伊藤兼男 / Public domain
We know everything about the horrors that were happening on our side of the world. Yet, all too much, we don’t learn anything about it after an atrocity has unfolded on the other side.
In comparison to all the tragedies that ravaged Europe during World War II, the massacres committed in Southeast Asia were as alarming as they were — even if most of us in the West barely ever hear about them at school.
Although Europe struggled to fight off the Nazi war machine, China fended off the Japanese aggression that began in late 1937. They fought fiercely to prevent the Japanese Army from occupying most of East Asia and the Pacific, potentially costing as much as 20 million lives (the second-most of any nation participating in the war).
And there were as many as 17 million Chinese victims who were not soldiers. They were civilians, helpless and defenceless, and before they were killed, all of them had been brought to unthinkable violence.
Most of the worst of it occurred in the six weeks after the Japanese invaded Nanking (now known as Nanjing) in December 1937 into the Chinese capital.
The Cruel March To Nanking
The raping and killing that would soon engulf Nanking began before the Japanese Army even entered the walls of the city. During the beginning of their conquest, the Japanese Army swept through China, massacring and plundering under clear instructions to “destroy all prisoners.”
But the Japanese did not stop there. Nothing was prohibited by the occupying army and they believed this gave them power. One Japanese writer, riding with the 10th Army, wrote in his notes that he assumed that the army was going on with great intensity because of “the implicit approval of the officers and men to be allowed to rob and rape as they wish.”
Unknown author / Public domain
The Begining of Nanking Massacre
Once the Japanese army entered Nanking they continued their aggression. They burned down the walls of the city, the homes of the people, the surrounding forests and even entire villages in their path.
They robbed almost every house that they could find, targeting both the poor and the wealthy. They then slaughtered scores of people who had happened to them. Many of the Nanking Massacre ‘s victims were dumped into a mass, unmarked graves; some were left in the sun only to die.
The Rape of Nanking was sometimes even a game for the invading army. Japanese magazines boasted of a contest between two soldiers, Toshiaki Muaki and Tsuyoshi Noda, who had challenged each other in a race to see who could first slaughter 100 people with their swords.
What’s more, this admission was not an apology. Only seconds before, Noda had scoffed at his victims for making him shoot them, saying, “The Chinese soldiers were too dumb.” He then said, “Afterward, I was often asked whether it was a big deal, and I said it was no big deal.”
John Magee / Public domain
The Rape Of Nanking
The estimated 20,000-80,000 Chinese women were brutally raped and sexually assaulted by the invasive soldiers in the six weeks of the Japanese Nanking Massacre beginning on Dec. 13, 1937. Sometimes they went door-to-door, dragging out women and even little children, and violently raping them.
Then, once they had finished with their victims, they were often murdered. Such killing was not just an act of senseless barbarity, either – these men were following orders. “So that we won’t have any problems with our hands,” one commander said to his men, referring to any women they raped, “either pay them money or kill them in some obscure place after you’ve finished.
Though, the attackers didn’t even stop at just murder. They made those women suffer in the worst possible ways. Pregnant mothers were cut open and victims of rape were sodomized to death in humiliation with bamboo sticks and bayonets.
“Never have I seen or read such cruelty,” wrote one Nanking missionary, James M. McCallum, in his diary. “Rap!-Rape! Rape! We estimate at least one thousand cases a night and many by day.
“Seven girls (ages ranged from 16 to 21) were taken from the Military College on 16 December,” read a report from the International Committee (a group of foreigners creating the Nanking Safety Zone to provide refuge for victims of the Nanking Massacre). “Five came back. Every girl was raped six to seven times a day.”
“A 62-year-old woman went home close to Hansimen and Japanese soldiers came in at night and tried to rape her,” read another committee article. “She said she was too old. So the soldiers rammed her up with a stick, but she survived to come back.”
In the meantime, for The New York Times, one journalist who was on scene writes, “I went down to the docks and just had to crawl at the gate over the piles of corpses that had stacked up there … the vehicle actually had to move across those dead bodies.” Once he reached the waterfront, he observed the killing of 200 people in just ten minutes.
The degree to which Japanese officials were informed during the Nanking Massacre of these massacres has long been a subject of intense debate. For one, Japanese General Iwane Matsui, commander of the forces in China, claimed he was unaware of mass crimes but felt morally responsible nonetheless.
Ultimately, he was charged and convicted for his part in the post-war massacre, since that time Nanking’s Rape has proven to be a most controversial issue.
Originally Moriyasu Murase, 村瀬守保 / Public domain
The Legacy Of The Carnage
By the time the worst of Nanking ‘s Rape had come to an end, an estimated 300,000 people had died – mostly within weeks. When Japanese soldiers and officers were tried and executed for war crimes just after the Second World War, the court found that at least 200,000 died during the Nanking Rape.
Nevertheless, figures of the death rate vary greatly with others reaching as low as 40,000. Moreover, intense controversy surrounds these estimates, reflecting just how divisive the “forgotten holocaust” remains to this day, in the words of author Iris Chang.
For example, the Japanese government did not officially apologize until 1995 for its atrocities in the Second World War – and even that relatively recent apology stance was not unanimous and universal.
The Japanese Army Veterans Group, for example, held interviews with Japanese veterans present during the Nanking Massacre in 1984, in an attempt to discredit rumours of Japanese atrocities.
However, the researchers’ organizers were surprised to find that the veterans were coming in on the widespread atrocities and the Veterans Association’s official magazine was forced to make an apology for the Nanking Rape instead:
“We’ve lost words in front of this illegal mass murder, irrespective of the essence of war or the special circumstances of military psychology, we deeply sorry for the Chinese people as those associated with the pre-war military. It was truly an unfortunate act of barbarity.”
Over the past ten years alone, hundreds of Japanese leaders and politicians have either declined to take the blame or disputed that it existed altogether. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe issued a statement in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, and drew widespread criticism for not apologizing in the process (which helped fuel current tensions between China and Japan).
Despite numerous firsthand accounts from France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, denials of the crimes continue to this day. Despite photographs like these that make the truth of the Nanking Massacre alarmingly clear, the denials persist.