and apologize for many of their atrocities in World War II still stains their relations with the rest of Asia.
Only a handful of Japanese were ever tried for the Rape of Nanking, for example, and "the Japanese government today has done its best to erase it from history," Chang says. Officials try "to deny all this ever happened, or say reports like mine are exaggerations." But she found such "appalling and overwhelming documentation" that she faced a peculiar problem.
"The Japanese took souvenir pictures of what they did, particularly to the women. Many were forced into pornographic poses before, after or during mutilation and death. I had to omit the worst pictures from my book because I feared they might cause it to be banned from school libraries. And school libraries are where I want it most to be."
One of the pictures she omitted, but which appears in another recent book, shows a handsome young Japanese soldier with an appealing smile, standing relaxed and happy in a field covered with the bodies of dead Chinese. In his right hand he holds his samurai sword. In his left, by the ear, he holds a freshly lopped-off head.
Though her grandparents managed a hairbreadth escape before the Japanese entered Nanking, Chang has found herself consumed with documenting the massacre before the last of the survivors passes away.
"I feel it's almost like my moral responsibility," she says, ". . . to rescue my heritage from oblivion. And to ask how an atrocity of this magnitude could just disappear."
In Nanjing, using her fluent Chinese, she located 10 survivors. One was a pregnant teenager when the city was sacked. "She actually fought off the Japanese soldiers who tried to rape her. They bayoneted her 37 times. She was photographed afterward at the hospital. She lost the baby, of course, but somehow lived through it. She's nearly 80 now . . . obviously a very strong woman."
If Chang sounds angry in print, she doesn't appear so in person. Passionate, yes -- she's a rapid-fire talk machine -- but also professionally detached.
She started out as a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press. "But I knew I wanted to write bigger stories. I wanted to write books." She got a research grant from the MacArthur Foundation to write "Thread of the Silkworm," her 1995 study of Tsien Hsue-shen, father of the People's Republic of China's missile program, and while writing that came in contact with some Chinese American activists, one of whom was producing a TV documentary about Nanking. They invited her to a 1994 conference in Cupertino, Calif., held by the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia. There she saw her first photographs from what the Chinese know as the Nanjing Datusha, or Great Nanking Massacre.
"From the time I was a child I'd heard stories around the dinner table about how terrible those weeks had been," she said. But "I wondered if my parents and grandparents hadn't been exaggerating. If the Nanjing Datusha was as bad as they said, why hadn't we learned about it in school?"
Cupertino, she says, changed her life.
"Nothing prepared me for those photographs. They had been blown up poster-size. It wasn't just the hacked-up bodies, the breasts cut off, even the ones disemboweled. It was the expressions of terror and fear and degradation on the faces of the victims, especially the women, at their moment of death. I knew then I had to write a book about it."
She thought other evidence might be hard to come by. She found it in masses. Much was in China, where she found the present government distinctly ambiguous toward any historical issue like Nanking that might draw attention to its own spotty record on human rights, or endanger its trading partnership with modern-day Japan. A surprising wealth lies in the archives of the Yale Divinity School, which tracked the American missionary presence in China before and after World War II. But her most surprising discovery was in Germany. There she located the diary and papers of John Rabe, an improbable hero whom she calls "the Oskar Schindler of China."
Rabe, the son of a German sea captain, had lived in Nanking selling telephones and electrical equipment to the Chinese since 1908. Bald and bespectacled, he was a pillar of the German community. He was also a passionate Nazi, but, from his surviving writings, one more interested in socialism than ethnic cleansing.
When Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese Army withdrew from Nanking late in 1937, Rabe headed the international committee that negotiated the Nanking Safety Zone -- a neutral area of the city where foreigners and Chinese civilians would be safe from the pillaging of the oncoming Japanese.
As a prominent Nazi, he theoretically had leverage with Germany's Axis allies, but once the slaughter started, his protests had little sway with the Japanese. The army intended to so terrorize the former Nationalist capital that no village in China would resist occupation.
Rabe saved thousands of Chinese by sheltering them in the safety zone, but it proved far from an impenetrable area. "Yesterday," he protested to the Japanese embassy in one note, "several women at the Seminary were raped right in the middle of a large room filled with men, women and children!" He wrote of finding the mutilated bodies of Chinese women beneath Japanese posters that proclaimed: "Trust Our Japanese Army -- They Will Protect and Feed You."
Rabe wrote Hitler in a vain effort to halt the sack of Nanking and so impressed other foreigners with his humane efforts that even those repulsed by Nazism wrote that they would "almost wear a Nazi badge" in his honor.
But when he was recalled to Germany in February 1938 and persisted in his efforts to publicize the Japanese atrocities, he was arrested by the Gestapo.
Rabe survived the war and died in 1950. But not before the people of Nanking, learning that he was near starvation in postwar Berlin, collected thousands of dollars to help him. The mayor of Nanking even flew to Switzerland to collect food and deliver it to Rabe.
