What Happened to the Japanese in World War II? The Rape of Nanjing (Part II)

16 Oct

Having been to Japan and loving the people there, having a longtime appreciation of Japanese culture, it hurts my heart to write about what the Japanese were like in World War II. But when I saw an exhibit at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine called “Hiroshima/Holocaust” I remember feeling deeply angered. There is no way that the slow, methodical gathering, looting, and mass murder of 6 million people could be compared to one (or two) big bombs against the other side in war. Frankly, U.S. firebombings of Japanese in Tokyo were also quite deadly, but far less is heard about them. According to this Day in History, starting March 9, 1945 the U.S. dropped 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo, killing between 80-130,000 thousand people. Meanwhile, about 145,000 were killed at Hiroshima, though later many died of cancer and other diseases. I can see the case for why unleashing nuclear power upon the world is potentially deeply evil. But although the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are victims whose suffering and death must be remembered with reverence and mercy, the lives of innocent people the Japanese killed should also be remembered with an equal reverence.

Let’s start with the Rape of Nanjing of December 1937.For a six-week period following the capture of this Chinese city, Japanese soldiers killed between 200-300 thousand people. Two Japanese newspapers announced a contest to “Kill 100 people using a sword.” Two soldiers were the finalists. According to oneof the papers, there was a headline. “”‘Incredible Record’ [in the Contest to] Behead 100 People—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings”.

Extra innings. Nice.

And remember, this is 1937.

One of the reasons this event is called the Rape of Nanjing (Or Nanking) is not merely that huge numbers of civilians were massacred in this horror but because it was a time of actual mass rapes. Tens of thousands of women and girls of every age were raped repeatedly, then bayoneted in the vagina. Babies were ripped out of women’s abdomens. This horror was massive and widespread. I will quote one paragraph from Militaryhistoryonline.com because I simply cannot bear to use my own words to describe it more: :

“According to Roy Brooks in his book When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy over Apologies & Reparations for Human Injustice, “the Japanese turned murder into sport.” They rounded up tens of thousands of men and used them for bayonet practice or decapitation contests. Sometimes they simply sprayed gasoline on them and burned them alive. Some men were skinned alive, tortured to death with needles, or buried up to the waist in the soil, where they were ripped apart by German shepherds. The Chinese women suffered far worse. Many of them were mutilated horribly after being raped. The Japanese even forced fathers to rape their own daughters, . . . . The Japanese were equally brutal to the small children. Babies were tossed into the air and bayoneted as they came down. Some were thrown into vats of hot oil and water.”

I feel pain when I read about events like these. I am not saying that only Japanese people are responsible for atrocities such as these. But I do say that they own THIS atrocity, and that from what I have observed, they have not atoned for it. Not really. Somehow, many people around the world have twisted the story of what happened in World War II to make the Japanese the ultimate Asian victims of the war because of the dropping of the Atomic bombs. But if you ask me, “murder for sport”—looking at another human being in the face and killing them for fun—is worse. The pure evil, the SINFULNESS of it, is deeply repellent. And because of the lack of atonement, the lack of shame, the sorry bean-counting of certain Japanese historical revisionists who try to find ways to shrink the numbers of the dead, they own it far more than if they had been deeply, shamefully, humbly sorry for it. If you aren’t sorry for bad things you do, then you are endorsing them, just as much as you are endorsing any of the beautiful things you do. You are saying, this bad thing I did is just fine. Only by submitting to the pain of shame can you begin to give the apology that will begin to heal the pain you have caused. President Ronald Reagan was right when he signed legislation in 1988 apologizing for the WWII internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans, and it was right to pay $1.6 billion in reparations for our national wrong.

So when I think of the war crime of the Rape of Nanjing, do I think Japanese are worse than other people? Or that this generation should pay for the sins of its parents? No. But today’s children in Japan should be educated in what has been done in their name. The madness of Japan during wartime has been repeated by other countries as well. But one atrocity does not cancel out another. When 200,000 or more people die horrifying deaths, that is not the loss of a number of bodies. That is the loss of 200,000 individuals, each one a universe, each one precious and irreplaceable. And that specific act is the one that needs the apology.

Writing spark: Do you feel that atonement has power, or that it matters?

NOTE: Resources and references are below:

Web sites: 





Brooks, Roy. When Sorry Isn’t Enough: The Controversy over Apologies & Reparations for Human Injustice. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang (1997)\


I have seen this movie and it is excellent without being too graphic.

The Flowers of War (2011) directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Christian Bale and Shigeo Kobayashi based on The 13 Women of Nanjing by Geling Yan

2 Responses to “What Happened to the Japanese in World War II? The Rape of Nanjing (Part II)”

  1. Andrew Sierman March 27, 2014 at 4:01 am #

    WOW!!! this is written perfectly in my point of view. I just taught the Rape of Nanjing to my Gr. 11 Asian Studies class and this was the message – atrocities are one thing, killing for sport or deriving pleasure from it and NEVER publicly expressing guilt or remorse is why this atrocity (of war) is one of the most appalling in modern history.

    However you did miss one thing ~ the government approved human experimentation facility known as Unit 731 outside of Harbin. The Japanese at Unit 731 carried out a level of human experimentation on the Chinese and allied forces that makes the Joseph Mengele and the Nazi’s seem humane. The biological and chemical warfare consisted of such acts as dropping plague infested fleas on the surrounding areas – which caused hundreds of thousands of Chinese to die of the plague even years later. Oh ya i forgot, they were testing this on the Chinese so that they could put the fleas in hot air balloons and attack the USA.

    Source Refrences
    Wikipedia contributors. “Unit 731.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.

    Japan at War: An Oral History
    by Haruko Taya Cook (Author), Theodore F. Cook (Author

    • Alexandra Hanson-Harding April 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      Andrew, I want to thank you for your comment. I have been meaning to get back to you for a while, and also to the subject of the Japanese and human experimentation. One of the interesting things that I have discovered from reading the statistics on my blog is that the two posts that I wrote about the Japanese in World War II were the two most popular posts I ever wrote. That makes me think that the subject needs more exploration. I am going to write more about it in the future, thanks to you. –ALexandra

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: