"No More Nanjing" Association, Tokyo, Newsletter No. 2, June 1998
Last Update: 1 February 2000
As the debate over "The Rape of Nanking" became more and more interesting, I decided to sit down and read over the book with a dictionary in hand. Initially there was some fear of English posing a hardship. However once I started reading patiently, the book turned out to be very easy to read -- clear is the author's motivation and goal of writing the book, clear is the description of the cause and path leading to the massacre, and clear is the author's stance in presenting the reaction of the people of Japan and of the rest of the world after the massacre.
The author, Ms Iris Chang, is a second-generation Chinese-American. She tells us that most people in the United States do not know about the Nanking Massacre. Although she had heard stories about the massacre from her parents, the thought of writing "The Rape of Nanking" first came to her after she attended a conference held in a Silicon Valley city. There she was shocked by the pictures showing the victims of the Nanking Massacre. There were "...decapitated heads, bellies ripped open, and nude women forced by their rapists into various pornographic poses, their faces contorted into unforgettable expressions of agony and shame." Standing in front of these stark black-and-white images, Ms Chang thought, "every person is going to die one day. But here human lives were wiped out merely at the whim of others, and in such degrading and tragic manners. How can we allow these facts to be buried into historical oblivion?" For Ms Chang, the reason for writing "The Rape of Nanking" is not only to bring to light the forgotten facts of history, but also to express to the world the emotions of mourning, grief and anger she felt for the hundreds upon thousands of people who died in humiliation and pain, and to restore their dignity as human beings.
The author tries to convey to the readers the impact and shock she received from the pictures of the massacre. She writes about the suffering by the women, "If the Japanese treatment of old women was terrible, their treatment of young children was unthinkable. Little girls were raped so brutally that some could not walk for weeks afterwards. Many required surgery, others died...The sufferings by women were often accompanied by prolonged consequences, as many were impregnated by the Japanese soldiers." Until now the incidents of raping have scarcely been mentioned by either the assailants or the victims. The author argues with passionate ardor that the accounts of the tragedy as a whole, as well as the terrifying experience and humiliation suffered by individuals should be written down. She does not pretend to describe the massacre from a neutral position, but clearly takes the side of the oppressed in presenting the incidents.
As the author points out, the book "describes two related but discrete atrocities". One is the massacre that occurred in Nanking in 1937. Another is the movement to ignore and deny the Nanking Massacre, a current trend to "massacre the massacre".
On the soldiers who marched toward the Massacre of Nanking, she says they were Samurais with the ancient spirit of Bushido. "(The soldiers) had been taught that next to the emperor all individual life -- even their own -- was worthless." "... the highest honor a soldier could achieve during war was to come back dead; to die for the emperor was the greatest honor..." As she quotes Azuma Shiro, one of the soldiers who was taught never to accept any values other than loyalty to the emperor, "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."
Regarding Hirohito, the Japanese Emperor who was an important factor that caused the Massacre of Nanking, Ms Chang writes, "although it was not made clear how the emperor reacted to the massacre, he expressed his 'extreme satisfaction' the day after the fall of Nanking to the Japanese army. After being pleased by the disaster in Nanking, he went on to enjoy lives of leisure and national adoration." On the other hand, the victims of the massacre were never considered for the losses they suffered. The author blames the Chinese government for demanding neither apology nor compensation from the Japanese government, and thus "sold out the future of the victims to the Japanese." Even until today many in Japan continue to raise voices to deny the Nanking Massacre. She writes that such neglect, indifference and denial is a second massacre.
In order to write this book, the author did an extensive research of the source material, and visited many people. She received support in from various people in different fields, for example, advice from scholars, help from language experts in translating foreign documents, etc. That is how she read through many of the diaries by the Japanese veterans. She visited the survivors in China, exchanged letters with the perpetrator Azuma Shiro, and assiduously searched for the relatives of those in the International Safety Zone. During the search, she located Rabe's granddaughter, and also unearthed the Rabe diary. A professor of history at the Harvard University commented on the diary, "...done very carefully with an enormous amount of detail and drama. It will reopen this case in a very important way in that people can go through the day-by-day account, and add 100 to 200 stories to what is popularly known."
In China, it is reported that the Rabe diary verified the stories of many of the victims. A memorial service for the 60th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre was held last year. Considering that a gathering for the 50th anniversary in 1987 was cancelled at the last moment, it is not an exageration to say that the work of restoring the dignity of the victims in the Nanking Massacre started with the effort of Ms Chang.
She writes in the epilogue that although many Japanese war crimes were acquitted under the protection of the United States government, during recent years the process of reexamining the Japanese war crimes has started in the United States. Last June, House Representative Lipinsky from Illinois submitted a bill to the United States Congress "to condemn the war crimes committed by Japan during the invasion of Asian countries, and demand an official apology and compensation." The Nanking Massacre is listed as one of the war crimes in the bill. It is significant that in the United States, where the massacre was little known before, "The Rape of Nanking" has become a bestseller, and outcry for Japan to face the wartime past is growing. The book has already been translated into Chinese. Let us hope it will be translated into Japanese and be read by many people in Japan.
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