So the book titled “The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II,” by -year-old Chinese-American writer Iris Chang has the Japanese critics stirred up. Everyone from the former Japanese ambassador in Washington and Japan’s powerful conservative commentators down to the rightwing academics and ultranationalist fanatics has denounced it for emotional errors and distortions.
Some photos in the book are faked, they say. The numbers killed in the 1937/38 Nanjing incident were far less than the claimed 300,000. And according to some finicky U.S. academics, it is an insult to Jewish memories to use the word Holocaust. The incident needs to be seen in perspective, they say.
Perspective? In that case, what the Japanese military did in Nanjing looks like a sideshow compared with what they did in the rest of China.
In much of northern China, the military had a deliberate policy of destroying all villages and killing all who might possibly be of help to the other side. A much-documented horror was the practice of “blooding” new recruits by having them bayonet to death any captured Chinese males that might be at hand.
Japan’s brutal and ceaseless wartime bombing of undefended civilian targets in Shanghai and Chungking would have to rank fairly high in the list of atrocities perpetrated by allegedly civilized nations, even if today we have some competition from Chechnya and Yugoslavia.
The sum total of Chinese killed during Japan’s decade of aggression is well ahead of the Holocaust. It approaches the level of Nazi killings against the Slav peoples, for some reason excluded from Holocaust memories.
Many of the Japanese killings were just as deliberate as Nazi killings in Europe: the massacres of entire Chinese villages in Malaya, the 40,000 people coldbloodedly selected for execution in Singapore and the untold thousands of leftwing Chinese rounded up for torture and execution or dispatch to the germ-chambers of Unit 731 in Manchuria.
And the assumptions of racial superiority were probably just as ugly. Japanese conservatives still complain bitterly about how up to 10 percent of Japanese soldiers held postwar in Siberia died from cold and overwork over some five to six years of imprisonment. Soviet apologies and compensation have been angrily demanded. Meanwhile, the 40 percent death rate in two years of Chinese civilians press-ganged to work as forced labor in Japan was first denied and then shrugged off as just one of those things.
Clearly a Chinese life was, and still is, valued at far less than a Japanese life.
Some Japanese rightwingers justify this brutality by claiming Chinese civilization had degenerated to the point where the Chinese themselves saw life as cheap. Yet while the Japanese side was killing Chinese prisoners out of hand, the Chinese side was carefully looking after and repatriating Japanese prisoners. Just whose civilization was degenerate?
Where the Japanese can claim just a glimmer of morality was that they only killed those Asians suspected of being anti-Japan. They tried to be nice to those considered to be pro-Japan. Nazi killings of the Jews showed few such mercies.
But while Germany today apologizes, Japan prevaricates. Especially ugly is the way rightwingers and conservatives here airily dismiss the need to dredge up details of the past, but then pounce with minute detail on minor discrepancies in otherwise undeniable accounts of past atrocities.
A doubtful statistic on page 176 or one misplaced photo on page 274 is enough to slam the author and argue that maybe was no atrocity to begin with.
Equally ugly is the official habit of denying wrongdoings by claiming there are no official records. One reason for the absence of those records, of course, was the official policy of destroying all incriminating records as soon as the war ended.
The only reason we now know in detail about the Chinese forced laborers is because the only one of the many meticulous wartime reports on the subject not to suffer destruction at war’s end accidentally fell into the hands of the Taiwan authorities and could not be denied.
In Europe today any attempt to deny Nazi atrocities is a one-way ticket to denigration and possibly jail. In Japan today atrocity denial can easily be the path to fame and adulation in the conservative factions that control this nation.
On top of all this is the curious rightwing logic that says continued Chinese unhappiness over past and current wrongs is evidence that deep down the Chinese have always hated Japan, and therefore never needed to be apologized to in the first place.
Whether or not Nanjing suffered the amount of violence claimed by Chang is irrelevant. Whatever account we look at, it is clear that Japanese soldiers there killed and raped in large numbers. Indeed, ever since the first Japanese aggression against China in 1895, the Chinese nation has been raped repeatedly by Japan.
The Chinese are a proud people. Today they are asked not just to live with the rapist and accept his halfhearted apologies, but also to put up with backhanded claims that maybe the rape was deserved, or never happened at all. They also see a postwar Japan that has prospered through joining the United States in an alliance aimed to keep the former China victim backward and contained, and a Japanese rightwing trying hard to help detach some of the booty from the first 1895 “rape,” namely Taiwan.
If I were a Chinese I would be very angry. Probably even angrier than Iris Chang.
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