Japanese Militarism

The flag of Japanese fascist imperialism – the flag of the rising sun. The flag reinforced the meaning of Japan, “The Land of the Rising Sun.” Under this flag millions would be colonized and brutally murdered in the name of Japanese imperialism.

Japan was the only non-Western nation to construct an empire in the Age of Imperialism. Modeled in large part upon European empires, the Japanese Empire by 1914 included Taiwan, the adjacent Pescadore Islands, Korea, southern Sakhalin Island, and nearly 1,400 islands in the Marshal, Mariana, and Caroline Island chains in the South Pacific.

Map of the Greater Japanese Empire

In China, Japan occupied 1,300 square miles of territory in South Manchuria (Guandong) and 200 square miles of land in Kiaochow Bay, Shandong. The Guandong leasehold included the South Manchuria Railway, a first-class naval base at Port Arthur, and Dairen, one of the best ice-free ports on the coast of Northeast Asia. The Kiaochow lease included another first-class naval base and commercial port, Qingdao, and rights to the Shandong Railway.

Japanese Empire in 1942

Japan acquired the Guandong lease and Kiaochow Bay from Russia and Germany, respectively. But Japanese empire-builders themselves were responsible for constructing much of the modern infrastructure of Taiwan, Korea, southern Sakhalin, and the South Pacific Islands. A renewed spurt of empire building from 1931 added enormously to the geographic scope of the Japanese empire. But military defeat in 1945 stripped Japan completely of her overseas territories.

1938 Imperial Japanese propaganda poster showing Hitler and Mussolini beside Fumimaro Konoe

A Timeline of Japanese Expansion

The modern expansion of Japanese borders began during the Tokugawa Shōgunate between 1600 and 1868. The nominal authority of the Japanese archipelago was the Shōgun—the strongest warrior in the land—whose government was headquartered in Edo, present-day Tokyo. In 1807, the Shōgun assumed administrative control of the northern-most of the four main Japanese islands, Ezo, present-day Hokkaido. The Treaty of Shimoda, concluded in 1855 with Russia, added the southern half of the Kuril Island chain up to Iturup to Japan’s northern border and recognized joint Russo-Japanese occupation of Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk. To the southeast, the Shōgun dispatched immigrants and established administrative control over the Bonin Islands in 1861.

Japanese Troops Occupy Singapore

The geographic scope of Japanese rule expanded apace with the emergence of modern Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. In 1875, another treaty with Russia traded Japanese interests in Sakhalin Island for ownership of the entire Kuril island chain. To the west, Tsushima Island became part of Nagasaki Prefecture. To the south, the Ryukyus, present-day Okinawa, were incorporated into the new state in 1879. In 1880, the Bonin Islands became part of the Tokyo metropolitan prefecture. Japan acquired her first formal colonies after her successful participation in three modern wars. After the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), Tokyo received title to Taiwan and the Pescadore Islands; as a result of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan acquired its first foothold in China in the former Russian leasehold in southern Manchuria. By 1913, almost 90,000 Japanese lived in the leasehold, including a division-strength garrison of the Japanese Army at Port Arthur —named in 1919 the Guandong Army— and six battalions of special guard troops in the Railway zone. In 1905, Japan also received full title to the southern Sakhalin Island of Karafuto and preponderant political and economic influence in Korea. More than 42,000 Japanese resided in Korea in 1905, when Japan established a protectorate there, and she annexed the peninsula formally in 1910. In the first month of World War I in 1914, the Japanese navy chased the German East India Squadron out of the Marshal, Mariana, and Caroline Islands, establishing Japan for the first time as a Pacific empire. In November of the same year, Japanese troops ejected German forces from Qingdao, China.

Japanese artillerymen fire chemical weapons into Chinese positions in 1941.
Japanese artillerymen fire chemical weapons into Chinese positions in 1941.


One famous example would be the kamikaze, pilots who would load up their planes with bombs and blow up ships. The kamikaze wore the flags around their heads like bandanas. This symbolized how greatly the Japanese soldiers were steadfast and loyal. They showed interest in the Japanese Empire greatly. It was nationalism. With the thought of contributing to the “Great Empire of Japan,” the kamikaze soldiers faced no trepidation or fear when bashing into ships which would patently end their own lives as well.

The Rape of Nanking


In December of 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China’s capital city of Nanking and proceeded to murder 300,000 out of 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city. The six weeks of carnage would become known as the Rape of Nanking and represented the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theaters of war.

The actual military invasion of Nanking was preceded by a tough battle at Shanghai that began in the summer of 1937. Chinese forces there put up surprisingly stiff resistance against the Japanese Army which had expected an easy victory in China. The Japanese had even bragged they would conquer all of China in just three months. The stubborn resistance by the Chinese troops upset that timetable, with the battle dragging on through the summer into late fall. This infuriated the Japanese and whetted their appetite for the revenge that was to follow at Nanking.

After finally defeating the Chinese at Shanghai in November, 50,000 Japanese soldiers then marched on toward Nanking. Unlike the troops at Shanghai, Chinese soldiers at Nanking were poorly led and loosely organized. Although they greatly outnumbered the Japanese and had plenty of ammunition, they withered under the ferocity of the Japanese attack, then engaged in a chaotic retreat. After just four days of fighting, Japanese troops smashed into the city on December 13, 1937, with orders issued to “kill all captives.”

Their first concern was to eliminate any threat from the 90,000 Chinese soldiers who surrendered. To the Japanese, surrender was an unthinkable act of cowardice and the ultimate violation of the rigid code of military honor drilled into them from childhood onward. Thus they looked upon Chinese POWs with utter contempt, viewing them as less than human, unworthy of life.

The elimination of the Chinese POWs began after they were transported by trucks to remote locations on the outskirts of Nanking. As soon as they were assembled, the savagery began, with young Japanese soldiers encouraged by their superiors to inflict maximum pain and suffering upon individual POWs as a way of toughening themselves up for future battles, and also to eradicate any civilized notions of mercy. Filmed footage and still photographs taken by the Japanese themselves document the brutality. Smiling soldiers can be seen conducting bayonet practice on live prisoners, decapitating them and displaying severed heads as souvenirs, and proudly standing among mutilated corpses. Some of the Chinese POWs were simply mowed down by machine-gun fire while others were tied-up, soaked with gasoline and burned alive.

After the destruction of the POWs, the soldiers turned their attention to the women of Nanking and an outright animalistic hunt ensued. Old women over the age of 70 as well as little girls under the age of 8 were dragged off to be sexually abused. More than 20,000 females (with some estimates as high as 80,000) were gang-raped by Japanese soldiers, then stabbed to death with bayonets or shot so they could never bear witness.

