A Personal View – April 2014
Imagine what the response would there be if the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel co-wrote a book with a well-known German author who recently had written extensively on the fact that the existence of the Holocaust was fictitious.
Vociferous condemnation would have arisen not only externally but also more importantly from within Germany itself. It would be unthinkable that it could possibly happen.
Inasmuch as the implausibility of this occurring in Germany, exactly the same scenario occurred last year in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe co-wrote a book with Naoki Hyakuta who fervently believes that both the Nanjing Massacre & the military’s enslavement of the euphemistically called comfort women are both fictitious.
From a western perspective, both of these atrocities do not form part of one’s consciousness unlike the Holocaust which is well-known. Maybe the level of the Japanese barbarities is not quite on a par with that of the Germans, but only marginally less so but they were just as egregious.
The Nanking [Nanjing] Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, was an episode of mass murder and mass rape committed by Japanese troops against Nanking during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The massacre occurred during a six-week period starting December 13, 1937, the day that the Japanese captured Nanking, which was then the Chinese capital. During this period, hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants were murdered by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army. Widespread rape and looting also occurred. Several of the key perpetrators of the atrocities, at the time labelled as war crimes, were later tried and found guilty at the International Military Tribunal of the Far East and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal, and were executed. Another key perpetrator, Prince Asaka, a member of the Imperial Family, escaped prosecution by having earlier been granted immunity by the Allies.
An accurate estimation of the death toll in the massacre has not been achieved because most of the Japanese military records on the killings were deliberately destroyed or kept secret shortly after the surrender of Japan in 1945. The International Military Tribunal of the Far East estimated in 1948 that over 200,000 Chinese were killed in the incident.
The issue of the Comfort Women or women – usually Korean – who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese, is also fiercely contested between the Koreans and the Japanese with the Japanese refusing to apologise for this flagrant violation of human rights as they contend that these women were volunteers.
Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 20,000 to as high as 200,000, or even as many as 360,000 to 410,000 but the exact numbers are still being researched and debated
According to testimony, young women from countries under Japanese Imperial control were abducted from their homes. In many cases, women were also lured with promises of work in factories or restaurants. Once recruited, the women were incarcerated in comfort stations in foreign lands.
Apart from these two well-known situations, there are others such as the barbaric treatment of the Allied POWs. Other little known incidents such as the gratuitous killing of 50 Australian nurses who were machine-gunned to death on a beach occurred. This is merely one example of wanton killings which were perpetuated by the Japanese military throughout the countries that they conquered.
These atrocities are largely airbrushed out of history and merely referred to as “incidents.”
The Japanese war dead are enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. At this time of year – April – the cherry blossom petals fall like confetti around the Shinto worshippers who have come to offer their prayers. The customary procedure is that worshippers approach the austere shrine, clap twice then bow their heads in supplication.
It is here that Japan’s 2.5 million war dead are honoured. It is at an adjacent museum where these atrocities are either minimised by words such as “incident” or even ignored in toto.
Germany, on the other hand, has long since admitted culpability for its wartime sins. Expressions of remorse & penitence have been the norm since shortly after WW2. The German citizens openly admit the immorality and moral turpitude of the Nazi Regime & have drawn a line under it. They still bear the guilt of shame but have largely moved-on emotionally.
They have opened the Concentration Camps to visitors & do not marginalise the human suffering inflicted.
Why have two societies each with blood on their proverbial hands, dealt with their traumatic past in opposing ways?
As any psychologist will be hasty to mention, it is akin to suppressed anger. It is only through releasing that anger that one is able to liberate oneself and reach a level of emotional equilibrium once more.
To this day, the behaviour of the Japanese has created animosity across the Pacific world. This attitude of denialism, minimising the atrocities committed and worse, honouring those who committed such heinous crimes, has not endeared them. Maybe with the passage of time, forgiveness will be possible, but not yet.
Even now fearing prosecution, claims for reparations and the maintenance of honour, the Japanese still cling to their fallacious beliefs.
Like humans treading the wrong path in spite of knowing the path of righteousness, the Japanese still ramble along oblivious that three simple words “We are sorry ” This acknowledgement of guilt will ameliorate and assuage the anger felt by so many.
Now is their chance; but with Shinzo Abe at the helm, it is only a forlorn hope.