A publisher asks me to make excerpts from Judge Radhabinod Pal’s “dissentient judgment” and write an introduction to the selection. The Indian jurist Pal was one of 11 judges who sat on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (the Tokyo Trial). He found Japan not guilty, the only one to do so.

So I write to my historian friend Richard Minear, who back in 1971 published “Victors’ Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial,” the first book to deal with that subject in a Western language. In the ensuing exchange, Minear, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, remembers to tell me that someone named Masaaki Tanaka has recently “mass-distributed” to members of the Association for Asian Studies a book called “What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth.” In describing the book, Minear adds that on its back cover Tanaka shows himself standing by a portrait of Pal.

I acquire and read the book. It is an embarrassment.

Unlike the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, what some call the “Nanjing Incident” has produced wildly differing estimates of casualties. At one end of the spectrum are those who believe that the rampaging Imperial Japanese Army killed as many as 400,000; at the other end are those who insist nothing unusual happened. Chinese-American writer Iris Chang, in her book “The Rape of Nanking,” is at the forefront of the former group; Masaaki Tanaka, who seems to have spent much of his life refuting the “massacre,” spearheads the latter.

In fact, Chang’s 1997 book created an uproar in certain circles in Japan. Among other things, it evidently prompted Tanaka to have his 1984 monograph translated into English as “What Really Happened in Nanking” and to mass-distribute it in the United States. It also obviously compelled the Tokyo publisher Kokusho Kankokai, which is not widely known for issuing English-language books, to reset and publish Pal’s lengthy opinion in its entirety. In his foreword, Professor Akira Nakamura, of Dokkyo University, refers to “The Rape of Nanking.”

“What Really Happened in Nanking” is an embarrassment, but it is not without a few lines of argument that, at first blush, seem persuasive. Tanaka’s basic premise is that the “rape” was a concoction of the Tokyo Trial. Why? Because before then there had been no mention of anything of the sort.

According to Tanaka, the official Chinese document that, in timing, comes closest to the fall of Nanjing is a report prepared by Gen. He Yingqin. He, at one time Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek’s army minister, was required to submit an annual report to the legislature from 1937, when Japan’s military expansion in China took a serious turn, to 1945, when Japan was defeated.

The document in question is the one the general filed in the spring of 1938 when the memory of the collapse of the capital was “still raw.” But in this report, which covers the battles in Shanghai and Nanjing, he didn’t give even a hint of “a massacre,” although he characterized the battles as “bloody,” citing 33,000 Chinese soldiers as killed and 65,340 as wounded.

In a similar vein, Tanaka points out that China lodged protests with the League of Nations against Japan’s aerial bombing and the use of poison gas in Shandong and that the League took them up and duly condemned Japan. But whatever may have happened in Nanjing, China didn’t turn to the international body, which, accordingly, made no move to censure Japan.

However, these examples do not prove that the Imperial Japanese Army did not commit mass murder. Gen. He may not have thought of referring to it in his report simply because he accepted it as part of an act of war. Chiang Kai-shek’s government may have brought the aerial bombing and the use of poison gas to the attention of the League of Nations only because those were the subjects the League was inclined to take up.

Also, throughout his book, Tanaka undermines his position by denigrating reports disadvantageous to him (e.g., the “Documents of the Nanking Safety Zone” are suspect because those who prepared them were “foreign nationals” who used “spy networks” besides) while gladly accepting the ones advantageous to him (e.g., “War Damage in the Nanking Area” is “one of the most trustworthy primary sources,” because, well, why? Wasn’t Lewis S.C. Smythe, the sociology professor who prepared it, a “foreign national”? Weren’t the Chinese students he employed to do the survey “spies”?).

Incidentally, Smythe’s report, which Tanaka summarizes in a table, is damaging enough. It requires Tanaka’s twisted mind to think the figures reinforce his “no massacre” stance.

Tanaka also goes to absurd lengths to downplay Japan’s censorship of the period and the propaganda role that most of the famous writers of the day were compelled to play when sent to the Chinese continent. If we want to get anywhere in this controversy, we must at least accept censorship and propaganda distortions as very basic historical fact.

What does all this have to do with Judge Pal? Pal judged Japan not guilty for reasons both historical and legal. As to the “rape” (he uses the term with quotation marks), he called into question the evidence presented. This, Tanaka and his sympathizers evidently think, absolves the Imperial Japanese Army of whatever it did in Nanjing. Yet let us not forget that Judge Pal also noted: “The evidence is still overwhelming that atrocities were perpetrated by the members of the Japanese armed forces against the civilian population of some of the territories occupied by them,” Nanjing included.

In one of her public lectures, Columbia University historian Carol Gluck commended Iris Chang’s book as an example of “advocacy history,” even while casting doubt on Chang’s factual veracity. I cannot begin to imagine how the estimable professor would characterize Masaaki Tanaka’s book.

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