Commemorating the 60th anniversary of this dark event, students at Princeton University organized a conference out of which grew the 11 short essays in this collection. The authors address Japanese crimes in China from different viewpoints and probe postwar issues of remembrance by both victims and perpetrators. Some try to make sense out of the post-cold war interregnum during which progressive people in many nations tried to come to terms with past atrocities; all mean to be suggestive rather than exhaustive in their treatment.
Perry Link?fs eloquent ?gForeword?h highlights ?gthe long silence of the Chinese people over Nanking?h and furnishes a context for what follows. Journalist Ian Buruma and international law scholar Richard Falk place the atrocities in a global framework. Buruma sees the Nanking massacre as a ?ghistorical symbol?h of Japanese militarism, but finds much to ponder in the myths that have arisen over its reception. He is especially wary of comparing Nanking with the Nazi Holocaust. ?g[T]o what extent,?h he usefully asks, was the ?gmassacre a deliberate policy of terror to force Chiang Kai-shek to give up his resistance to Japan??h ?gDid [superior officers] encourage the troops to run wild, as a payoff for their deprivations during a long and nasty campaign??h If historians are to learn the truth about what actually happened at Nanking, Buruma urges them to avoid the tendency, common among some in the Chinese community in the United States, to ?gbuild their identities around symbols of collec- tive suffering.?h
Falk?fs insightful essay is an expression of his primary concern with globalization, world order, and the normative dimension of international relations. He suggests that interest in the Nanking atrocity rekindled in the late 1990s, partly because of ?gthe acceleration of history—the sheer speed of change— that seems to be making our political consciousness more sensitive to various aspects of the dimension of time.?h Another reason for ?grecall[ing] unacknowledged grievances from the past?h has nothing to do with our age of immediacy. It is the persistence, despite the ?gdomination of realist thinking,?h of an ?gearlier moral orientation?h to international relations, which makes it impossible to ignore concern with redressing past injuries.
Perhaps because treating Japanese historical events is of lesser interest to Falk, his brief references to Nanking are sometimes inaccurate. Most Japanese, during and long after the occupation period, did not, as he claims, regard the Tokyo Trials as ?gthe outcome of ?ea kangaroo court?f.?h The Indian judge Radhabinod Pal, whom he mis-describes as a ?gneutral analyst,?h was, in fact, a supporter of the pro-Axis Indian nationalist Chandra Bose and thus hardly a guide to understanding why Japanese interpretations of the Asia-Pacific War still inhibit Japan?fs redress of past grievances. An ardent nationalist who viewed the imperialism of Western white men as the main source of evil in Asia, Pal was the only judge who justified, whitewashed, or cast doubt on virtually all evidence of Japanese atrocities submitted by the prosecution, even going so far as to deny that large numbers of rapes had occurred at Nanking.
In the first three essays in Part II (Revisiting Nanking: Views from China and Japan), Chinese historian Sun Zhaiwei identifies two major causes of the massacre: ?gJapanese militarism and ideological indoctrination?h and the hope of Japanese leaders that ?glarge- scale killing of people in the capital?h would ?gforce the Chinese people to stop resisting.?h The idea of quelling the legitimate resistance of an occupied people by the application of massive, gratuitous violence and murder, is not peculiar to Japan. Sun, however, misses an opportunity to follow this theme outside of a bi-national (Sino-Japanese) context.
Chinese researcher Lee En-Han explores ?gthe Sino-Japanese controversy over the factual number of massacred victims?h and he is similarly disinclined to take a broad comparative approach to his subject. Sun rightfully laments the efforts of those whom he calls the ?gtotal deniers,?h such as Tanaka Masaaki, and the ?gpartial deniers,?h of whom historian Hata Ikuhiko is the most notorious, to ?guse every possible tactic to resist the figures.?h If Sun had compared the numbers issue in the Nanking massacre with American war atrocities throughout Indochina, as symbolized most notoriously by the My Lai massacre, he too might have helped us to see how stubbornly most Americans, not just the Japanese, seek to vindicate their young men in uniform, even when some of them are revealed in a court of law to have been war criminals fighting imperialist battles.
