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Historical Revisionism (Negationism) In The Rape Of Nanking

Genocide is not a historical novelty. Some historians suspect that it was responsible for the sudden disappearance of Europe’s archaic Neanderthal population – the competition for hunting ground between the Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern human beings probably led to the latter’s brutal extermination of the former. Mass killing, however, became a key component of combat during the Neolithic era. In this period, struggle for land became fiercer as prehistoric hunters started settling down as farmers. Agricultural societies started generating surplus resources which eventually allowed them to conduct and sustain systematic warfare.

The emergence of the nation-state in later millennia took the concept of genocide to a higher level. Mass murder was no longer triggered by an agricultural fetish and or an antiquated society’s genocidal ideology but by political and or religious philosophies. In the process, genocide became officially sanctioned and was intended to exterminate a part of or an entire national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Because of this objective, the brunt of the atrocity inevitably transferred from combatants to noncombatant civilians.

Furthermore, the state-sponsored nature of the killing meant that it was justified through the usage of misleading opinions, flawed evidences and historical misrepresentations. The Rape of Nanking (also known as the Nanking Massacre) is a classic example of this new image of genocide. In the name of national expansion, soldiers from the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Nanking in December 1937 and killed an estimated 300,000 Chinese men, women and children. Meanwhile, 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women were raped. In sharp contrast, American troops suffered only about 291,000 battle deaths in the entire duration of World War II.

But what is the most disturbing about the Rape of Nanking is that despite its gravity, it remained a little more than a footnote in history. For one, many of those who were responsible for this atrocity continue to live comfortably and under the protection of the Japanese government. In addition, some scholarly efforts seek to demonstrate that certain events in the Rape of Nanking were either grossly exaggerated or did not happen at all. Such negationist approaches to the Rape of Nanking can be attributed to Japan’s historical myopia and the absolutist nature of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Although it is widely accepted that World War II began in Europe in 1939, Japan started its offensive earlier. Japan invaded China in July 1937, resulting in the long and bitter Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). China was no match for Japan, as the former was constrained by an ineffectual officer corps, poorly-trained soldiers and inadequate weapons and ammunition. Furthermore, China was politically divided between the Kuomintang (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and the Communist Party of China (led by Mao Zedong). Japan therefore easily invaded China, leaving behind an estimated 20 million Chinese fatalities, majority of which were civilians.

In the initial stage of the war, Chiang’s forces managed to forfeit Peking and Shanghai. But these gains were rendered useless when the Japanese captured the capital, Nanking, in December 1937. The residents of Nanking first thought that the entry of the Japanese forces and the retreat of Chinese troops signified the end of the war. In an undated letter, a German diplomat in Nanking commented, “We expected that with the appearance of the Japanese, the return of peace, quiet and prosperity would occur. ” It turned out that they were mistaken.

Upon their arrival at Nanking, the Japanese decided to systematically exterminate the tens and thousands of Chinese soldiers who had surrendered. The 66th Battalion of the Imperial Japanese Army, for instance, received a chilling order: “All prisoners of war are to be executed. ” An orgy of rape and murder ensued in the succeeding weeks. One account recalls how Japanese soldiers spent nearly a whole day tying the arms of 14,777 Chinese soldiers behind their backs. The prisoners were then marched to a river, where troops shot them with machine guns for about an hour.

To be sure that all of the bodies were already dead, soldiers spent an entire night bayoneting them one by one. Japanese troops even staged “contests” that determined who among them decapitated the most number of Chinese prisoners. Other atrocities, such as live burials, castration, the carving of organs and the roasting of people, were likewise commonplace. But among Nanking’s civilian casualties, it was the women who obviously suffered the most. According to the testimonial of a Japanese soldier, “No matter how young or old, they could not escape the fate of being raped.

” He then told of coal trucks that brought women that were to be raped by 15 to 20 soldiers. When the raping was over, the soldiers shot the women who attempted to escape. Despite a wealth of information regarding the Rape of Nanking – secret cables, missionary letters and diaries, war crimes trial testimonies, interviews with victims and Japanese soldiers, telegrams, photographs, newspaper articles, transcripts of radio broadcasts – most of the military leaders who were responsible for the massacre were left unpunished.

On the other hand, Japanese soldiers who attempted to confess their participation in the massacre were constantly harassed and charged with “unpatriotic behavior. ” One of them was Azuma Shiro, a former Japanese soldier who openly spoke about various atrocities in public speeches and in his wartime memoir Our Nanjing Platoon (1987). His book contained several controversial references to Japanese war crimes in Nanking, one of which was his fellow Japanese soldiers “killing innocent Chinese by putting them in a mail bag and setting it on fire with hand grenades and gasoline. ”

In retaliation, other soldiers in Azuma’s platoon sued him. According to them, the incident was fabricated and that his allegations were causing them emotional distress. The Tokyo District Court sided with them – the former ruled in April 1996 that Azuma’s descriptions were “without objective evidence. ” In addition, both Azuma and his publishers were ordered to pay the plaintiff 500,000 yen. The aforementioned response of the former soldiers is not surprising – they were trained to believe that slaughtering as many enemies as possible was a means of bringing honor to their country and to their emperor.

In an undated letter to author Iris Chang, Azuma recalled that his military training included being indoctrinated with the belief that “loyalty is heavier than a mountain, and (human life) is lighter than a feather. ” Simply put, all human life – even those of the soldiers – were valueless when compared to the emperor’s. This mindset made it easier for Japanese soldiers to subject their captives to ill treatment and mass murder – if a soldier’s life was worthless, what more his enemy?

As Azuma wrote to Chang, “If my life was not important…an enemy’s life became inevitably much less important…This philosophy led us to look down on the enemy and eventually to the mass murder and ill treatment of the captives. ” Former soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army are not the only ones who are in denial with regards to the Rape of Nanking. Various Japanese scholars, journalists and government officials have already attempted to literally rewrite or reframe the traditional view of the genocide.

For these negationists, the conventional perspective in which the Rape of Nanking is dealt with is merely a form of victor’s justice – the victory of the Americans gave them the prerogative to come up with their own version of World War II. They also believe that China and Korea are using the system of “sex slavery” as a means of obtaining more benefits during negotiations with Japan. Lastly, they are concerned that Japanese children might end up being ashamed of their nationality if they are constantly bombarded with “negative lies” about Japan’s atrocities in World War II.

In most countries, parties that support negationism are considered a minority. But in Japan, negationism enjoys the full support of the political and economic elite. According to Watanabe Takesato (n. d. ), Professor of Journalism at Doshisha University and a scholar of Japanese revisionist history, conservative sectors of Japan’s political and economic elite adopted negationism as a means of preserving their power in the postwar era.

Being staunch supporters of Japan’s aggressive and expansionist stance during World War II, they would certainly be blamed for whatever postwar sanctions the country would receive. In the process, they would lose most, if not all, of their prewar political and economic clout. But by projecting their country’s wartime atrocities in a better light, Japan’s conservative elite managed to project themselves as patriots who fought Western imperialism and went on to become powerful postwar figures.

Mizobuchi Toshimo, for instance, served in Manchuria as an imperial army officer in the Japanese Army’s Unit 731. This unit was notorious for conducting unethical chemical and biological experiments before and during World War II. It turned an estimated 10,000 Chinese civilians and Allied prisoners of war into human guinea pigs by deliberately infecting them with pathogens such as bubonic plague, anthrax and cholera. Other prisoners were vivisected without anesthesia and were later dispatched through lethal injection.

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