Friday, January 26, 2007


Rape of a city too barbaric to ever forget
Saturday April 23, 2005 By David McNeill
Map of China, Japan and Korea locating Japanese military occupation in Eastern China during World War II and the Chinese city of Nanjing where some 300,000 civilians were killed. Picture / Reuters
Last weekend, 15-year-old Akari Shimoda sat down in Tokyo and watched as snarling protesters in Shanghai shouting "Japanese pigs out" filled her TV screen. Does she know why they are angry? "I think Japan did something to China in the past, I'm not sure what. It was such a long time ago." Japanese children's ignorance of Asian history, thanks to a curriculum that glosses over Imperial Japan's brutal colonial adventure until 1945, has been a source of controversy in Asia for decades. The contrast in China, where every 15-year-old is taught that wartime Emperor Hirohito's brainwashed troops butchered and looted their way across their country for 14 years, could not be starker. "Even though I like Japanese culture and products, we Chinese find it hard to forgive them for what they did to us," says Alice Lee, a saleswoman in Guangzhou, southern China. On December 13, 1937, Japanese troops poured into the wartime capital city of Nanjing after suffering heavy casualties in Shanghai. They began a six-week orgy of raping, killing and looting, carrying out what the United Human Rights Council called "the single worst atrocity during the World War II era in either the European or Pacific theatres of war". American eyewitness Minnie Vautrin, who kept a diary, wrote on December 16: "There probably is no crime that has not been committed in this city today." Soldiers practised with bayonets on tied-up prisoners, burned others alive and set dogs on children. Pregnant women were raped and bayoneted, decapitated heads were put on spikes or waved around like trophies, hundreds of unarmed civilians were mown down with machine guns. New York Times reporter Tillman Durdin, who called the rape of Nanjing "one of the great atrocities of modern times", wrote how he tried to drive to the river front. "The car just had to drive over these dead bodies. And the scene on the river front, as I waited for the launch ... was of a group of smoking, chattering Japanese officers overseeing the massacring of a battalion of Chinese captured troops." The most famous witness was John Rabe - the so-called Good Man of Nanjing, a businessman who ran the local Nazi party but became leader of an international safety zone that reportedly saved 250,000 lives. After weeks watching children and old women being raped and murdered, he wrote in his diary that the suffering "dumbfounded" him. Exactly how many were killed in Nanjing is one of the most contested statistics of World War II. The best-known account, by Chinese-American author Iris Chang, who committed suicide this year and who said she "felt rage" and suffered nightmares during her research, claims more than 300,000 Chinese died and at least 20,000 women were raped. Her 1997 book, The rape of Nanking: the forgotten holocaust of World War II, was the target of a vitriolic campaign by Japanese neo-nationalists who said it was full of lies and exaggerations. Today, Nanjing is a metropolis of more than 4 million people. It memorialises the winter of 1937 in a sparse concrete bunker where the figure "300,000" is carved in 1.2m black lettering on the museum wall. Inside, an exhibition of pictures of mutilated corpses and glass cases containing the bones of the victims concludes with a guestbook. "I cried when I learned what my country did," reads a comment from one Japanese visitor. In the catalogue of Japanese war crimes in China, Nanjing is rivalled only by the experiments of Unit 731, which was then the most elaborate biological warfare programme ever created; a 6.4km complex of buildings in Ping Fang, south of Harbin that turned diseases such as typhoid, anthrax, smallpox, cholera and dysentery into mass-produced killers. Live prisoners were dissected to determine the effects of pathogens on the human body. Yoshio Shinozuka, who was just 16 years old when he was dispatched by Tokyo to help the Unit 731 scientists, remembers the first time he assisted in an experiment on one of the prisoners who were dubbed "murata", or logs. "I knew the Chinese individual we dissected alive," he recalls. "At the vivisection I could not meet his eyes because of the hate in them. He was infected with plague germs and, ... his face and body became totally black. Still alive, he was brought on a stretcher to the autopsy room, where I was ordered to wash the body. I used a rubber hose and a deck brush to wash him ... The man's organs were excised one by one." The results harvested by military scientists from these experiments were, by 1940, being used to spread typhoid, cholera and plague across China. Soldiers dumped pathogens in rivers and water supplies. When this proved too slow and soldiers ended up poisoning themselves, military brains were racked for more efficient delivery systems. Shinozuka and his colleagues were put to work cultivating fleas. When Japanese planes flew over Chongshan village in Zheijiang Province in 1942, the residents saw a black cloud descending from the skies. Within days, many came down with fevers, headaches and swollen lymph nodes - the symptoms of the same flea-borne plague that wiped out much of the European population in the Middle Ages. Within two months, about 400 people, or a third of the village's population, had died. Estimates of casualties from Japan's germ warfare in China from 1932 to 1945 vary, but the most careful English-language study, by American historian Sheldon H. Harris, says that even by late 1942 the casualty count "fell into the six-figure range". Outbreaks of disease continued long after the scientists - whose parting gift was to release thousands of disease-ridden rats before dynamiting the germ factories - melted back into post-war civilian life back home. Few Japanese students know anything about Unit 731, even though, after years of denial, a Japanese court ruled in a lawsuit three years ago that the germ warfare programme did exist. Most Chinese know the whole tale, including the bitter sting at the end. While Shinozuka and other minions were sent to Chinese prisons as war criminals, the military mandarins who had built the programme and boasted of its war-winning potential to Tokyo were protected in exchange for their research findings. In documents released over the past decade, United States military scientists emphasised the "extreme value" of the information gained in Japanese germ-warfare tests. "The value to the US of Japanese biological warfare data is of such importance to national security as to far outweigh the value accruing from 'war crimes' prosecution," wrote one. The military seal of approval meant immunity for the key figures, including the programme's architect, Shiro Ishii, who died in Tokyo in 1959. Many had lucrative post-war careers in the medical industry. Unit 731 and its aftermath ranks, according to veteran Japanese civil rights lawyer Keiichiro Ichinose, with the worst of the Nazis' war crimes. "The Government here has got to come to terms with this before it can move forward with the rest of its Asian neighbours," he says. Japan's way of moving forward has been to sign normalisation agreements with its former enemies, ending all claims for compensation, and to hand over billions of dollars in development aid, an apology of sorts that means not having to say the word sorry. But its failure to make a clean break with the past has allowed Beijing to manipulate the issue of war guilt, ratcheting up patriotism, anti-Japanese and anti-US rhetoric as the social fallout from two decades of breakneck capitalism has grown. This patriotism threatens to take on a life of its own. As Japanese businesses and consulates in China cleaned up after the rioting, one of the sadder sights on TV was grown diplomats on both sides insisting that they had not said sorry. "It is Japan who should apologise first for its war history," said China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei. Meanwhile, Japan's Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura was telling the press in Tokyo that he had not expressed "deep apologies" during a private meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing. "I said no such thing," he said. After all these years sorry, it seems, is still the hardest word. - INDEPENDENT

No comments: