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Archive for December 13th, 2008

Last week, I finished reading Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, and it was easily the most disturbing book I’ve read.  We’ve discussed “man’s inhumanity to man” on several occasions, and never was it more glaringly apparent than in the Chinese capital.

The Japanese military leaders were somewhat embarrassed by the 3 months it took to conquer Shanghai, because they believed so strongly in the gross inferiority of their Chinese opponents.  So as they moved inland toward the capital, their anger and bloodlust came in trail.  Retreating Chinese soldiers and refugees entering Nanking told stories of atrocities…entire villages being razed and their inhabitants scattered or slaughtered.  But nothing could have prepared them for what was to come.

When the Battle of Nanking began, I mentioned a change in Chinese leadership, as General Iwame Matsui returned home due to illness.  It was either his successor, Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, or Lt. Col. Isamu Cho (forging Yasuhiko’s name), that ordered all captives of Nanking were to be killed.  Part of their logic was (to them) practical…it would have taken a bundle of resources to feed and govern the people of Nanking.  But more than that, the Japan’s military schools taught soldiers that the Chinese were less than dogs…worthless animals with no stomach to fight and no reason to live.

So when Nanking (largely undefended except by untrained troops) fell on December 13, 1937, General Matsui (who was more moderate, ordering his soldiers not to defile themselves before the world) was not on scene.  And the lack of resistance was an abomination to Japan’s warrior culture of “bushido”, further fueling their hatred.

I don’t know all military history, but based on what I’ve read (and seen on video, because it’s available), the subsequent weeks in Nanking were some of the most excrutiatingly brutal…ever.  Citizens of Nanking were rounded up, the men were executed, the women raped then executed, and the children used as gruesome experimental subjects.  Chinese were buried alive, doused with kerosene and set aflame, buried to their heads and then run over with trucks, and used as live bayonet targets…and that isn’t the worst of it.

German businessman John Rabe, living in Nanking and no stranger to his own government’s repression elsewhere, was aghast at what he witnessed and sent word to Adolf Hitler that something needed to be done.  General Matsui returned and ordered the killing to stop, but he was essentially shoved aside…Yasuhiko was a Prince.

The Nanking Safety Zone became the lone haven in a city flowing with blood.  Originally set up by missionaries and concerned men like Rabe, it was a war-free area where foreigners could gather and be safe from Japanese attack.  But  it began to fill with Chinese citizens seeking refuge, and the  Safety Zone was soon crowded beyond capacity with several hundred thousand inhabitants.  And then the administrators of the Zone worked to protect the refugees, feed them, heal them, and comfort them…though they were never asked, nor expected, to do so.

The Safety Zone protected thousands and thousands of people during those horrific weeks, but many others could not be saved.  There is debate over how many were killed in the Rape of Nanking, and some still argue that it never really happened (but video doesn’t lie and all the witnesses can’t be lying either).  In her book, Chang brings together numerous tallies and calculates that more than 375,000 Chinese were killed in 6-8 weeks.

The Rape of Nanking was one of the most gruesome events in man’s often-bloody history.  And to think, World War II and all of its horrors was still two years from officially starting.

Recommended Reading:  The Rape of Nanking – Today, I use the word “recommended” loosely.  There is incredible courage and strength recounted in this book, but also unbelievable suffering and awful violence.

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