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War Crimes: Revisiting the Rape of Nanking and Japanese War Crimes

Japanese Soldiers at Work in Nanking

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am starting to catch up a bit about other non-German and non-American atrocities committed in the name of war and in the name of race hatred and the need for supposedly “superior races” to commit war crimes in the name of their ideology. My specialties in history are modern German history, World War Two, and the American Civil War beginning with the antebellum era, the war, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement.

I have done some study of the Turkish Armenian Genocide, and the war crimes committed by the Japanese before and during the Second World War. I have written some about the Japanese Rape of Nanking but have only lightly touched on their other crimes against humanity and the lack of thoroughness of the war crimes trials held against Japanese leaders as compared the various war crimes trials involving German leaders. Over the coming weeks and months I will be writing about at least some of the Japanese War crimes.

I am going to restart than process by reposting an article regarding the Rape of Nanking, one of many brutal Japanese atrocities against the Chines and other Asian peoples that the Japanese committed, not to mention the atrocities that they committed against Allied POWs who they believed had given up their honor by surrendering. Now the Japanese war crimes were different from those of the Nazis, but they were just as brutal and evil as those committed by the Nazis, the Soviets, the American Slave culture, and the extermination of the Native American nations, or so many other mass slaughters or genocides. The complicity of the Japanese Royal family, military, and industrial elites is highly documented, but few were ever prosecuted, much less convicted of their crimes. To this day a culture of denial and silence rules in Japan, while the Germans, especially since the 1970s have become leaders in facing the guilt of their ancestors. In fact, often more than any nation, the Germans do more to remember the genocides committed by Americans. Historical memory can be a bitch to face, and especially with the ascendancy of President Trump, there are many Americans not only willing to ignore, but to exalt in them and to back actions by the Trump Administration that can only end in death and criminal actions that Justice Robert Jackson, who organized the Nuremberg Trials and served as the chief American prosecutor in the Major War Crimes Trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” 

What I find interesting is the amount of hate mail I get from Japanese Nationalists and revisionists. I get far more from them than from neo-Nazis or neo-Confederates.

So here we go again.

The historical controversy regarding the “rape” of Nanking in 1937 by the Japanese Army is hotly debated.[1] The massacres occurred in the initial occupation of the city and the two months following in mid December 1937.  The initial reaction to the actions of the Japanese was reported by western journalists and even a German Nazi Party member by the name of John Rabe who assisted in protecting Chinese during the massacre and reported it on his return to Germany.The action shocked many in the west and helped cement the image of the Japanese being a brutal race in the west.

Massacre Victims at Nanking

The controversy’s visibility has been raised since the 1997 publication of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking. However, with few exceptions the incident had received little attention by Western historians until Chang’s book was published. The reason for this was  that  China was a sideshow for for the United States and Britain throughout much of the war. When Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists were overthrown by the Communists in 1948 the incident disappeared from view in the United States.   The  United States government  reacted to the overthrow of Chaing by helping to rebuild Japan and rehabilitate the Japanese while opposing the Chinese Communists.  In fact it was only “after the Cold War was the Rape of Nanking Openly discussed.”[2]

Bodies of Children Killed by the Japanese at Nanking

Chang’s book was instrumental as it brought new attention to the actions of the Japanese Army in the slaughter of Prisoners of War and civilians following the occupation of the city.  Even as Chang’s work was published “revisionist” works began to appear in the 1980s which have either denied the atrocities, sought to minimize numbers killed by Japanese Forces or rationalized the them began to appear in Japan.  The revisionists were led by Masaaki Tanaka who had served as an aide to General Matsui Iwane the commander of Japanese forces at Nanking.  Tanaka denied the atrocities outright calling them “fabrications” casting doubt upon numbers in the trial as “propaganda.” He eventually joined in a lawsuit against the Japanese Ministry of Education to remove the words “aggression” and “Nanjing massacre” from textbooks, a lawsuit which was dismissed but was influential to other revisionists and Japanese nationalist politicians and publishers.[3]

             Japanese Officer Preparing to Execute Man in Hospital

Most early accounts of the occupation and war crimes have used a number of 200,000 to 300,000 victims based upon the numbers provided during the War Crimes Trials of 1946.[4] Unlike the numbers of victims of the Nazi Holocaust the numbers are less accurate.  Authors who maintain the massacres such as Chang and others such as Japanese military historian Mashario Yamamoto who admits Japanese wrongdoing and excess but challenges the numbers use the same statistical sources to make their arguments.  Chang not only affirms the original numbers but extrapolates that even more may have been killed as a result of the disposal of bodies in the Yangtze River rather than in mass graves away from the city as well as the failure of survivors to report family member deaths to the Chinese authorities.[5] She also notes contemporary Chinese scholars who suggest even higher numbers.