Pregnant women were not spared. In several instances, they were raped, then had their bellies slit open and the fetuses torn out. Sometimes, after storming into a house and encountering a whole family, the Japanese forced Chinese men to rape their own daughters, sons to rape their mothers, and brothers their sisters, while the rest of the family was made to watch.

Throughout the city of Nanking, random acts of murder occurred as soldiers frequently fired their rifles into panicked crowds of civilians, killing indiscriminately. Other soldiers killed shopkeepers, looted their stores, then set the buildings on fire after locking people of all ages inside. They took pleasure in the extraordinary suffering that ensued as the people desperately tried to escape the flames by climbing onto rooftops or leaping down onto the street.

The incredible carnage – citywide burnings, stabbings, drownings, strangulations, rapes, thefts, and massive property destruction – continued unabated for about six weeks, from mid-December 1937 through the beginning of February 1938. Young or old, male or female, anyone could be shot on a whim by any Japanese soldier for any reason. Corpses could be seen everywhere throughout the city. The streets of Nanking were said to literally have run red with blood.

Those who were not killed on the spot were taken to the outskirts of the city and forced to dig their own graves, large rectangular pits that would be filled with decapitated corpses resulting from killing contests the Japanese held among themselves. Other times, the Japanese forced the Chinese to bury each other alive in the dirt.

After this period of unprecedented violence, the Japanese eased off somewhat and settled in for the duration of the war. To pacify the population during the long occupation, highly addictive narcotics, including opium and heroin, were distributed by Japanese soldiers to the people of Nanking, regardless of age. An estimated 50,000 persons became addicted to heroin while many others lost themselves in the city’s opium dens.

In addition, the notorious Comfort Women system was introduced which forced young Chinese women to become slave-prostitutes, existing solely for the sexual pleasure of Japanese soldiers.

News reports of the happenings in Nanking appeared in the official Japanese press and also in the West, as page-one reports in newspapers such as the New York Times. Japanese news reports reflected the militaristic mood of the country in which any victory by the Imperial Army resulting in further expansion of the Japanese empire was celebrated. Eyewitness reports by Japanese military correspondents concerning the sufferings of the people of Nanking also appeared. They reflected a mentality in which the brutal dominance of subjugated or so-called inferior peoples was considered just. Incredibly, one paper, the Japan Advertiser, actually published a running count of the heads severed by two officers involved in a decapitation contest, as if it was some kind of a sporting match.

In the United States, reports published in the New York Times, Reader’s Digest and Time Magazine, were greeted with skepticism from the American public. The stories smuggled out of Nanking seemed almost too fantastic to be believed.

Overall, most Americans had only a passing knowledge or little interest in Asia. Political leaders in both America and Britain remained overwhelmingly focused on the situation in Europe where Adolf Hitler was rapidly re-arming Germany while at the same time expanding the borders of the Nazi Reich through devious political maneuvers.

Back in Nanking, however, all was not lost. An extraordinary group of about 20 Americans and Europeans remaining in the city, composed of missionaries, doctors and businessmen, took it upon themselves to establish an International Safety Zone. Using Red Cross flags, they brazenly declared a 2.5 square-mile area in the middle of the city off limits to the Japanese. On numerous occasions, they also risked their lives by personally intervening to prevent the execution of Chinese men or the rape of women and young girls.

These Westerners became the unsung heroes of Nanking, working day and night to the point of exhaustion to aid the Chinese. They also wrote down their impressions of the daily scenes they witnessed, with one describing Nanking as “hell on earth.” Another wrote of the Japanese soldiers: “I did not imagine that such cruel people existed in the modern world.” About 300,000 Chinese civilians took refuge inside their Safety Zone. Almost all of the people who did not make it into the Zone during the Rape of Nanking ultimately perished.

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Japan’s unspeakable cruelty toward the Chinese people began with the 1931 invasion and occupation of Manchuria. Indeed, this was the first military exercise that began the long march toward the Second World War, still two years before Adolf Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany. The full-scale invasion of the world’s most populous nation waited until the fall of 1937. Within a month, the first genocide of the modern era – what has become known as “the rape of Nanking” began.The use of the word “rape” is not an exercise in alliteration. Once the hapless Chinese military retreated from their imperial capital, the women of Nanking suffered unimaginable indignities. Women were killed in indiscriminate acts of terror and execution, but the large majority died after extended and excruciating gang-rape.

“Surviving Japanese veterans claim that the army had officially outlawed the rape of enemy women,” writes Iris Chang. But “the military policy forbidding rape only encouraged soldiers to kill their victims afterwards.” She cites one soldier’s recollection that “It would be all right if we only raped them. I shouldn’t say all right. But we always stabbed and killed them. Because dead bodies don’t talk … Perhaps when we were raping her, we looked at her as a woman, but when we killed her, we just thought of her as something like a pig.” (Chang, The Rape of Nanking, pp. 49-50). Kenzo Okamoto, another Japanese soldier, recalled: “From the time of the landing at Hangzhou Bay, we were hungry for women! Officers issued a rough rule: If you mess with a woman, kill her afterwards, but don’t use bayonets or rifle fire. The purpose of this rule was probably to disguise who did the killing. The military code with its punishment of execution was empty words. No one was ever punished. Some officers were even worse than the soldiers.” (Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 188)

One eyewitness, Li Ke-hen, reported: “There are so many bodies on the street, victims of group rape and murder. They were all stripped naked, their breasts cut off, leaving a terrible dark brown hole; some of them were bayoneted in the abdomen, with their intestines spilling out alongside them; some had a roll of paper or a piece of wood stuffed in their vaginas” (quoted in Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 195).

John Rabe, a German (and Nazi) businessman who set up a “Nanking Safety Zone” in the city’s international settlement and thereby saved thousands of Chinese lives, described in his diary the weeks of terror endured by the women of Nanjing. Though young and conventionally attractive women were most at risk, no woman was safe from vicious rape and exploitation (often filmed as souvenirs) and probable murder thereafter.

The Horror

Should the Japanese atrocities in Nanking be equated with the Nazi Holocaust?

“Atrocities follow war as the jackal follows a wounded beast,” John W. Dower wrote in his history of the Second World War in the Pacific, War Without Mercy (1986). Bestiality slunk along as the ghoulish companion of all the armies in that war, Allied and Axis alike, notoriously in the Nazi-Soviet war, and most hideously in Hitler’s campaign of systematic genocide. The Holocaust has become our era’s ghastly icon of humankind’s capacity for fiendishness. The memory of it quivers in the world’s imagination, chastening the certainties of philosophers, challenging the pieties of churches, shadowing art and literature, chilling the souls of all who contemplate it. More than half a century later, recollections of the Holocaust also dictate the policies of governments and even shape relations among nations. Indeed, contemporary discourse about the Holocaust epitomizes the modern urge to master the politics of atrocities, an enterprise that has come to rival in scope and intensity an older cultural project that sought to fathom and perhaps to quell man’s dreadful instinct to play the wolf to man. In our time the effort to control the politics of suffering may even be displacing the effort to understand the psychology of evil.

