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Civilization is Tissue Thin: The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

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. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“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?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

nankino-masakra-1

Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

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The Islamic State

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide 

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“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.”

 

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, culture, ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Rape of Nanking at 80

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty years ago Japanese Army troops under the command of Lieutenant General Asaka Yasuhiko launched an attack on the Nationalist Chinese defenders of the city of Nanking. That attack and the subsequent occupation led to one of the most heinous displays of inhumanity and war crimes in modern history. As a single event it ranks as high or higher than any single event directed at one city during the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Not long after I started this blog I wrote an article on the Rape of Nanking. The event which occurred in 1937 was one of the most extensively documented war crimes in modern history. But despite that there are many, especially those of Japanese political right who deny that the event ever occurred and if if atrocities happened in Nanking it was the Chinese government which carried them out. It is amazing that I still get comments from such people on that original article. The critics are war crime deniers who are no better than Holocaust deniers.

Since many of my newer readers might have never seen that article I am re-posting it today.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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 actions of the Japanese Army 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 was 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 discussed 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 ethics, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, world war two in the pacific

Revisiting the Rape of Nanking

nanking_massacre_1

Japanese Soldiers using Chinese Prisoners for Bayonet Practice

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Not long after I started this blog I wrote an article on the Rape of Nanking. The event which occurred in 1937 was one of the most extensively documented war crimes in modern history. But despite that there are many, especially those of Japanese political right who deny that the event ever occurred and if if atrocities happened in Nanking it was the Chinese government which carried them out. It is amazing that I still get comments from such people on that original article.

Since many of my newer readers might have never seen that article I am re-posting it today. I am doing some more reading on the subject and will probably revisit it again sometime in the next few months.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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 History, Military, war crimes, world war two in the pacific

Indifference: the Epitome of All Evil

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week we finished our first class of the year at the Staff College where I teach. In my ethics elective we touched on a number of very difficult subjects, my students gave presentations about the American internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two, the War with Mexico, where the United States according to Ulysses Grant was “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation;” as well as several other deeply uncomfortable subjects which due to our academic non-attribution policy I do not even mention here.

The class was probably the best that I have taught in my two years at the college, the students were amazing, and all showed a tremendous capacity for wrestling with difficult subjects and were capable of deep self-reflection, something that should encourage anyone when they think about the future of our military leadership. Our final class was spend watching a very disconcerting movie called Conspiracy which is about the Wansee Conference which coordinated the Nazi Final Solution against the Jews. It is actually one of the most terrifying movies I have ever seen, mainly because it deals government officials meeting in a very businesslike fashion to condemn millions to death around a conference table while eating the finest food and drink.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

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. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking, “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?”

Last week I took a break from my Gettysburg text and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers wills only get worse as younger people are far more likely to believe that the Holocaust is a myth or or exaggerated.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of is a part of our human condition. The traces of evil that are on display in those places are present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack of awareness about, or even the denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathetic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin; and I believe that the indifference of so many people, especially those of great power and influence to crimes against humanity, to the suffering of people, epitomizes the evil of our day even more than the overt acts of the terrorists and governments committing them. 

That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. Nor can we allow ourselves to be indifferent to them.

That is why that I must continue to write and teach.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under ethics, History, nazi germany, News and current events

Success, Depression & Empathy

chicken of depression

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just finished reading a biography of the late Iris Chang, who wrote the book The Rape of Nanking and A History of the Chinese in America. She was a brilliant, caring, and passionate women who had a major depressive crash and ended up committing suicide. She wrote her mother about her feelings when Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts died, the night before the final Sunday comic came out. She wrote her mom:

Dear Mom,

I think it was Charles Schulz’s pessimism – as well as his ability to understand human failure, insecurity, heartbreak – that made millions love Peanuts.

You’re absolutely right, Schulz had no reason whatsoever to be depressed, after achieving wealth and fame at such an early age. But depression is not rational. Perhaps he did have a mental problem, or some chemically induced condition. But whatever it was, it prevented him from losing touch with the underdogs of the world.

It’s strange, but I still feel a void in my heart after Schulz’s death – even though I never knew him and didn’t particularly like him after meeting him in person, It made me wonder, what is the secret to Schulz’s magical appeal?

The answer, I believe, is simple. Schulz understands the heart of a loser. He captures those moments in life when we fell utterly unloved, unwanted, and alone. And all of us – no matter how successful- have felt like losers at some point in life.