Prince Asaka, Granduncle of Emperor Hirohito Commanded Troops at Nanking

Herbert Bix discusses Japanese knowledge of the atrocities in detail up and down the chain of command including Prince Asaka, granduncle of Emperor Hirohito who commanded troops in Nanking, the military and Foreign Office, and likely even Hirohito himself.[6]

German National and Nazi Party Member John Rabe Protected Chinese at Nanking and Reported His Experience to the German Government.  He is known as “The Good Man of Nanking”

The publication of German citizen and witness to the massacres John Rabe’s diaries in 2000, The Good Man of Nanking, provided an additional first hand account by a westerner who had the unique perspective of being from Japan’s ally Nazi Germany.  His accounts buttress the arguments of those like Chang who seek to inform the world about the size and scope of Japanese atrocities in Nanking.

A Field of Skulls at Nanking

Yamamoto who is a military historian by trade and is viewed as a “centrist” in the debate, places the massacres in the context of Japanese military operations beginning with the fall of Shanghai up to the capture of Nanking. Yamamoto criticizes those who deny the massacres but settles on a far lower number of deaths, questioning the numbers used at the War Crimes Trials. He blames some on the Chinese Army[7] and explains many others away in the context of operations to eliminate resistance by Chinese soldiers and police who had remained in the city in civilian clothes. He  claims that  “the Japanese military leadership decided to launch the campaign to hunt down Chinese soldiers in the suburban areas because a substantial number of Chinese soldiers were still hiding in such areas and posing a constant threat to the Japanese.”[8] David Barrett in his review of the Yamamoto’s work notes that Yamamoto believes that “there were numerous atrocities, but no massacre….”[9] Yoshihisa Tak Mastusaka notes that while a centrist Yamamoto’s work’s “emphasis on precedents in the history of warfare reflects an underlying apologist tone that informs much of the book.”[10] Revisionist work also criticizes the trials surrounding Nanking and other Japanese atrocities.  An example of such a work is Tim Maga’s Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials which is critiqued by historian Richard Minear as “having a weak grasp of legal issues” and “factual errors too numerous to list.”[11] Such is a recurrent theme in revisionist scholarship, the attempt to mitigate or minimize the scale of the atrocities, to cast doubt upon sources and motivations of their proponents or sources, to use questionable sources themselves or to attribute them to out of control soldiers, the fog of war and minimize command knowledge as does Yamamoto. Politics is often a key motivating factor behind revisionist work.

Iris Chang Would Later Commit Suicide

Chang would never be the same after researching and writing the Rape of Nanking. Traumatized by what she had learned and burdened by the weight of what she had taken on she killed herself on November 9th 2004.

Iconic Photo of Japanese Acts in China: A Wounded Child at Shanghai Station

“Revisionist” history will almost certainly remain with us, so long as people study the past.  However one has to be careful in labeling a divergent view of a historical subject as necessarily revisionist.  There are occasions when new evidence arises and a “new” or “revisionist” work may actually disprove previous conclusions regarding historic events or persons.  This might occur when what we know about a subject comes from a single or limited number of sources who themselves were limited in what they had available for research and new evidence comes to light. At the same time where numerous sources from diverse points of view attest to the genuineness of an event, the revisionist’s theses should be themselves scrutinized based on evidence presented as well as their political, ideological or racial motivations.  While one does not want to silence voices of opposition to prevailing beliefs one has to be careful in examining their claims, especially when they arise in the context of political or ideological conflicts.

Notes 


[1] Bix, Herbert P. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2000. pp.333-334. Bix does a good job explaining the number of victims of the incident drawing on Chinese and Japanese sources.

[2] Kreuter, Gretchen. The Forgotten Holocaust in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March-April 1998 p.66

[3] Fogel, Joshua A. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, University of California Press, Berkley CA 2000, pp.87-89

[4] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-45. Random House, New York, NY 1970 pp. 50-51. Toland in his brief discussion of the massacres notes both the civilian casualty figures and figures for male citizens of military age who were slaughtered.  Toland also notes the large numbers of women raped by Japanese soldiers.