Japanese historian Kasahara Tokushi notes how Japanese academic historians, researchers, and writers have struggled long, hard, and relatively successfully to remember Japan?fs perpetration of the Nanking massacre. Yet ?gvoices in the mass media, for political reasons, repeatedly make the denials that have already been proved bankrupt.?h So, ?g[w]hy is it that the Japanese cannot feel deep regret and cannot support compensation for the victims of the Nanking massacre??h His reflections on the difficulties encountered in making the truth take hold are among the best in the book. Kasahara understands well how the need to confront war responsibility for aggression remains on the agenda for the postwar generation. Future studies must set the problem in a broad imperial context that links with other histories of war atrocities since World War II. Next, historian Higashinakano Shudo presents the Japanese ?grevisionists?h reasons for denying the Nanking atrocities and legitimizing Japan?fs war.
Of the remaining essays, comprising Parts III (Remembering Nanking) and IV (Healing the Wounds), Haruko Cook discusses censorship and self-censorship by Japanese reporters, editors, diarists, and fiction writers in 1937- 1938, and suggests, by her comments on Ishikawa Tatsuzo?fs Living Soldiers (1938), that the very nature of the war had much to do with the atrocious behavior of Japanese forces. Historian Takashi Yoshida turns to a different problem: how changing political concerns and perceptions of the ?gnational interest?h in Japan, China, and Western countries have shaped collective memory of the Nanking massacre. With each passing decade, the event has acquired different meanings. Yosh- ida is particularly critical of Iris Chang?fs account for its simplistic, one-dimensional portrayal of the event, which he puts on a par with works penned by Japanese revision- ist historians.
In a reflection on the Nanking atrocity ?gin light of Jewish memory,?h China scholar Vera Schwarcz asks ?gWhen and how does a narrative of victimization become necessary for nation-building??h She warns of the dangers in comparing ?gholocausts?h and declares that the time has now come ?gto explore the strategies used to evade, allegorize, and romanticize genocide.?h Atrocity events challenge historians to translate their ?gknowing?h into ?gtelling,?h so that the pain and anguish of the survivors can be effectively conveyed in discourse. To see the possibilities for reconstructing the Nanking massacre, read this essay.
International law scholar Onuma Yasuaki then samples aspects of the Japanese debate on war responsibility and ?gpostwar responsibility.?h His piece, originally published in 1984, lacks freshness and vigor and is marred by a superficial view of the Tokyo Trials as mere ?gvictors?f justice.?h Finally, Daqing Yang questions whether a common historical understanding of the mass atrocity is even possible and suggests a framework for the ?grecognition by all of the universal lessons of atrocities in Nanking.?h
Nanking 1937, a rich collection of perspectives on an important event in the history of the Asia-Pacific War, has deep ramifications for future Japan-China relations. Equally important, it is a compendium of insights into why aggressors commit war crimes and suggestions for preventing their recurrence. It fails to probe these depths mainly because it fails in many cases to universalize elements of human depravity, imperial design, and state power through reference to historical and contemporary events. Without these comparisons, it may be difficult for readers to discern which elements of the Nanking massacre were particular to its time, place, and cultures and which fit into larger patterns of human behavior that may be addressable through means other than force.
Nanking 1937 needs to be read in a way that highlights the universal within the particular. Set it against the background of the Russian rape of German women in postwar occupied Germany (1945-1949) or the French torture of civilians during the Algerian War (1954-1962) or the American atrocities at No Gun Ri hamlet early in the Korean War (1950-1953).
Compare the logic of Japan?fs campaign in 1930s China with the American colonial war of aggression in Iraq, now generating war atrocities on a daily basis or with the American murder of Afghan prisoners at the U.S. Baghran air base in Afghanistan or the American mistreatment of war prisoners held in cages at the U.S. Guan- tanamo base in Cuba. Don?ft forget the cruel, atrocious policies that Israeli governments (past and especially present) pursue against the Palestinians. By conjuring the sight of these still fresh, unhealed crimes this book should enlighten and anger its readers.
Herbert Bix is a professor of history and sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. His book Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (HarperCollins, 2000) won the Pulitzer Prize.
Somehwat revised version is here:
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