The Rape of Nanking was a terrible genocide that began on December 13, 1937 and didn’t end until six weeks later. This historical event consisted of the constant rape and murder of over 200,000 men, women and children by ruthless Japanese soldiers (Clancey, Ibiblio). Unfortunately even in Japan most people have never heard of The Rape of Nanking. This is because, unlike in Germany where the Jewish holocaust is taught in schools, the Japanese have failed to educate their society about the atrocities committed in this massacre. The Japanese have covered up this appalling event because of their military training techniques, militaristic culture and the foreign policy of nations following World War II.
Firstly, the military culture in Japan at the time was ruthless. The mindset of the military can be traced back to the feudal times in Japan, where the samurai class emerged. These samurai had a code of conduct called bushido, which stated that the greatest honor a samurai could receive in his lifetime was to die in the service of his lord. The samurai went further and even believed that surrendering in battle was a worse fate than death. The culture of the samurai class, though only practiced by a small percentage of the Japanese, became embedded in Japanese culture (Chang 1997, 20) and later influenced the training of a modern army which participated in a genocide. An example of how the Japanese military was influenced by bushido is the Kamikaze suicide plane bombers, who would sacrifice themselves by crashing into American ships (PBS.org 2003). The samurai class hadn’t existed since the Meiji restoration in 1868 and it can be seen how they influenced the more modern Japanese military through these ruthless attacks. Another thing that was common practice among samurai and later Japanese members of the military was seppuku, which is the cutting of the belly, so as not to be taken alive by enemies (Fraser, The Way of the Samurai). This meant that every Japanese soldier would rather die than surrender and those who would not ended up being killed in training or committing suicide during their training (Chang 1997, 32). When the Chinese surrendered to the Japanese in the battle for Nanking for they went against everything that the Japanese soldiers stood for and in the eyes of the Japanese became no better than dogs. This is one thing that prompted the mistreatment of the Chinese people, which later became known as The Rape of Nanking.
Another technique used in the military was that higher ranking officers would “… beat [new recruits] severely with heavy wooden rods” (Chang 1997, 32). Inferior soldiers could do nothing to stop the abuse, and caused them to have built up rage. Also Japanese soldiers would hardly get any sleep, were not allowed enough food and had to study outside of their classes extensively, to complete their training. Their coursed included history, geography, foreign languages, mathematics, science, logic, drawing, and penmanship. While making men mentally tough, this training also turned these men into ruthless killers who invented new ways of killing people. Suddenly these inferior troops became superior to the Chinese people and all of their anger was released. The Japanese soldiers beheaded, dismembered and raped men, women and children. This was encouraged even by higher ranking officers who had to go to an officer’s school that was even more rigorous than military schools for the enlisted troops. These officers had to complete 3,382 hours of classwork and 2,765 hours of private study on top of an already grueling daily regimen of physical exercise. Compared to the 1,372 hours of classwork and 245 hours of private study for English officers, the Japanese were overworked (Chang 1997, 32). Essentially the Japanese had created a military force whose training was so intense and whose men were so ruthless, that it is not surprising that this massacre occurred. Unfortunately for the Japanese to admit to these atrocities, they would be surrendering, which would go against their culture. Therefore an apology for said crimes is unlikely to happen.
Though certain militaristic aspects of Japanese culture influenced the atrocities committed in Nanking, it is also important to note that the West influenced this violence as well. In World War I more than 150 of the 300 German regiments are reported to have participated in major incidents in Belgium. These incidents included mass executions, civilians being purposefully set on fire and the use of civilians as human shields (Kramer and Horne 2004, H-Net). After WWI, the revision of the Geneva Convention should have stopped the Japanese from committing the crimes that happened in Nanking. Unfortunately once again they looked to the West and saw Italy’s disregard of the convention in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936). The Italians used mustard gas to kill Ethiopian civilians (Todd and Mitter 2013, PCMag ). Since the Japanese were allied with Germany and Italy this would have confused the Japanese about what the value of a human life actually was and would have prompted them to disregard any international human rights laws. Not only did nations allied with Japan commit war time atrocities, but so did the British. On August 15, 1915 British soldiers executed all survivors of the German submarine U-27 (Halpern 1995). These events were not uncommon among the British military as there are several reports of other similar incidences. Events such as these would have provided Japan with more evidence on why killing people in cold blood was not a major crime. Also Japan was a part of the League of Nations prior their invasion of Manchuria. They left the league after they were asked to stop the invasion, members of the League did not do anything further to stop Japanese expansionism, and therefore the Japanese did not see the West as a threat. This is another factor that would have caused them to disregard any human rights laws. Since the Japanese were trying to modernize their military they were given a distorted view of what was right during times of war and were not afraid that the West could do anything to stop them. This caused their soldiers to participate in an orgy of atrocities in Nanking.