[5] Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II Penguin Books, New York, NY 1997 pp.102-103. Chang has been criticized by some historians in a number of ways including that she was not a historian, that she compares the atrocities to the Nazi Holocaust and her emotional attachment to the subject which may have been a contributing factor in her 2004 suicide.

[6] Bix. p.336

[7] Yamamoto, Masahiro. The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. Praeger Publishers an imprint of the Greenwood Group, Westport, CT 2000. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/docDetail.action?docID=10018001&p00=nanking  p.83

[8] Ibid. p.92.

[9] Barrett, David P.  Review of The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity by Masashiro Yamamoto Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’Histoire XXXVIII, April/Avril 2003 p.170

[10] Mastusaka, Yoshihisa Tak.  Review of The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity by Masashiro Yamamoto American Historical Review, April 2002 p.525

[11] Minear, Richard. Review of Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials by Tim Mata  American Historical Review. April 2002 p.526

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Filed under crime, History, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, White nationalism, world war two in the pacific

What Does it take to Become a War Criminal? 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been writing about the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the fact that senior leaders of the Wehrmacht actively cooperated with the crimes of the Nazi regime against the Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and Soviet citizens. I have pointed out that Hitler’s ideology of the racial superiority of his Aryan Master Race and the corresponding view that the Jews and Slavs were untermenschen or subhuman justified the most extreme measures that the Nazis used to kill millions of innocent people through extermination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination. 

There was a common myth after the Second World War that the regular German Army, the Wehrmacht, fought an honorable and clean war while the criminal actions of war crimes and genocide were the fault of Hitler, the Nazi Party, and the SS. It was a comforting myth because it allowed a great number of men who agreed with Hitler’s policies, and often assisted in them to maintain a fiction of honor and respectability. While for the most part the German Army in the West fought according to international norms of conduct, it was a different matter on the Easter Front, where following Hitler’s lead the Wehrmacht from its senior officers in down was often at the tip of the spear in enforcing Hitler’s racial and ideological war. 


                                                                                       Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 

This came form the top. In addition to the Commissar order, also known as the Criminal Order, Field Marshal Keitel offered this directive to units fighting on the Easter Front:

“In view of the vast size of the conquered territories in the East, the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if instead of punishing resistance by sentencing the guilty in a court of law, the occupying forces spread such terror as is likely, by its mere existence, to crush every will to resist amongst the population.

The commanders concerned, together with all available troops, should be made responsible for maintaining peace within their areas. The commanders must find the means of keeping order within their areas, not by demanding more security forces, but by applying suitable drastic measures.”

                                                                                  Field Marshal Walter Von Reichenau 

Field Marshal Walter Reichenau issued what is something’s known as the Severity Order to his 6th Army which was part of Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Von Rundstedt, who was not a Nazi and who maintained his reputation after the war expressed his “complete agreement” with it and urged other subordinates to issue similar orders. 

“The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization. … In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception. … For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” 

An order was issued by General Erich Von Manstein’s Eleventh Army in November 1941 which stated in part:

“Jewry constitutes the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remainder of the Red Armed Forces which is still fighting, and the Red leadership. More strongly than in Europe it holds all the key positions in the political leadership and administration, controls commerce and trades, and further forms the nucleus for all unrest and possible uprisings.

The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all. Never again must it encroach upon our European living space.

The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties’ which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people…

The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. Nevertheless nothing which the homeland has sacrificed itself to contribute may, out of a misguided sense of humanity, be given to prisoners or to the population unless they are in the service of the German Wehrmacht.

The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevist terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews…

Manstein claimed that he did not remember the order at his trial and that he sought to ensure that his troops did not engage in conduct not fitting of the honor of soldiers. He included the following in the order: “Severest action to be taken: against despotism and self-seeking; against lawlessness and lack of discipline; against every transgression of the honor of a soldier.”

In his defense at Nuremberg Manstien attempted to mitigate the damning words of the order. He explained that “I do want to point out to you that if it says here that the system must be exterminated, then that is extermination of the Bolshevik system, but not the extermination of human beings.” Despite Manstein’s clarification of what he meant in the order it would be hard for soldiers and commanders receiving the order as written could hardly have been expect not to interpret it literally. Likewise his order mentions the intentional starvation of Soviet citizens and harsh invectives against the Jews. 

Like Von Rundstedt, Manstein too would be rehabilitated and for the most part his complicity in Hitler’s racial and ideological war forgotten. 