Chang was heartened to learn Rabe's story. She was far less pleased to discover that the Rape of Nanking was no single wartime aberration but part of a policy of deliberate occupational terrorism that came straight from Tokyo: Emperor Hirohito's uncle was in charge of the Nanking occupation.
"We know about Nanking because foreigners were there to witness it," she says. "One of them risked his life smuggling movie film of the atrocities out of China in the lining of his overcoat.
"But even more terrifying is what happened later in areas of northern China. There most of the population were rural peasants, and thousands of villages simply disappeared under the Japanese." Scholarly estimates place the toll from that orgy of death somewhere between 19 million and 35 million people. "The Japanese government has never acknowledged that. But it was a policy of extermination, pure and simple. And Nanking was the world's first real look of what was coming."
Chang realizes the world is numb to such atrocities these days, particularly those of a war half a century ago. "It is certainly true," she writes, ". . . that Hitler killed about 6 million Jews and Stalin more than 40 million Russians. But these deaths were brought about over some few years. The Rape of Nanking took place in just a few weeks."
And though exactly how many thousands died is still debated -- and minimized by the Japanese government -- Chang found the most convincing estimate in the National Archives. There a Jan. 17, 1938, message, relayed by Foreign Minister Hirota Koki in Tokyo to his contacts in Washington and intercepted by U.S. cryptographers, states:
Since return to Shanghai a few days ago I investigated reported atrocities committed by Japanese army in Nanking and elsewhere. Verbal accounts of reliable eye-witnesses and letters from individuals whose credibility is beyond question afford convincing proof that Japanese Army behaved and is continuing to behave in fashion reminiscent of Attila and his Huns. Not less than 300,000 Chinese civilians slaughtered, many cases in cold blood.
That is more civilian deaths in one Chinese city in one month than Great Britain, France, Belgium or the Netherlands lost in all of World War II.
Chang found former Japanese soldiers who spoke candidly of tossing babies alive into boiling water, gang-raping women and then beheading them or burning them alive. One former soldier, now a doctor in Tokyo, has built a shrine of remorse in his waiting room for the more than 200 deaths on his conscience from the Rape of Nanking.
But unlike Germany, which has come to terms with its role in the Holocaust and paid millions in reparations to its former victims, Japan itself "has never acknowledged the brutality of its war in Asia," Chang says.
"There are a few very courageous Japanese historians who believe the country must come to terms with its past and pay reparations to survivors of the Rape of Nanking, many of whom live in incredible poverty, and most of whose lives were absolutely shattered by what they experienced. But those historians live under death threats. And textbooks in Japan continue to dismiss `the Nanking incident' in a sentence or two. The Japanese refuse to see themselves as aggressors in the war. They speak of it as some sort of typhoon that swept over Asia, in which they suffered like everybody else -- something for which they bear no responsibility."
That may become more and more difficult. Dec. 13 will mark the 60th anniversary of the start of the Rape of Nanking, and already it's been the subject of conferences at Johns Hopkins and Princeton and Harvard as well as on the West Coast. Chang herself has been a frequent speaker. Newsweek excerpted her book and more TV appearances and interviews are planned. Dozens of Rape of Nanking Web sites are currently trading information on the Internet, and there's a bill in Congress to condemn Japan for World War II atrocities like Nanking and demand reparation for the victims.
That might sound to some like "Japan-bashing," but Chang bristles at any such suggestion. "No one would describe a book on the Holocaust as Germany-bashing," she says. "It's incredibly racist to suggest we should judge the Japanese by standards different than we use for the Germans or any other people."
She points out that she's far from alone in her efforts to force remembrance of Nanking. Last year "The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs," by James Yin and Shi Young, reproduced even the most gruesome photographic evidence of what happened. And New York filmmaker Nancy Tong has produced a television documentary, "In the Name of the Emperor," that has been shown in a number of countries and at colleges throughout the United States.
San Francisco, she says, recently became the first U.S. locality to mandate that its public schools teach about World War II in Asia.
"The lesson in all this is about the concentration of power," she said. "Atrocities like the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanking occur when absolute power becomes concentrated in the hands of a very few people. . . . This is not just about the Japanese. I want people to be aware that we as human beings are capable of such atrocities. Until we understand how they happen, we can't be certain they won't happen again."
Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
From: Ignatius Ding
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 13:25:17 -0800
South China Morning Post Saturday December 13 1997
Sixty years ago today, the Japanese Imperial Army poured through the gates of Nanking to begin the worst massacre of unarmed troops and civilians in the 20th century.
Although many prominent Japanese politicians and scholars have continued to play down the incident, and in some cases to deny that it even happened, a horrifying new book by the American-Chinese author Iris Chang proves most emphatically that it did, with interviews of survivors, diary extracts, eyewitness accounts, newspaper articles, and most damning of all, a collection of extremely gruesome photographs.