Iris Chang’s subtitle signals her intention to assimilate the war in Asia to the war in Europe, and to claim for the Chinese victims of the Imperial Japanese Army’s sadism the same recognition that history affords to victims of the Holocaust. To be sure, the grisly record of what happened in Nanjing following the Japanese conquest of the city in December, 1937, prodigiously confirms Dower’s dictum. But whether the events in Nanjing deserve to be compared to the Holocaust is perhaps another matter. Nor is it clear that those events have been so thoroughly forgotten as Chang asserts.

Japan’s campaign of aggression against China began with the seizure of Manchuria in 1931. The Manchurian takeover elicited Chinese reprisals against Japanese nationals in Shanghai, including the murder by a mob of a Japanese Buddhist monk, which in turn prompted an armed Japanese intervention in that city. A vicious but localized Sino-Japanese war raged around the Shanghai region through much of 1932. The conflict then settled into a quiescent phase for several years. Japan proceeded to consolidate its hold on Manchuria, while China was distracted by simmering civil war between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists. Preoccupied with the Great Depression and the rising menace of Hitler, the Western world bore distant and largely helpless witness to the sputtering crisis in Asia.

A minor clash between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge, near Beijing, touched off full-scale war between the two Asian powers in July of 1937. Japan and China were both by then spoiling for the fight. Open war offered an opportunity once and for all to chastise what Tokyo regarded as the exasperatingly feckless Chinese regime. In Japanese eyes, a British diplomat reported,

China is not a civilized state, but a chaotic amorphous mass whose government is powerless to maintain order. Communism is rampant there, and the country is prey to the depredation of the armies of rival war lords, red communist armies and roving bodies of bandits.

For his part, Chiang, under pressure from his generals and the Communists, ravened for the chance to come to grips with the Japanese aggressor in a decisive showdown. Soon foiled, however, in his attempt to engage the main body of Japanese troops near Beijing, Chiang sought to shift the arena of combat to the south by replaying the scenario of 1932. His minions menaced the 30,000 Japanese residents of Shanghai, hoping to draw Japanese forces out of the north and into the great valley of the Yangtze, Chiang’s main political base and supposedly most secure military stronghold.

The lure worked. Tokyo turned its eyes southward, and the Japanese commander Matsui Iwane began the investment of Shanghai on August 23. He made tortuous headway against fierce but patchy Chinese resistance. (Chiang’s generals executed several hundred of their soldiers for cowardice.) After suffering 30 percent casualties, Matsui’s forces at last took Shanghai in early November, a military disaster for Chiang and the prelude to greater disasters that soon followed. Behind a rolling carpet of ferocious bombing, the Japanese began moving up the valley of the Yangtze toward Chiang’s capital at Nanjing.

The bloody Yangtze. Less than a century earlier its teeming watershed had been convulsed by some of the worst fighting of the Taiping rebellion, a horrific fourteen-year upheaval that claimed 20 million Chinese lives. In the decade before the Japanese incursion Chiang’s unruly armies had ruthlessly exterminated Communists and labor unionists along the lower Yangtze. They also looted the British, American, and Japanese consulates and murdered several foreigners. Through this historic cauldron of seething hatreds and prolific violence Matsui’s troops now advanced. Chiang’s soldiers scattered before them in a pell-mell rout that swelled to maniacal panic as the fighting neared the gates of Nanjing. Nationalist government officials fled the city as the Japanese drew close. Chiang himself abandoned his capital on December 8. He left behind a ragtag force under General Tang Sheng-chih to mount what rear-guard defense it could. Tang quickly gave up even the pretense of resistance. After ordering the houses outside the city walls to be set aflame as a delaying action, he boarded a launch that churned away up the Yangtze on the evening of December 12. Deserted by their leaders and fearful of being trapped inside the city by a ring of fire, the remnants of the Nanjing garrison and the additional troops streaming into the city from the lower Yangtze stampeded for what safety they could find. Thousands swarmed into the frigid waters of the river, in what quickly proved a suicidal quest for the refuge of the far shore. More thousands sought to disguise themselves and hide within the beleaguered city. They stripped off their military uniforms, looted shops and assaulted civilians for nonmilitary clothing, trampled and axed and machine-gunned their comrades, in a mad scramble to elude the oncoming invaders.

Into this scene of incomprehensible bedlam the first Japanese troops marched on December 13. After a decade of civil disorder and Nationalist marauding, and after weeks of savage bombardment by Japanese warplanes, as well as mutinous rioting and bareknuckled intimidation by their own soldiers, the city’s Chinese inhabitants were so traumatized that many of them welcomed the Japanese army as a disciplined military force that might at least impose a semblance of order on the chaotic hell of bleeding, burning Nanjing. That expectation the Japanese abruptly and cruelly demolished.

The Japanese occupiers immediately began combing the city for the abandoned Chinese soldiers who had gone to ground. The procedure was certainly allowable under recognized rules of war, but Matsui’s troops carried it out with wanton ferocity. They rounded up all young men of military age and proceeded to kill them in wholesale machine-gunnings and serial decapitations, sometimes in full view of horrified onlookers. Worse soon followed. Roaming bands of Japanese troops began murdering civilians at random, indiscriminately assailing the young and the old, men, women, children, and unborn fetuses alike, with bludgeon, bayonet, rifle, torch, and sword. Matsui’s soldiers used both living and dead Chinese for bayonet practice. They mutilated, tortured, and maimed countless victims. According to Chang’s account, they hanged people by their tongues and marinated them in acid, dismembered them, grenaded them, impaled them and burned them and flayed them and froze them and buried them alive. They also raped countless women, bestowing upon this unholy episode the name by which it has forever after been known and which furnishes Chang’s title: the Rape of Nanking.

READERS fascinated by the sanguine and the macabre will not be disappointed by this book. Chang describes many incidents of unshirted mayhem in excruciating detail, and supplements her written account with a gallery of photographs whose grotesqueness no mere vocabulary can match. By any measure the Rape of Nanking was a catastrophic horror—and Chang gives us several measures, including an estimate of the height to which the stacked bodies of the Chinese victims would reach, and even a calculation of the weight of the blood spilled during the Japanese rampage.

