Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2013
Japan's leaders still won't acknowledge their country's wartime atrocities.
January 18, 2013|By Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
This month 75 years ago, the people of Nanking, China's ancient capital city, were in the midst of one of the worst atrocities in history, the infamous Rape of Nanking. The truth of what actually happened is at the center of a bitter dispute between China and Japan that continues to play out in present-day relations. Many Chinese see Japan's election last month of ultraconservative nationalist Shinzo Abe as prime minister as just the latest in a string of insults. And it was recently reported that Japan is considering rolling back its 1993 apology regarding "comfort women," the thousands of women the Japanese army sexually enslaved during World War II.
In 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army, captured Nanking on Dec. 13. No one knows the exact toll the Japanese soldiers exacted on its citizens, but a postwar Allied investigation put the numbers at more than 200,000 killed and at least 20,000 women and girls raped in the six weeks after the city fell.
In 2006, we traveled to China and to Japan to interview victims and soldiers who took part in the massacre. One former Japanese soldier explained, without a hint of regret: "We all drew straws, and the man who pulled out the one marked first, he brushed off her face tenderly and treated her pretty, yes, and then proceeded to rape her. As their daughter was being raped, the parents would come outside and gesture to us,'Please spare her!' They'd bang their heads on the ground and plead with us. We'd take one girl and five of us would hold her down."
In China, a 79-year-old man tearfully described how, at 9 years old, he watched a soldier bayonet his mother to death as she breast fed his brother. Another man saw his 13-year-old sister sliced in half by a Japanese soldier after she resisted being raped. Elderly women told harrowing stories of the rapes they endured as young girls.
It was the mass rapes in Nanking and the brutalization of an entire populace that eventually convinced Japanese military leaders that they needed to contain the chaos. Japanese soldiers began rounding up women and forcing them to serve as sex slaves in so-called comfort stations.
This is what most historians believe. But not in Japan, where a large faction of conservatives, led by Abe, denies that the Japanese military forced women into sexual slavery. They maintain that any suggestion to the contrary is simply anti-Japanese propaganda and probably spread by China. At the furthest end of the spectrum, the minimizing turns to flat-out denial; one professor we interviewed at a top Japanese university adamantly insisted there were no killings or rapes in Nanking.
Not surprisingly, all this minimizing and denial enrages the Chinese and others in Asia. But this is a familiar pattern.
Abe has visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo and has said he plans to visit again as prime minister. This is the place where the souls of more than 2 million Japanese war dead are said to be enshrined. Among them are 14 men convicted at the end of World War II of what are known as Class-A war crimes, including Iwane Matsui, the general who led Japanese forces in Nanking. To the Chinese, every visit by an official is like ripping open an unhealed wound. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went there six times, and his 2005 visit resulted in anti-Japanese riots in China.