There are many other examples of German Army commanders at various levels issuing orders similar to Von Reichenau and Von Manstein as well as accounts of Wehrmacht units cooperating with the Einsatzgruppen in various mass extermination actions against the Jews, including the action at Babi Yar. In many cases the cooperation was quite close as evidenced by the report of the commander of Einsatzgruppe C to Berlin on November 3rd 1941:

In a great number of cases, it happened that the support of the Einsatzkommandos was requested by the fighting troops. Advance detachments of the Einsatzgruppe also participated in every large military action. They entered newly captured localities side by side with the fighting troops. Thus, in all cases, the utmost support was given. For example, in this connection, it is worth mentioning the participation in the capture of Zhitomir, where the first tanks entering the city were immediately followed by three cars of Einsatzkommando 4a.

As a result of the successful work of the Einsatzgruppe, the Security Police is also held in high regard, in particular by the HQ of the German Army. The liaison officers stationed in Army HQ are loyally briefed of all military operations, and, besides, they receive the utmost cooperation. The Commander of the 6th Army, Generalfeldmarschall von Richenau, has repeatedly praised the work of the Einsatzkommandos and, accordingly, supported the interests of the SD with his staff.

It is true that in some cases individual Wehrmacht officers refused to cooperate with the Einsatzgruppen in their operational areas, but without the cooperation of the Wehrmacht the extermination campaigns against the Jews and other Soviet citizens could not have been successful. 

                                                                                                 The Rape of Nanking 

One has to ask what it takes for otherwise ordinary and law abiding people to carry out crimes of such magnitude. I do believe that the answer is found in the racial ideology that posits certain races as being less than human. The examples of such belief in action litter human history and are not limited to the Germans of the Nazi era. The disturbing thing as that the men who perpetrated the Nazi crimes against humanity and genocide were not unique. The actions of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia to include the Rape of Nanking and their Unit 731; the American genocide committed against the Native American tribes and the enslavement of Blacks; the extermination of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings of Bosnians by Bosnian Serbs,  the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks, and far too many more examples show this to be the case. 

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. 



There is a scene in the movie Nuremberg in which an American psychologist named Gustave Gilbert questions the commandant of Auschwitz. When he asks the commandant if he felt guilty for the extermination of the Jews in his camp the commandant said “does a rat catcher feel guilty for killing rats.” Thereafter Gilbert confronts Herman Goering pointedly asking the number two Nazi “A rat catcher catching rats”. Is that the kind of thinking it takes to carry out state sanctioned mass murder? Not just blind obedience but also a belief that your victims are not human?” 

Goering replies: Let me ask you this. What was Hiroshima? Was it not your medical experiment? Would Americans have dropped bombs as easily on Germany as it did upon Japan killing as many civilians as possible? I think not. To an American sensibility, a Caucasian child is considerably more human than a Japanese child…. 

What about the negro officers in your own army? Are they not allowed to command troops in combat? Can they sit on the same buses as the whites? The segregation laws in your country and the anti Semitic laws in mine, are they not a difference of degree? 

The tragic thing is that while Gilbert was certainly correct in his question to Goering, Goering was also right. For all that is good about America there is a persistent strain of this kind of thinking which deems other people, especially non-white people as inferior racially, culturally, and intellectually. Over the decades we like to think that we have become better but the underlying attitudes are still present today, sometimes in plain view, but often just under our veneer of civility and good manners, but what maintains that civility is quite fragile. In his history of Auschwitz British historian Laurence Rees wrote:

“human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The German military officers who took part in the campaign in the East were terrifyingly normal. They were raised in an advanced society, highly cultured, well educated, and raised in the cradle of Protestantism. Yet many of them became willing participants in crimes of their nation that are unimaginable. But the fact is that the character of nations can be as fragile as that if individuals. As Americans we like to think that we are different but our history often belies this, even our military history and this is part of our conundrum. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the struggle:

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

When I taught ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College I challenged my students to deal with these kinds of questions. They are not easy and they require that we look into the darkest reaches of our hearts to see what we will do when we are confronted with choices to obey orders that go against the values of the institution but may reflect the more troubling aspects of our culture. Some of these men and women I am sure understood and will not break under pressure, but I am not so sure about others, and I worry about them in the crisis. The fact is we are only as good as we are in the crisis. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote something that we should not discount when asking the question about how ordinary men become war criminals:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

This is something that we most ponder because it would not take much in our present day where the old ethnic race hatreds, religious hatreds, and resurgent nationalism are again raising their head not only in our own country, but around the world. I will address this in the recent American context next week. So until tomorrow, when I publish something more personal and unrelated to this subject.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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