But if a penchant for the sensational, along with a certain credulousness, occasionally colors Chang’s recounting of some of those incidents, there can be no doubt that the evidence amounts to a crushing indictment of the Japanese army’s behavior. The Rape of Nanking stands out in the long and sorry annals of warfare and its crimes as an exceptionally heinous monstrosity. Even the Japanese Foreign Minister, Hirota Koki, reported after an inspection trip in January of 1938 that the “Japanese Army behaved . . . in [a] fashion reminiscent [of] Attila [and] his Huns. [Not] less than three hundred thousand Chinese civilians slaughtered, many cases [in] cold blood.”

Brutality intruded even into the ironically named Safety Zone, a section of the city where thousands of refugees took shelter under the precarious protection of a hastily organized “International Committee” composed of some two dozen foreign nationals resident in Nanjing. The committee repeatedly protested to Japanese officials about the bacchanalia of violence, and set out to document formally what its members somewhat delicately called “cases of disorder.” It published its sober, legalistic record of the Rape of Nanking in 1939, listing 425 such cases. To that testimony Chang has added reports of additional incidents, some taken from the records of the postwar Tokyo War Crimes Trials, some from papers later deposited in the library of the Yale Divinity School by the handful of American missionaries marooned in Nanjing in 1937, and some from an extraordinary document that Chang herself first brought to light—the diary of the chairman of the International Committee for the Safety Zone, John H.D. Rabe.

Rabe was by any account a remarkable figure, and an unlikely hero. “Why the devil did you stay?” a puzzled Japanese officer asked him in the midst of the pandemonium engulfing Nanjing. “What does all this matter to you?” “My kids and grandchildren were born here, and I am happy and successful here,” Rabe replied, adding, “I have always been treated well by the Chinese people.” Rabe was a German businessman, born in Hamburg in 1882. He had lived in China since 1908, working mostly for the Siemens Company. He had learned the Chinese language, had grown to love the country, and was extremely solicitous toward his Chinese employees. He was also a Nazi. Along with a few other foreigners who worked under his guidance, Rabe shielded numberless Chinese from the Japanese juggernaut, sometimes thrusting his swastika armband at Japanese soldiers and flashing his Nazi decoration as a way to assert his authority. Not without reason, Chang calls him “the Oskar Schindler of China.”

BUT if this improbable tale reminds us of the enigmas of good and evil and the infinite mysteries of the human personality, Chang does not bring an analogous sense of complexity to her effort to explain why the Rape of Nanking happened at all. How did military discipline first degenerate into disorder and then slide into such stupefying depravity? Were Japanese actions the result of deliberate high-level policy decisions to terrorize the Chinese? Did the Imperial Japanese Army’s atrocities flow from some moral defect in the Japanese national character? From willful military indoctrination that cultivated race hatred toward the Chinese? From the bent minds of crazed local commanders? From wholesale insubordination by an ill-educated and hard-used soldiery? Or did the whole history and atmosphere of the Yangtze—especially the bloody 1937 campaign from Shanghai up the valley, which culminated in the nightmarish condition of Nanjing on December 13—somehow unbridle the demons in men’s souls?

Chang explores some of these possible explanations, but pursues none of them rigorously. She is clearly tempted to argue that the Rape of Nanking resulted from formal political decisions taken at the highest levels, an argument whose virtually lone proponent is the historian David Bergamini, whom Chang repeatedly cites. In a decidedly eccentric book, Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy (1971), Bergamini tried to lay the blame for Nanjing and much else squarely at the feet of Emperor Hirohito. Chang is obliged to concede that “unfortunately, Bergamini’s book was seriously criticized by reputable historians.” That’s putting it mildly. One reviewer observed that Bergamini was “believable only by violating every canon of acceptable documentation.” The historian Barbara Tuchman said that Bergamini’s thesis “appears to be almost entirely a product of the author’s inference and of his predilection for the sinister explanation.” Yet Chang cannot resist concluding that at the very least “Hirohito must have known about the Rape of Nanking”—far from causing it to happen, but an assertion that represents the unmistakable if meager residue of Chang’s infatuation with Bergamini’s long-discredited thesis.

Elsewhere Chang serves notice that “this book is not intended as a commentary on the Japanese character,” but then immediately plunges into an exploration of the thousand-year-deep roots of the “Japanese identity”–a bloody business, in her estimation, replete with martial competitions, samurai ethics, and the fearsome warriors’ code of bushido, the clear inference being, despite the disclaimer, that “the path to Nanking” runs through the very marrow of Japanese culture.

In the final accounting, this book does a much better job of describing the horrors of Nanjing than of explaining them. Part of that deficiency is owing to Chang’s sources. With but a handful of exceptions, Chang tells her tale from the point of view of the Chinese victims in Nanjing or the Caucasian witnesses in the Safety Zone. Her evidence offers little basis for any insight into the mentality of the perpetrators. Her focus on the events in and around Nanjing, which two students of the Imperial Japanese Army describe as “only one tidemark left by a sea of atrocities inflicted by the Imperial Army on the Chinese,” also compromises her effort to find a comprehensive explanation for Japanese behavior. She offers little that is comparable to the carefully nuanced analysis of the motives behind Nazi brutality that one finds in works like Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men (1992) and Omer Bartov’s The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 (1985), or even to the sustained argument found in Daniel Goldhagen’s one-dimensional but provocative Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1996), which in effect indicted the entire German nation for the crime of the Holocaust. Thus despite Chang’s shocking description of the events in Nanjing, she gives the reader little reason to conclude that what happened there should be compared to the systematic killing of the Holocaust, an episode that was surely the loathsome spawn of Hitler’s purposeful policy—not an incident of war or the mere excrescence of individual cruelty or the result of a poorly disciplined army run amok. The Holocaust entailed a methodical application of all the apparatus of the modern bureaucratic state and all the most advanced technologies of killing to the cold-blooded business of mass murder.

ACCUSATION and outrage, rather than analysis and understanding, are this book’s dominant motifs, and although outrage is a morally necessary response to Nanjing, it is an intellectually insufficient one. To what purpose is Chang’s outrage directed? Nothing less than hauling Japan “before the bar of world opinion” and forcing it to acknowledge its war crimes. She assails both the Western world’s alleged ignorance about the Rape of Nanking and the refusal of several prominent Japanese figures to admit that it even happened. Japan “remains to this day a renegade nation,” she writes, having “managed to avoid the moral judgment of the civilized world that the Germans were made to accept for their actions in this nightmare time.” Western indifference and Japanese denial, she says, amount to “a second rape,” violating the memory of the dead and profaning the claims of history. Why, she asks, is there no equivalent of Schindler’s List for Nanjing? How can a Japanese nationalist like Ishihara Shintaro, the author of The Japan That Can Say No, get away with calling the Rape of Nanking “a lie…. made up by the Chinese”? Chang concludes,

At a minimum, the Japanese government needs to issue an official apology to the victims, pay reparations to the people whose lives were destroyed in the rampage, and, most important, educate future generations of Japanese citizens about the true facts of the massacre.

