13 April 2007

Rape of Nanking

One of the worst war atrocities of WWII occurred in Nanking, China, when Japanese soldiers entered the city and killed and raped without discretion for six weeks. The death toll is estimated at 300,000 people and the Japanese government has still not fully acknowledged the situation, choosing to refer to it as the "Nanking Incident". Prime Minister Abe has only agitated the problem recently by saying there was no government sanctioned forced prostitution. The new right in Japan has rewritten the history books to downplay the unbridled Sadism the Japanese army was drunk with. It's truly a startling thing.

As I read about Nanking, I showed Yoko some of the pictures. She had never seen them and had only heard that there was a controversy about what had happened there.

The result of learning about Nanking has not been good for me and my relationship with Japan. The passivity and inability to acknowledge this while acting confused and annoyed at the rest of Asia for keeping these memories alive really is horrible. Worse yet, as Abe has said, they view the "accusations" as an affront to Japanese morality and dignity. Japanese soldiers couldn't have done this.

That's the problem: thinking that your people can't do something. Anyone can do anything. Americans can torture, Germans can torture, Arabs can torture, Japanese can torture. When we say we are not capable of something, we are setting ourselves up for repeating the past.

So last night, as Yoko and I sat under the cherry blossoms, a group of Japanese men were completely drunk and singing loudly. Yoko laughed, That's an old, old song from the time of the war: let's die for our country.

I was reminded of an old man in an English class explaining to me why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and it occurs to me now that what he told me was simply war-time propaganda: Japan was being pushed from all sides--we had no choice but to fight.

So... lest we forget