Love, Iris

(From The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and After The Rape of Nanking, a memoir by Ying-Ying Chang, Pegasus Books, New York, 2013)

The book intrigued me and I was drawn to Iris’s story, and was so impressed with her as a person, and having suffered major depression myself, felt a certain kinship with her as I read the book, especially the chapters dealing with her success, and her collapse.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have struggled a lot with major depression, anxiety, and even have occasionally been suicidal since returning from Iraq in 2008 with one hell of a case of PTSD. Thankfully over the past couple of months I have been doing pretty well. While I still suffer chronic insomnia, really weird dreams, nightmares, and night terrors, as well as anxiety in crowed places and flashbacks; but I have not been chronically depressed. I have had a few down days, but nothing like the past number of years. So all in all I think that is a good thing, I am starting to get back in better physical shape, eating better, and losing weight, so all in all I count that in the win column.

That being said, since Iraq I have developed a tremendous amount of empathy for those that suffer from depression, because it is not a rational disease. It affects millions of people in our country, and I am not referring to people who once in a while get the blues or feel a bit down, but people who live their lives in a state of clinical depression. I have known a lot of people who suffer from depression. Most are tremendously talented, witty, charming, intelligent, and caring. I have known very successful people who suffer from such depression that they cannot appreciate their own achievements and feel like failures. I have known some who have committed suicide because they saw no hope for themselves and believed that the world would be better off without them. I have friends who walk this path today, people who are battling to stay alive.

Likewise, many of my heroes, my role models, have suffered from depression, even lifelong depression. These include Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln, and T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Sadly, most people, especially religious people have little long term tolerance for depressed people. If the depressed person does not get better, they abandon them, sometimes in very cruel ways.

In a Peanuts strip Charlie Brown goes to Lucy and says, “I have deep feelings of depression… What can I do about this?” Lucy does what is so common in our culture and says “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” The fact is that if you are chronically depressed or suffer from clinical depression, you don’t simply snap out of it and I think that depression and mental pain is harder to bear than physical pain. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Problem of Pain:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

The reality is that depression is not rational, nor is it logical, and thus it defies the attempts of well-meaning people to help those who suffer from it. You can tell a depressed person to get involved in activities, to stay busy, work harder, to read their Bible or pray more, but most of the time this only makes things worse. The depressed person tries them and does not get better which makes the depression and feeling of failure even worse. I know this because I lived it, I did all those things. I worked harder, prayed more, and the rest of that, and I only got worse. Then I began to lose hope. It was terribly frightening and very few people understood, and even fewer stood by me. Those who did were mainly my drinking buddies and friends from the Norfolk Tides and Kinston Indians ballparks, not clergy, or chaplains. 

This makes it terribly frustrating for all concerned. The depressed person ends up feeling alone, lost, isolated, and rejected when the friends, family, and caregivers give up.

I think to me the hardest thing is that for those of us who serve in caring professions, the clergy, mental health care, medicine, and nursing; is that when we struggle there is often no-one to go to. When I was absolutely falling apart after Iraq, my new commanding officer asked me “where does a chaplain go to get help?” and I said “I don’t know, but not to other chaplains.” I know that I said that in the abyss of total despair, and that there are a couple of chaplains that I can go to and pour out my heart without fear of rejection, but they are the minority. The fact is that many caregivers, especially clergy, have no empathy for those most like them. I know this because I have known and seen so many clergy, across the denominational and theological spectrum who have been broken by the cares of life, and been abandoned by their churches and their peers.

But like, Iris Chang, I do think that some, people like Charles Schulz, the depression they live enables them not to lose touch with those who suffer, that in a sense that their suffering engenders a great empathy for others that many lack. I have been told by some that I have that kind of empathy and if I do it is not because I am such a great person, but rather because I have suffered and still suffer from the pain, and despite my own accomplishments, and achievements, that I still occasionally feel like a loser or failure. But as far as my condition goes, I am oddly comforted by the words of Raymond “Red Reddington (James Spader) in The Blacklist:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And everyday when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I know my ongoing battle will continue, but I have determined to try to be there for others that struggle with pain that does not want to go away, and nightmares that never seem to end. As the late Henri Nouwen wrote: “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, mental health, ministry

Civilization Is Tissue Thin: Holocaust & Genocide as Warning

nanking_massacre_1

The Rape of Nanking

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

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. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking, “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?”

Last week I took a break from my Gettysburg text and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. 

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

Omaha_courthouse_lynching

Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Eunsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers wills only get worse as younger people are far more likely to believe that the Holocaust is a myth or or exaggerated. 

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

mass killing einsatzgruppen

Einsatzgruppen

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo. 

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them. 

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

nankino-masakra-1

Nanking

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them. 

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

tzd8ftsn-1390907543

Soviet Genocide in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

CambodiaExhibitMassgrave-x1

The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

isis3-840x550

The Islamic State

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

5 Comments

Filed under crime, History, Political Commentary

“Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937

Japanese Soldiers at Work in Nanking

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.


[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 History, Military, world war two in the pacific