A major aspect of Japanese culture is that “The Japanese value outside appearances very much” (Basics of Japanese Culture). This would provide an explanation as to why the Japanese will not admit to any crimes that were committed in Nanking. For example the mayor of Osaka will still not admit to the Japanese soldiers having used comfort women in China and Korea and said that even if they had, it was common practice among several western powers including Germany, France and the United States. These allegations have been refuted as there is no legitimate evidence that can prove that the US and France did such things (Japan Times 2014). However, the Nazis did set up over 500 hundred comfort homes for the use of their soldiers, including the SS, but they do not deny this and have apologized (Herbermann 2000, 33-34). On the other hand the Japanese will not admit to having committing any wrong during the war even though witnesses will report that the “[Japanese soldiers] conducted door-to-door searches, demanding money and hua gu niang – young girls” who were then raped and killed (Chang 1997, 90). This would also explain why the Japanese government “… tried to hide what its army had done and replaced the news with propaganda” because they didn’t want their people to know what was going as, as well as the outside world.
Due to culture in Japan there has been a major effort by Japanese scholars and politicians to cover up the tragedies that happened during the Japanese occupation. In 1990 Ishihara Shintaro said in an interview that “People say that the Japanese made a holocaust [In Nanking], but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but is a lie” (Chang 1997, 201). Shintaro is trying to save face and was undoubtedly enraged about such accusations because they made Japan look bad. Though most in Japan want to cover up the events of the war, Fujio Masayuki, the Japanese Minister of Education, said that the Rape of Nanking actually happened but tried to defend the Japanese actions. Masayuki was immediately dismissed by Nakasone Yasuhiro, the Prime Minister (Chang 1997, 203). Masayuki made the mistake of admitting that The Rape of Nanking happened, causing Japan to lose face; this cost him his job. Because the Japanese are so rooted in their culture they can admit to no wrong. Maybe if there had been more pressure on Japan to apologize for their crimes, they would have done so.
The diplomatic relations of Japan at the time were another major reason why Japan was not pressured to admit to these atrocities. After World War II the United States was trying to prevent the spread of communism, namely in Korea. The Americans used Japan as a military base, from which they could have easy access into Korea and even into Russia (Jones, About). The United States then helped to build Japan’s economy. To do this the Americans needed for there to be a stable government in Japan and the prewar bureaucracy was left in Japan which allowed many wartime criminals to escape punishment and continue to be in power. Essentially the Japanese had no international pressure for them to admit and apologize for the wartime atrocities. Contrarily in Germany numerous Nazi war criminals were hunted down and tried. In 1957 the Japanese elected Prime Minister had been suspected of being a “class A” war criminal (Chang 1997, 182). Essentially the Japanese were allowed to get away with murder because the US needed them so much. Had communism not been on the rise, the situation in Japan would likely be different than it is today.
Not only did the US want to become allies with Japan but so did the new communist government in China because they wanted to be considered internationally legitimate, since at the time of their rise to power Japan was a major world power. Also the communist government would not have wanted to criticize Japan too much because they would not have wanted to draw attention to the estimated forty-five million people killed by Mao Zedong’s policies in 1958 to 1962 (Akbar 2010, The Independent). Instead of pushing for the Japanese to apologize for their crimes, they instead forgave them. This enraged many of the people who had been affected by the war in China, but it was hard for them to get the international community to do anything to convince Japan to apologize when their government was not giving them a voice (Chang 1997, 183). Unfortunately due to these political circumstances nobody had been willing to stand up for the victims of The Rape of Nanking.
In conclusion, the Japanese have been denying the events of WWII because of their military training techniques, culture and diplomatic relations. The Japanese have never been forced to admit to their wrongdoings in WWII and most likely never will because now Nanking has been forgotten and almost anybody who managed to survive the war is dead. If Japanese culture was different and had the Chinese government tried to get the Japanese to admit to their crimes, Japan would have had to have admitted to The Rape of Nanking. The world can be confident that the German people will never commit crimes on the level of the holocaust again but can it be sure that the Japanese will not commit these crimes again as they have never been taught about them? It is the duty of the international community to make sure that everyone is educated about this horrendous genocide, so that abominable things of this scale might never happen again.
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