Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I watched an interesting documentary called Nanking last week. It's about the Japanese attack on the Chinese city of the same name. It's been called the Rape of Nanking, and with justification. The postwar commission that prosecuted Japanese war criminals estimated that over 200,000 civilians and unarmed prisoners of war were killed. In addition, it is estimated that something like 200,000 rapes occurred.

People get exercised about the atrocities committed in war, but what do they expect? You take a bunch of testostrone-soaked young men; you train and indoctrinate them to overcome the human reluctance to kill one's fellows; you give them and turn them loose. They're going to kill, and a lot of them are going to be quite enthusiastic about it. They aren't going to make a distinction between soldiers and civilians. See, shoot. That's what they were taught to do.

That said, the Japanese were particularly brutal. They regarded the Chinese as a kind of untermensch, and their warrior code said that one should fight to the death, that surrender was unacceptable. Hence, they regarded prisoners of war with nothing but contempt, and deserving of any abuse that was heaped upon them. That included summary execution. A lot of them were really into it too. The documentary showed a Japanese newspaper article, with an accompanying photo of two infantry lieutenants. It was a human interest piece about how the two men were having a contest to see who could first kill a hundred men with his sword. One man had already killed over fifty, the other over twenty. Now, these weren't deaths in battle. They were executions. In fact, there are several extant photographs showing Japanese officers beheading captives with their swords. No matter how high feelings ran in America during the war, no American newspaper ever would have run an article like that. It would have been unthinkable.

After watching Nanking, it's a bit harder to have sympathy for the Japanese killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It seems like a kind of karmic payback, but that's a petty sentiment. The fact is, if you want to prevent atrocities, then don't have wars. It's as simple as that. Wars should never be fought unless there is absolutely no other choice. As they say, no one who takes part in a war comes out undamaged, whether they were wounded or not. It's an inhuman activity. On that point, I read recently that the pilots of those unmanned aircraft that attack targets in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan are having an unusually large incidence of emotional problems. I suppose that they're more properly operators than pilots, since they aren't actually in the planes. They're far away in some safe base, and that's where the problem lies. They don't get the sense of being in battle, of participating in combat, so that many of them come to feel that they're merely executioners. I'm sure the military will soon adapt to that. All they have to do is recruit among those with psychopathic tendencies.

Here's an interesting side note from Nanking. It's based upon the letters and diaries of several Westerners who were on the scene and credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Chinese by moving them into a safety zone that the Japanese authorities reluctantly allowed them to establish. Perhaps chief among these Westerners was a German businessman named Rabe. He was a Nazi, but he apparently didn't understand what his political comrades were up to back in the fatherland, because he was intensely disturbed by what the Japanese were doing, and did everything he could to prevent it. The Westerners managed to surreptitiously film some of the atrocities, and smuggle reels of the film to the outside world. When Rabe returned to Germany in 1940, he took a reel with him and showed it to Hitler. He was subsequently arrested and the film confiscated. The Gestapo interrogated him, and released him with the warning that he was not to discuss Nanking with anyone. After the war, the Soviets also arrested and interrogated him. Not long after, the mayor of Nanking learned that Rabe was living in poverty. He collected thousands of dollar, mostly from people who Rabe had helped, and flew to Germany to present it to him. It's proof that there is goodness in the world, though it appears all to infrequently.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hollywood, New York City and the like have done a fine job of hammering the Nazi attrocities against the Jews into the collective historical psyche of Americans (see any Spielberg movie). The Japanese brutalities against the people of China (and Guam, the Philipines, the Koreas, ad infinitum) have been grossly ignored by the occidental world. It is as if those horrors were just an 'Asian' thing that happened far away.

The brilliant historian Iris Chang blew some of the scales from the eyes of the west with her book "The Rape of Nanking". The horrors of reporting and investigating such unspeakable brutality more than likely led to her suicide several years ago.

The Japanese used the term 'Samurai Spirit' to describe their actions. Japanese citizens cheered in the streets of Tokyo with their newspapers announcing the fall of Nanking (pronounced Nan-Jing). Blood was on their hands, there were no innocent Japanese.

My only regret about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that there were not three or four additional nuclear bombs dropped on Tokyo and other large cities.

Every year here in Portland our sizeable Japanese community and self-hating liberals gather for vigils commemorating the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Who is holding the candle and marching in remembrance of the old Chinese granny burned to death by a Japanese 'soldier'? Who is offering incense for the Chinese daughter whose vagina was hewn open by a Japanese bayonet? Where are their prayers?

This history is just one more chasm that stands between the American's ability to understand China.

I am glad you watched the movie and wrote this piece.

W in PDX

8:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home