Her charges are not so much wrong as exaggerated. Similarly, her demands on present-day Japan are less unwarranted than at least partly redundant.

The Western world in fact neither then nor later ignored the Rape of Nanking. American attention was riveted on the lower Yangtze in December of 1937, not least because in the course of their attack Japanese planes sank the U.S. gunboat Panay. Jammed with refugees, the 450-ton, two-stack ship was anchored in the river just above Nanjing and conspicuously identified by huge American flags spread over its fore and aft decks and flying from every mast. Unknown to the American public at the time, the Panay was also not so innocently serving as a radio-communications link between the city’s wasting garrison and the departed Chiang Kai-shek. The uproar in the United States over the sinking subsided only after a series of highly publicized apologies by the Japanese Foreign Minister, the removal from command of the Japanese officer whose flyers were responsible for the sinking, a Japanese naval salute to the people killed in the attack, and the Japanese government’s offer of a $2.2 million indemnity—all actions, not incidentally, that testified both to official remorse and to considerable anxiety within the Japanese government about its ability to control local commanders and individual combatants in China. At the same time, American newspapers carried extensive and lurid coverage of the Rape of Nanking. “Wholesale looting, the violation of women, the murder of civilians, the eviction of Chinese from their homes, mass executions of war prisoners and the impressing of able-bodied men turned Nanking into a city of terror,” F. Tillman Durdin reported beneath banner headlines on the front page of The New York Times on December 18, 1937. The Rape of Nanking later became a staple of wartime anti-Japanese propaganda, especially in Frank Capra’s Battle of China, one of several films in his “Why We Fight” series that were screened for millions of U.S. troops in training camps and millions of civilians in commercial movie theaters throughout the United States.

Nor is Chang entirely correct that Japan has obstinately refused to acknowledge its wartime crimes, let alone express regret for them. That accusation has become a cliché of Western criticism of Japan in recent years, perhaps most notably in Ian Buruma’s study of war memories in Germany and Japan, The Wages of Guilt (1994), whose general thesis might be summarized as “Germany remembers too much, Japan too little.” To be sure, the Japanese Ministry of Education in the early 1980s did try to discourage mentioning Nanjing and other wartime unpleasantries in secondary school textbooks, and a Japanese distributor did (unsuccessfully) attempt in 1988 to cut a thirty-second sequence depicting the Rape of Nanking from Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Last Emperor. And it remains true that reverential visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, honoring Japan’s military dead, including war criminals, are still obligatory for right-wing Japanese politicians. But a vocal Japanese left has long kept the memory of Nanjing alive. It is also true, as John Dower recently pointed out, that on June 9, 1995, the lower house of the Japanese Diet expressed “deep remorse” (fukai hansei) for the suffering that Japan inflicted on other peoples during the Second World War, and that two recent Japanese Prime Ministers have tendered clear apologies (owabi) for Imperial Japan’s offenses against other nations. Dower additionally noted that “popular Japanese discourse concerning … war responsibility … is more diversified than usually is appreciated outside Japan,” and that “the non-Japanese media [have] also generally failed to report that current textbooks approved by the conservative Ministry of Education speak more frankly about Japanese aggression and atrocities than was the case up through the 1980s.”

As atrocities follow war, so history follows atrocities—a lesson that this book doggedly demonstrates. And even in a culture as muted as Japan’s, murder will eventually out. It remains, however, to explain it, as this book only imperfectly does.


Unit 731 complex
Unit 731 complex

Unit 731

General Shirō Ishii was responsible for the operations at Unit 731.
General Shirō Ishii was responsible for the operations at Unit 731.


Japan (China & Korea 1910-45)

Japan began its imperial expansion in the 1890s. By 1910 it had colonized Korea. The Korean language was prohibited; Japanese last names replaced Korean ones; a million Korean men were forced to work in Japan’s mines and factories during the Second World War. In 1931 Japan invaded northeast China. By 1937 the Japanese army controlled most of the country. Chinese deaths – mostly civilians – are estimated at more than 10 million.

Destined to rule
In December 1937 Japanese soldiers entered the walled city of Nanjing and wiped out most of the civilian population. More than 300,000 were killed and 20,000 women raped. Japanese troops followed the ‘three alls’ policy: ‘kill all, burn all, loot all.’ Across Asia 200,000 young girls were kidnapped and forced to serve as ‘sex slaves’ (called ‘comfort women’), including tens of thousands of Korean women. Many Japanese thought of themselves as ‘superior and distinct’ – natural rulers of inferior neighbours.

Truth denied
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was set up by the Allies in 1946 to try Japanese war criminals. But few top leaders were punished. The occupation of Korea was not discussed; ‘crimes against humanity’ were not addressed. Many Japanese remained ignorant of their country’s role in Asia, believing that they were fighting a war of national self-defence. Even today, right-wing nationalists praise war criminals as national heroes. Japanese courts have not convicted a single person for war crimes. Political leaders have issued only grudging apologies. They argue that all reparations were dealt with under post-war peace treaties.

Truth revealed
The ‘sex slave’ story was revealed only in 1991. Japan has offered token compensation, but the ‘comfort women’ are pressing for prosecution and an official apology. Recently, Korean President Roh Moo-hyun called on the Japanese ‘to make the truth of the past known and offer sincere apologies and, if necessary, pay compensation’. Both the Chinese and the Koreans have accused the Japanese of using high-school history textbooks that play down their wartime atrocities. Prime Minister Koizumi’s ceremonial visits to the Yasukuni war monument in Tokyo, where a number of convicted war criminals are buried, have also made Japan’s neighbours suspicious of past apologies.

Denial of the ‘Rape of Nanking’

In 1931 Japan attempted to annex Manchuria and started a war with China. Japan pushed onward through mainland China, eventually conquering Shanghai. Nanking was captured on December 13, 1937. What followed in Nanking was six weeks of torture, mass murder, and mass rapes of Chinese noncombatants by Japanese soldiers. The Nanking Massacre was summarized at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East as follows:

The Japanese soldiers swarmed over the city and committed various atrocities. According to one of the eyewitnesses they were let loose like a barbarian horde to desecrate the city. It was said by eyewitnesses that the city appeared to have fallen into the hands of the Japanese as captured prey, that it had not merely been taken in organized warfare, and that the members of the victorious Japanese Army had set upon the prize to commit unlimited violence. Individual soldiers and small groups of two or three roamed over the city murdering, raping, looting, and burning. There was no discipline whatever. Many soldiers were drunk. Soldiers went through the streets indiscriminately killing Chinese men, women, and children without apparent provocation or excuse until in places the streets and alleys were littered with the bodies of their victims. According to another witness, Chinese were hunted like rabbits, everyone seen to move was shot. At least 12,000 non-combatant Chinese men, women and children met their deaths in these indiscriminate killings during the first two or three days of the Japanese occupation of the city. [26]

There were many witnesses and documents capturing the atmosphere of Nanking in those tragic six weeks. There is no concrete number of Chinese killed during these six weeks just as there is no concrete number to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. Most historians, investigative journalists, and government officials put the range between 200,000 and 430,000 with the average being around 260,000 (this is also the number the International Tribunal of the Far East used). Deniers put the number killed much lower at around 3,000. However, similar to the Holocaust it started to be denied during the massacre and continues to the present, with a pause in denial activities from the 1950s to the 1970s which will be explained soon.

