“We must not let our children, (or) grandchildren, …, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.”(1) Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, spoke those words to commemorate the passing of 70 years since the end of World War II. Most of us are pretty familiar with the events of the Holocaust. However, the majority of Americans know little to nothing of the genocide and Rape of Nanking. So before we can even discuss the value of Shinzo Abe’s statement, we must first look back at Japan’s misdoings. Then there’s the question of how long and to what end a society must pay for their wrongdoings. Finally, we as global citizens must do our part to ensure the atrocities of Nanking are never repeated. For that to happen, we must acknowledge this devastating Holocaust.
In war, no one comes out clean. A particularly heinous chapter in our history began in December of 1937, with the Japanese invasion of China’s capital city, Nanking. After just 6 weeks, the Imperial Army managed to massacre 200,000 soldiers and civilians. In order to kill tens of thousands of POWs at a time, they bound the soldiers in groups of 10, stabbed them with bayonets, and a kicked the men into the Yangtze River. Newspapers showcased photos of Japanese officers posing alongside the severed heads of their victims. Sadly, this torture did not stay with the soldiers. Japan’s “Loot All, Kill All, Burn All” policy resulted in young boys being doused with kerosene and lit on fire. Men were tied up and used as live body bags for sword practice. Moreover, it is calculated that in just one month’s time, at least 20,000 women were raped, many murdered after they had served their purpose. Rape was revered as a necessity to release the tensions of war. Leaving the “Comfort Women” tied to tables and chairs for easy access later, well, that was just a convenience. There is no doubt that these heinous acts are absolutely inexcusable.
As horrific as these events were, we must eventually forgive in order to move forward. However, there must be some sense of justice before we can exonerate our wrong doers. To my knowledge, the Country of Japan has never formally paid a penny in reparations. In the end, the entire Japanese royal family was exonerated and allowed to continue their reign in Japan; with only 25 Japanese soldiers were ever put on trial for their crimes. To put that in perspective, over 200 German soldiers and accomplices faced military tribunals. Despite this complete lack of justice, maybe Shinzo Abe is right to point out that it is unfair to punish the children for the sins of the father. After all, should anyone in this room be held accountable for our forefathers possessing slaves? 70 years have now gone by, is it not time the world offers its forgiveness? With that thought in mind, how many years must pass until we can publicly forgive and trust the sons of Afghanistan?
These are all very tough questions, surely not ones we can answer in seven minutes; but especially not when so little is known about this Forgotten Holocaust. Japanese students are never taught the details of World War II; only that all sides suffer in war. Japan refused to publish Iris Chang’s documentary, “The Rape of Nanking”, with some high-ranking officials denying any truth to the massacre and publicly shunning any who dare to speak out.
Understandably a touchy subject for Japan, but what excuse does the US have for leaving Nanking out of our textbooks? Perhaps this neglect is stemmed in part from the guilt associated with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Similar to the use of Nuclear Weapons, the Rape of Nanking has a lot to teach humanity, in spite of its complicated and taboo subject matter. We cannot let the level of difficulty in any lesson negate the necessity to learn from it. Furthermore, our silence only perpetuates the victimization and prohibits any possibility of retribution. If you don’t know, it never happened. Yet somehow, that same secrecy allows it to happen again. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” That can only happen if we open the dialogue on this difficult subject.
I know it’s not an easy conversation to have. While the Rape of Nanking is close to my heart, it was the one topic I was afraid to present. To begin with, it is not a good idea to bring your audience down emotionally with details of mass murder. Second, you risk angering your audience when you speak of requests for forgiveness when no remorse has been offered. Certainly, this is just far too heavy to share in a speech. But if not here, where? In the end it was far too important for me to begin this conversation.
I would like to leave you with the concept of a semicolon. You see, an author uses a semicolon when he/she could have ended the sentence, but chooses not to. Rather than stop here, let us continue this difficult discussion so that we may learn and grow from its dark depths. So the victims of Nanking would not have sacrificed their lives for nothing.
Other Bloggers Talking about Nanking:
Going to Japan? dont stay at this hotel…
Additional Resources: There is so much out there, but these are some of my favorites
Rape of Nanking, Iris Change, highly recommended book!
John Rabe, 2009 film, featuring Steve Buscemi
Nanking, (2007 Film), features many notable actors including Woody Harrelson
Iris Chang: The Rape of Nanking (2007), movie
Citation and Additional Resources:
The header picture is borrowed from The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang. I believe that I sourced all facts and statistics presented in this speech from this book as well, but I may have seen some in other places.
The semicolon concept is a common metaphor that is currently being used in conjunction with mental illness and tattoos. The metaphor was used here to symbolize carrying on any important conversation.