I recently finished reading the book "The Rape of Nanking" by Iris Chang. The subtitle, The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, says it all. It's a period in history that I had only vaguely heard about (and I was a history major for a couple of years in college), but it is one that everyone should know about and not forget.
In 1937, when the Japanese invaded China, Nanking was the capital of the Republic of China. It was also one of the major cultural centers of the country. The Japanese invaded in Dec, 1937 and by early 1938 they had tortured, raped and finally killed an estimated 260,000 to over 300,000 non-combatants. (It is also estimated that by the time the Japanese left China in 1945, they had killed more than 19 million Chinese people.) Their methods of torture and killing were so atrocious that they made even Hitler look humane.
The Japanese never apologized and very few war criminals were ever prosecuted. Many of the worst war criminals went on to be leaders of Japan until this day. Until recently, Japanese school children learned nothing about Japan's role in World War II and the majority (who know what happened) still deny that Japan did anything wrong.
The author cites three factors for the brutality that occurred:
1. The phenomenon called the "transfer of oppression." That the Japanese military had great potential for brutality because of the arbitrary and cruel treatment that the military inflicted on its own officiers and soldiers and the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, where status was dictated by proximity to the emperor. That those with the least power are the most sadistic when given the power of live and death over others perceived inferior. Due to years of indoctrination, the lowliest Japanese soldier felt far superior to the Chinese. The soldier had to endure whatever his superior did to him and now it was his turn.
2. The contempt that the Japanese felt for the Chinese people. Contempt cultivated by decades of propaganda, education and social indoctrination. The Japanese had be taught that the Chinese were subhuman -- lower than farm animals. There was a quote in the book from a Japanese soldier who said " a pig is more valuable than a Chinese life -- you could eat a pig."
3. Finally, religion. Giving violence a holy meaning, the Japanese army gave violence a cultural imperative every bit as powerful as the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. For the Japanese, they were racially superior to anyone on earth and the Emperor was considered an entity higher than God.
Interesting factors, and all you have to do is change the name, Nazi's, Serb's, etc and you have reasons that apply to any holocaust that has ever occurred and that could occur in the future.
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