There are more than numerous accounts showing that the Nanking Massacre did occur in the winter of 1937. These sources come from American, German and even Japanese sources. The greatest source was the diary of John Rabe. John Rabe was a German Nazi who lived in Nanking. He was a businessman and has come to be compared to Oskar Schindler because although he was a Nazi, he did not partake in any atrocities and in the case of Nanking, he was the reason why close to 200,000 Chinese were saved. Rabe had written letters to Hitler himself asking him to talk to the Japanese and to stop the mindless murder and rape. However, Rabe’s letters were never answered and upon returning to Germany after the Nanking Massacre he was constantly harassed by the SS and Gestapo. While in Nanking, Rabe was the chairman for the International Committee of the Nanking Safety Zone. Rabe kept a detailed diary that was unearthed by Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking. John Rabe’s diary entry of December 16 is a typical entry as he writes that “the road to Hsiakwan is nothing but a field of corpses strewn with the remains of military equipment….There are executions everywhere, some are being carried out with machine guns outside the barracks of the War Ministry.”[27] Rabe witnessed many atrocities. Since he rarely left the Safety Zone he only witnessed the atrocities within the walls and did not see the mass murder of up to 20,000 Chinese at a time a little distance outside the walls of Nanking. John Rabe also got the impression that the Japanese were trying to hide their atrocities. His December 21 entry says that “there can no longer be any doubt that the Japanese are burning the city, presumably to erase all traces of their looting and thievery.”[28] Rabe believed that the Japanese were attempting to destroy all the evidence of their atrocities and his diaries would later be attacked the same way. Ursula Reinhardt, John Rabe’s granddaughter, had possession of Rabe’s diaries since he had died in 1950. Iris Chang insisted that Reinhardt release them for the Alliance in the Memory of Victims of the Nanking Massacre, an organization who hoped to keep the Nanking Massacre from disappearing. When Reinhardt finally agreed to release the diaries to the public Shao Tzuping, a past president of the Alliance in the Memory of Victims of the Nanking Massacre, had Reinhardt and her husband flown to New York City because he was “fearful that right-wing Japanese might break into her house and destroy the diaries or offer the family large sums of money to buy up the originals.”[29] However, the diaries were successfully copied and donated to the Yale University library.

Miner Bates, as seen earlier, was a history professor at Nanking University and when he finally managed to leave Nanking, he was able to take many documents with him. These including diary entries, letters to the Japanese embassy which was stationed right outside the walls of Nanking, and many other documents. Letters leaving Nanking were censored as is evident by a passage Bates writes stating in a letter to a friend on December 31, 1937, “friends in Shanghai will pick this up from the Consulate-General, and will get away somehow on a foreign boat without censorship.”[30] After writing about the problem with censorship, in the same letter Bates tries to describe the atrocities he has witnessed:

more than ten thousand unarmed persons have been killed in cold blood. Most of my trusted friends would put the figure much higher. These were Chinese soldiers who threw down their arms or surrendered after being trapped; and civilians recklessly shot and bayoneted, often without even the pretext that they were soldiers, including not a few women and children. Able German colleagues put the cases of rape at 20,000….You can scarcely imagine the anguish and terror. Girls as young as 11 and women as old as 53 have been raped on University property alone.[31]

One more American source was Robert Wilson, the last surgeon in Nanking. As a surgeon he saw many of the tortured and half dead Chinese stumble into the hospital. Many cases involved severe burning, numerous bayonet wounds, and many were rape victims. The short entries he jotted down in his diary gives further evidence of what was going on:

December 15: The slaughter of civilians is appalling. I could go on for pages telling of cases of rape and brutality almost beyond belief.
December 18: Today marks the 6th day of modern Dante’s Inferno, written in huge letters with blood and rape. Murder by the wholesale and rapes by the thousands of cases. There seems to be no stop to the ferocity, lust and stavism of the brutes. At first I tried to be pleasant to them to avoid arousing their ire, but the smile has gradually worn off and my stare is fully as cool and fishy s theirs.[32]

The evidence John Rabe, Miner Bates, and Robert Wilson provide is more than adequate to show the mass murder of the Chinese by the Japanese. To further their case, Rabe and Bates also included many pictures in their diaries and letters that cannot be put into words. However, they were not the only people to see this atrocious event.

However, as further proof of the Nanking Massacre, Japanese journalists also wrote their reactions to the horrific scenes they witnessed. These refute the idea of the massacre being Western propaganda against the Japanese nation. Imai Masatake, a military correspondent puts it best when he writes:

On Hsiakwan wharves, there was the dark silhouette of a mountain made of dead bodies. About fifty to one hundred people were toiling there, dragging bodies from the mountain of corpses and throwing them into the Yangtze River. The bodies dripped blood, some of them still alive and moaning weakly, their limbs twitching. The laborers were busy working in total silence, as in a pantomime…. A Japanese officer at the scene estimated that 20,000 persons had been executed.[33]

The mass rapes were also talked about as described by Azuma Shiro, a soldier: “we took turns raping them. It would be all right if we only raped them. I shouldn’t say all right. But we always stabbed and killed them. Because dead bodies don’t talk.”[34] It was not only soldiers that took place in the murders and rapes but officers and generals as well. The higher officers “not only urged soldiers to commit gang rape in the city but warned them to dispose of the women afterwards to eliminate evidence of the crime.”[35] The officers knew it would be bad publicity if word of the way the Japanese were treating the Chinese got out of Nanking. Due to this many raped women were killed afterwards simply to cover up. Now that it is evident of the Japanese atrocities in Nanking, it is necessary to look into the denial movement of the Nanking Massacre.

