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For most Americans, World War II began Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. Europeans date the beginning of the war to the 1939 invasion of Poland. Few Westerners appreciate the length and savagery of the Sino-Japanese war that was already in full force even by then.

More than a half century after its conclusion, that war and its aftermath continue to define relations between China and Japan. The conflict claimed an estimated 20 million lives, bringing out the very worst in soldiers and leaders in both countries. Periodically, leftovers from the war are discovered, such as the poison gas shells uncovered in China last year that killed one and sickened dozens of others. Japanese courts are still hearing cases regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and forced labor.

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