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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Historians, Novelists and Painters Bringing Past Horrors To Light

After reviewing The Nanjing Massacre by Honda Katsuichi last month, I decided to pursue the subject further.  I found The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography edited by Joshua A. Fogel  in the sources of the Wikipedia article on Honda Katsuichi.

One of the problems in historical discussion of this event is what the editor of this anthology calls "the numbers game".  Greater numbers of dead are supposed to lend more significance.  The numbers for the Nanjing Massacre depend on what is included.  Honda Katsuichi included the killing of prisoners of war and other massacres of civilians en route to Nanjing.  His concept is that the Nanjing Massacre was not a single event.   It must be seen in context.  Mark Eykholt in his essay "Aggression, Victimization and Chinese Historiography of the Nanjing Massacre" is concerned about how the inflation of numbers  undermines the legitimacy of survivors' claims.  It also allows Japanese critics of  the historicity of the Nanjing Massacre (and there still are some who claim that it never happened) to dismiss it completely.

An item used as evidence has also compromised the historical case for the atrocities in Nanjing.  In "The Challenges of the Nanjing Massacre", Daqing Yang discusses a  photo submitted as evidence to the post-war Tokyo Trial  which has been challenged because the Japanese soldiers depicted were wearing summer uniforms.  The established time for the Nanjing Massacre is the winter of 1937-1938.   It seems to me that this invalidates that particular photo.  It doesn't mean that there was no massacre.

Yang wants to get beyond facile denial and deal with the causes of the atrocities.  This is not intended to justify them.  The causes of events are central to the business of writing history.  So Yang brings up that a poorly organized  retreat stranded 100,000 Chinese soldiers in Nanjing.  A great many hid among the civilian population.  In Ha Jin's novel , Nanjing Requiem, he depicts Chinese soldiers taking shelter with the foreign missionaries.  Honda Katsuichi's book contains Chinese soldier survivor narratives.  I recall one case of a soldier who constructed a civilian identity for himself which was corroborated by his new falsified family.  This explains why the Japanese military suspected male civilians of fighting age of  being soldiers.

From "A Battle Over History in Japan" by Takashi Yoshida I learned about the existence of Unit 731, the headquarters for experimentation in chemical and biological warfare by the Japanese military.  The Wikipedia article on Unit 731 was very informative.  An article on its source list The Nanjing Massacre and Unit 731  revealed that there is a book dealing with this subject called  Factories of Death  by Sheldon Harris.  There has been an updated edition due to the de-classification of American documents related to Unit 731.  There is also a book by the highly respected Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo that portrays the horrors of  Unit 731 experiments through fiction.  The title is The Sea and Poison for which I have seen some insightful reviews. There is continuing discovery of what Unit 731 did. I  found a Huffington Post article that appeared last year about the excavation of  a former medical school in Japan after a nurse who worked there revealed the facility's hasty coverup of  its presumed participation in Unit 731 war crimes.  This article can be found at
Not all Japanese in Nanjing at the time were either committing atrocities or attempting to bury them.  Daqing Yang revealed that a Japanese journalist reporting from Nanjing about the atrocities wrote a novella about them in 1938.  I looked up the name of this journalist, Ishikawa Tatsuzo, and discovered from Wikipedia that the English translation of his Nanjing massacre novella is Soldiers Alive .  Ishikawa fell afoul of  Japanese censorship regulations.  He was arrested and imprisoned for writing about the atrocities. This would be a great book to feature for Banned Books Week.

I also found out about the Nanjing Massacre mural created by the Japanese artist couple Maruki Iri and Toshi from Yang's essay.  The Marukis are best known for their Hiroshima panels.  During a U.S. tour, they were urged to balance their perspective by painting about Japanese atrocities.  They accepted that challenge.  Their Nanjing Massacre mural can be found by scrolling down on The Forgotten Holocaust  web page.  According to the Maruki Gallery For The Hiroshima Panels , the Marukis were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 to honor their work. 

It's important to honor all the Japanese who have struggled against the official policy of denial or minimization of the Nanjing atrocities. 


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