Matsui Iwane, one of the major three generals in the Nanking expedition, was not present when Nanking was taken. He had come under sickness from tuberculosis and was weak when he arrived to Nanking on December 17, 1937 since he was not fully recovered. He had come to Nanking for a ceremonial parade and “he rode down a boulevard that was carefully cleared of dead bodies and flanked by tens of thousands of cheering soldiers.”[36] Iwane was deeply involved in the Buddhist religion and was seen as the most moral general of the Japanese army. He also held the army up to high standards that he believed all Japanese should live be. It was because of this that the path Iwane would take was cleared away and he was left in the dark of the atrocities that had been taken place and would continue to take place when he left. However, Iwane soon realized the extent to which the mindless murder, rape, and looting went and gave a speech to the press on December 18 which stated, “I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought a most grievous effect on this city. When I think of the feelings and sentiments of many of my Chinese friends who have fled from Nanking and of the future of the two countries, I cannot but feel depressed. I am very lonely and can never get in a mood to rejoice about this victory.”[37] I wane then transferred all unnecessary troops out of the city. However, before Iwane could do anything else he was sent to Shanghai, where he upset Japanese officials by giving a statement to the New York Times that showed Japan in a negative light. However, attempting to hide the massacre from Iwane only the first step of denial; Japan also led a large propaganda war attempting to alleviate the blame from them.

Instead of disciplining their troops the Japanese officials decided to use propaganda and hide it. Starting on December 27, the Japanese started giving tours of the city to Japanese civilians who was ferried in from Shanghai. George Fitch, secretary of the YMCA in Nanking comments, “Carefully they were herded through the few streets now cleared of corpses….Graciously they passed sweets to Chinese children and patted their frightened heads…tremendously please with themselves, also with Japan’s wonderful victory, but of course they hear nothing of the real truth – nor does the rest of the world, I suppose.”[38] The Japanese were able to convince the Japanese public that everything in Nanking was in good order by clearing a few streets of bodies only showing those parts of the city. The Japanese also tried to spread the lie that it was not the Japanese that had committed such atrocities but soldiers of Chiang Kai-shek. Lewis Smythe, an American missionary and sociology professor at the University of Nanking, wrote in a letter on March 8, 1938, “Now the latest is from the Japanese paper that they found eleven Chinese armed robbers who were to blame for it all!”[39] With this elaborate story the Japanese tried to blame the entire six week massacre on eleven Chinese robbers who looted everything, killed hundreds of thousands of people and raped close to 80,000 women. In addition to this the Japanese also dropped leaflets over Nanking and the surrounding areas from planes that blamed the brutal treatment of civilians on certain Chinese soldiers, and exonerated the Japanese with ideas that the Japanese were fighting back against these aggressors, and trying to feed all the civilians of the Nanking area. There is one last example of denial during the Massacre that is reminiscent of the Holocaust.

In April 1939, after the brutal actions of the Japanese had calmed, a Japanese research facility was opened. It was called Ei 1644 and hoped to conduct experiments on epidemics by using Chinese as human guinea pigs. This paper was published on the UCSB Hist 133p website. However, the facility was shrouded in secrecy and besides being covered by a large brick wall and constantly being patrolled by guards, scientists were “ordered never to mention Ei 1644 in their letters back to Japan.”[40] The facility was discovered when a small group of scientists confessed after being interrogated at the International Military Tribunal of the Far East. The denial continued after the war had ended.

Shortly after the Sino-Japanese War, while the Japanese were fighting the Allies Ishikawa Tatsuzo came out with his book Living Soldiers, which came out in installments. It tells the story of a unit of the Japanese army, making its way through China. It was banned from Japan and Tanaka Masaaki, a soldier in the Sino-Japanese War, and an adamant denier of the Nanking Massacre states the reasons it was denied:

1) Scenes in which Japanese soldiers brutally and indiscriminately slaughter enemy soldiers and noncombatants;
2) Scenes that show Japanese soldiers looting in the South China battle zone, and create the impression that looting is an integral part of military policy;
3) Scenes in which Japanese soldiers assault Chinese noncombatants while robbing them;
4) Scenes in which Japanese soldiers violently assault Chinese women and girls in order to satisfy their sexual desires.[41]

Japan continued denying the Nanking Massacre in a similar fashion for the next ten years; following the ideas of using propaganda against the rest of the world, and blatantly denying that Japanese soldiers had done anything wrong.

Throughout the time between the end of the war and the 1950s the Ministry of Education in Japan gradually gained more power over the school system until in 1955 when it banned one third of the text books in use. The Ministry of Education “demanded that textbooks avoid tough criticism of Japan’s role in the Pacific War, and the government regarded as inappropriate any description of Japan as invading China.”[42] Japan simply eliminated the whole Sino-Japanese War from their school textbooks and refused to teach the children of Japan their true history. This textbook distortion remained in effect for twenty years, and the Nanking Massacre simply disappeared, until it was attacked in the 1970s, which also saw the rise of the denial movement.

In 1972 Honda Katsuchi, a Japanese investigative journalist, visited Nanking and decided to research the Nanking Massacre from the point of view as the victims, not as the aggressors. In doing this he uncovered an incident from December 1937, when two lieutenants had a killing contest to see who could be the first to decapitate one hundred Chinese people. Iris Chang mentions the incident in her book but does not elaborate very much. In the end, the two lieutenants called it a tie at 105 and 106 because neither was sure at the exact time they had killed their hundredth victim. Honda was refuted by Yamamoto Shichihei who claimed that the story fraudulent because “Honda did not initially disclose the names of the two lieutenants involved.”[43] However, upon further searching Honda stated that the reason was because he did not want to incriminate the two lieutenants or their families. This was the coming of denial of the Nanjing Massacre.

The next large denial case was the issue with the Japanese school textbooks. They had been censored back in 1950 and were now being challenged. Ienaga Saburo, a Japanese historian, sued the courts for distorting history and not mentioning the massacre. The Nanking Massacre “was still absent from elementary school textbooks [but] junior high school textbooks such as those published by Nihon shoseki and Kyōiku Shuppan in 1975, for instance, mentioned that forty-two thousand Chinese residents, including women and children, were killed during the Massacre.”[44] Two other textbooks mentioned the massacre but the four other textbooks in use in Japan did not mention it all. By 1978 the Ministry of Education was able to remove the numbers killed out of all text books in use. When Ienaga was in court “extremists fired off death threats to the plaintiff attorneys, the judge, and Ienaga himself.”[45] Honda and Ienaga had tried to get the truth out about the Nanking Massacre but in doing so touched on the larger subject of accepting war guilt as victimizers.

