Thursday, December 15, 2011

"The Rape of Nanking"

The book "The Rape of Nanking" was a horrific undertaking for the young Chinese-American Iris Chang to write. She felt compelled, she was driven to reveal the voices of the untold number of Chinese who were brutally murdered by the Japanese after breaking the gate of Nanking down and taking military control of the city. Numbers are argued among scholars, but the point is not the numbers, but the fact that such violence could be wreaked upon a city that did not resist them. Women were brutalized, raped and systematically killed to remove all evidence; children too were sodomized; men tortured. If numbers killed are important, Iris provides a guestimate. The city before Nanking was marched on contained 1 million residents. As the Japanese approached raiding, pillaging and destroying all that was in their path to the capital, half of the residents fled, leaving 500,000 residents and peasants by the thousands who fled to the great walled city for protection. When the Japanese were finished, half of the 500,000 roughly remained alive within the city, and this greatly reduced number survived only thanks due to a 2 1/2 mile Nanking Safety Zone guarded by a handful of Westerners.

Men were killed but women were taken for sexual purposes, and then killed or maintained in sexual slavery for the military troops during the war. The incessant raping of local women and stirring up more hatred within communities where the military was stationed and the spread of STDs caused the military to sanction "facilities for sexual comfort" so troops would stop raping women in regions they controlled in China. And so the first official comfort house was opened near Nanking in 1938. Untold numbers of women (from several countries but a higher percentage from Korea and Taiwan, the colonies of Japan) were taken. The Japanese referred to them as "public toilets", and if they survived they were shamed, isolated, sterilized or mentally damaged for life. The women suffered the greatest atrocities, and though the Japanese Defense Agency archives revealed a document "Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels", Japan denies that the brothels were government sanctioned but operated under private entrepreneurs. Iris Chang burned to reveal to humanity the truth before the truth would be silenced by the death of the aging victims, and Japan would effectively be able to rewrite world history because of victim lack of representation.

The Rape of Nanking is a brutal period in history met by Japanese denial that such brutalization did not and could not have happend by the Japanese army, which was exemplary under the guidance of the emperor. The Japanese military leaders are regarded as war heroes with shrines built for and dedicated to them in Tokyo. Needless to say, the Japanese, unlike the Germans who admitted their war crimes and have paid indemnities, have never admitted to doing anything less than honorable and have never paid consolation moneys of any kind. The UN and the US are largely at fault here because of political and economic reasons. After the war, Japan with its rapidly growing economy, useful to the UN and the US, was also needed as a buffer and balance in the Far East against the growing power of communism and the resulting Cold War, and so the nation which had been practicing aggression in Asia for over half of a century was not tried heavily in the tribunal court and many issues, like the use of women's bodies during war, was never mentioned.

Iris Chang uses triangulation to write her book. She triangulates on the three large perspectives taken of the rape of the city. The first is from the Chinese's perspective and what they suffered; the second from the perpetrators, the Japanese, and a discussion of the circumstances that bring about their denial; and finally, from the foreigners themselves within the city and what they observed, heavily documented by diaries, letters, pictures and even some video.

The movie "The Rape of Nanking" revealed the toll that Iris paid for attempting such a pain-shrouded present darkened by the shadows of a brutal past. In writing her book, she came to live the lives of the victims, who haunted her. Her research weighed heavily on her shoulders and she pushed herself beyond her limits to write a book to reveal the truth on a topic that failed to receive attention in even world history books. Her book was so well-received by the public who was shocked by such a holocaust of lives within just a few weeks that she toured for over a year conducting book signings and revelatory lectures on the topic, raising further awareness.

Her follow-up book was on a similar thread of research, the road of terror by the Japanese done at Bataan. On the same day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (well documented in American history books) the Philippines was also bombed (not much historial attention given to this event). Another topic that failed to receive much historical attention in history books and school curriculums! Bataan was another horrific time, a long march of prisoners to Bataan where basically they slowly starved if they even made it on the march. She never completed the book as the work consumed her whole cheerful personality, threw her into depression and caused her to commit suicide, much like her war hero Minnie Vautrin, who she felt was one of the three most vociferous leaders in holding the Nanking Safety Zone and who eventually had a nervous breakdown and committed suicide.

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