For six weeks Japanese troops, under the command of Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, the uncle of Emperor Hirohito, raped, disembowelled, decapitated, castrated, burned and buried alive the citizens of Nanking (now called Nanjing). Among Chinese people, the Rape of Nanking came to be known as "The Other Holocaust", yet until recently it had received nothing like the same degree of attention as the Nazi annihilation of the Jews, or the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
According to Chang, the reason was Cold War politics: "Neither the People's Republic of China nor Taiwan demanded wartime reparations from Japan (as Israel had from Germany) because the two countries were competing for Japanese trade and political recognition." Similarly the United States, faced with the combined communist might of China and the Soviet Union, decided it would be expedient to forgive and forget.
Chang describes her book, The Rape of Nanking (Basic Books), as being about two discrete but related atrocities: firstly, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Chinese people (the International Military Tribunal of the Far East estimated in 1948 that approximately 260,000 died, though others believed the figure was more like 350,000), and secondly, the cover-up which ensued after the war.
It is deeply disturbing that there are those in power in Japan today who are still propagating the myth that the Japanese were the innocent victims of foreign aggression, engaged in a holy war to rid themselves and their fellow Asians of the white imperialists, and that incidents such as the Rape of Nanking or the Bataan Death March were at most irrelevant aberrations.
"The Japanese have for decades systematically purged references to the Nanking massacre from their textbooks," she says. "They have removed photographs of the Nanking massacre from museums, tampered with original source material, and excised from popular culture any mention of the massacre. Even respected history professors in Japan have joined right-wing forces to do what they perceive to be their national duty: discredit reports of a Nanking massacre."
It is precisely this mentality - an inability to question authority - which results in people being coerced into doing things which would normally be instinctively repugnant. However, Chang is at pains to remind us that, despite their claims to the contrary, the Japanese really are ordinary human beings like the rest of us: for example, many of the Japanese who witnessed the depredations of their soldiers were as shocked as the other foreigners.
A Nichi Mainichi Shimbun reporter, who watched aghast as Japanese soldiers lined up prisoners on top of a wall and then charged at them with fixed bayonets, is quoted as saying: "Blood splattered everywhere. The chilling atmosphere made one's hair stand on end and limbs tremble with fear. I stood there at a total loss and did not know what to do." These bestial acts did not come naturally. It was the unrelenting indoctrination from childhood of racial superiority, divine destiny and emperor worship together with the brutal discipline of the Japanese Imperial Army that turned men into monsters.
Once the slaughter began, there was very little resistance. The only ones who seemed to display any courage were a tiny group of foreigners (mostly Europeans and Americans) who elected to remain in Nanking when the Japanese forces arrived.
Particularly fascinating is the character of John Rabe, the leader of the Nazi party among German expatriates in Nanking, who helped some two dozen foreign residents to maintain a safety zone within the city itself, and eventually became known as "The Living Buddha of Nanking".
Originally Rabe had decided to stay on to ensure the safety of his fellow employees at Siemens Corp. But by the time the city fell, 250,000 Chinese were crammed into the safety zone, and Rabe and a handful of other businessmen, academics and missionaries were all that stood between their terrified charges and the marauders.
Ironically, it was Rabe's Nazi party insignia that allowed him to move freely among the Japanese and gave him the power to prevent the total extermination of the Chinese in Nanking. For his efforts he was interrogated by the Gestapo after his return to Germany in 1938, and his life entered a steady decline from then on. He was finally exculpated of any wrongdoing and "de-Nazified" in recognition of his work in Nanking, but by then he was a broken man. However, the people of Nanking heard of his plight in 1948, and sent generous donations to support him and his family until the city fell to the communists.
He died soon after in 1950, but not before he had assembled 2,000 pages of documentary evidence on the Rape of Nanking. However, wishing to protect his family from any further intimidation, he told them to keep the contents of his diaries a secret.
These documents were finally revealed to the world media on December 12 last year, thanks to the single-minded determination of Chang. Their existence and their authenticity are beyond dispute to even the most rabid right-wing Japanese.
Chang and Rabe both demonstrated great courage and perseverance in documenting the awful truth about the Rape of Nanking. The Japanese people, particularly those in positions of power, must now show equal resolve and, as the Germans did long ago, face the facts about the past and tell their children what really happened. "At a minimum, the Japanese government needs to issue an official apology to the victims, pay reparations to the people whose lives were destroyed in the rampage, and most important, educate future generations of Japanese citizens about the true facts of the matter," Chang says.
"These long overdue steps are crucial to Japan if it expects to deserve respect from the international community and to achieve closure on a dark chapter that stained its history."
From: Ignatius Ding Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 16:12:42 -0800
by Sue De Pasquale
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