The 1980s saw a rise in conservatism in Japan and textbooks once again came under scrutiny. Once again the government tried to tone down the wording of school textbooks. A few examples of this are “‘Japan’s aggression in China’ was replaced with ‘Japan’s occupation of Manchuria’.”[46] Also, “‘the Meiji government’s repeated wars and aggressions’ was toned down to ‘the Meiji government’s continued expansion policy’.”[47] Ian Buruma, a writer, furthers shows this be stating that “all it says in a typical textbook [in 1982] for high school students is: ‘In December [1937] Japanese troops occupied Nanking’.”[48] As it can be seen from numerous accounts the textbooks used in Japan were highly censored and were in fact denying the Nanking Massacre, a product of the Ministry of Education officials. However, by the mid 1980s a new wave of so called revisionists had emerged. Among there were Watanabe Shōichi, an English professor, Suzuki Akira, a writer reemerged, and the most famous was the ex soldier turned denier Tanaka Masaaki, who would lead the denial movement in Japan. The pinnacle of Masaaki’s work was his book titled What Really Happened in Nanking: the Refutation of a Common Myth. In it he takes popular knowledge of the Nanking Massacre and attempts to refute it. He is not very successful (as seen earlier) and suffers from mistakes such as: illogical conclusions, exploiting single facts into the entire massacre, and blatant denial. In 1986 Hora Tomio, a writer, wrote The Proof of the Nanjing Massacre and refuted Masaaki’s major arguments and “pointed out Tanaka’s mistakes, misinterpretations, and distortions of historical evidence.”[49] One last example of government censorship and denial can be seen in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Last Emperor (1987). In this film:

there are pictures, some taken by Japanese photographers and some by Chinese or foreign witness, of Chinese men being used for bayonet practice, of people being machine gunned into open pits, of terrified women, huddling naked in rice paddies, trying to shield their private parts, of Japanese soldiers chipping off heads with their long swords, of corpses piled high on the banks of the Yangtze Ricer, and of dead women with bamboo sticks rammed up their vaginas.[50]

However, upon its release in Japan the Japanese distributors Shochiku Fuji deleted these scenes of the Japanese atrocities and later placed the blame on the British by saying they wanted the scenes taken out. One reason why the scenes could have been taken out was to avoid bad publicity for the Japanese. Extreme right wing, ultranationalists, groups (the same ones who had censored the textbooks) could be very intimidating. In Japan “to express true opinions about the Sino-Japanese War could be – and continues to be – career threatening, and even life threatening. (In 1990 a gunman shot Motoshima Hitoshi, mayor of Nagasaki, in the chest for saying that Emperor Horohito bore some responsibility for World War Two).”[51]

The 1990s finally saw a change in the blatant denial of history. In 1990 Emperor Horohito died; he was the final high ranking official of the Sino-Japanese War. Many people had earlier expressed discontent with the fact that Horohito had never been charged with any responsibility to the war. Since the death of Horohito more changes have come over Japan than in the decades before. Numerous soldiers are expressing remorse, or at least acknowledging the events they participated in. One soldier, Nagatomi Hakudo said in an interview:

I remember being driven in a truck along a path that had been cleared through piles of thousands and thousands of slaughtered bodies. Wild dogs were gnawing at the dead flesh as we stepped and pulled a group of Chinese prisoners out of the back. Then the Japanese officer proposed a test of my courage. He unsheathed his sword, spat on it, and with a sudden mighty swing he brought it down on the beck of a Chinese boy cowering before us. The head was cut clean off and tumbled away on the groups as the body slumped forwards, blood spurting in two great gushing fountains fro the neck. The officer suggested I take the head home as a souvenir. I remember smiling proudly as I took his sword and began killing people.[52]

Although after the war there had been a few soldiers who had talked about what happened, there was a giant leap in interviews, testimonies, and confessions after Horohito’s death. Also, as of April 1997 all seven textbooks used in Japan talked about the Nanking Massacre. These upset many revisionists as they called it a distortion of truth and anti-Japanese propaganda. However, although Japan is making progress it is a very slow progress. For every step Japan takes forward, something tries to pull her down. In 1997, the textbooks were finally uncensored and the truth told, marking an incredible leap forward on the part of Japan, but in response a group of seventy eight deniers formed a group to object to the textbooks and to take out the Nanking Massacre.

As seen, denial is a part of the history of any genocide as can be seen in the quick references to Rwanda and Armenia, followed by the in depth researching of the Holocaust and Nanking. Although the Holocaust is denied by mostly anti-Semitic people, the Nanking Massacre is mostly denied by Japanese government officials and right wing Japanese political parties. However, deniers of both like to see their country of choice in a positive light, whether it be Germany or Japan. Denial, as seen in the two examples used, originated during the genocide; 1944 in the case of the Holocaust and 1937 in the case of the Nanking Massacre and continues to the present. Both denial groups have surges and drops, such as the surge in the late 1970s in Holocaust denial with the founding of the Institute of Historical Review or the drop in the 1960s of the Nanking Massacre with completely censored textbooks. However, in the end both atrocities are being denied and it is a job as a historian to tell the truth and the deniers’ claims must be met and refuted so that one day when there are no survivors of the Holocaust of the Nanking Massacre, one can look back and see an accurate account of what happened during this ghastly times.


[26] Pritchard. The Tokyo War Crimes Trial volume 20, pages 49604-5 as cited in Joshua Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography. (University of California Press: Los Angeles, 2000) page 70-71.

[27] John Rabe. The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe. Edited by Erwin Wickert. (Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1998) page 76-76.

[28] Rabe. The Good Man of Nanking. page 84.

[29] Change. The Rape of Nanking. page 195.

[30] Zhang Kaiyuan. Eyewitnesses to Massacre. Armonk, NY: East Gate Books, 2001. page 14.

[31] Zhang Kaiyuan. Eyewitnesses to Massacre. page 14.

[32] Ibid. December 15 and 18, 1937 as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 126.

[33] Imai Masatake. “Japanese Aggression Troops’ Atrocities in China” China Military Science Institute. 1986 page 143 as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 47.

[34] Azuma Shiro. In the Name of the Emperor as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 49.

[35] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 50.

[36] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 50.

[37] Okada Takashi. Testimony from International Military Tribunal of the Far Eat. page 32,738 as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 51.

[38] George Fitch. George Fitch’s Diary reprinted in Readers Digest as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 150.

[39] Lewis Smythe. “Letter to Friends” as cited in Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 151.

[40] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 164.

[41] Tanaka Masaaki. What Really Happened in Nanking: The Refutation of a Common Myth. (Sekai Shuppan Inc.: Tokyo, 2000) page 94.

[42] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 76.

[43] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 81.

[44] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 84.

[45] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. page 207.

[46] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 85.

[47] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 85.

[48] Ian Buruma. The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan. (Farrar Straus Giroux: New York, 1994) page 114.

[49] Fogel. The Nanjing Massacre. page 90.

[50] Buruma. The Wages of Guilt. Page 113.

[51] Chang. The Rape of Nannking. Page 12.

[52] Chang. The Rape of Nanking. Page 59.


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