Western media is usually very concerned about censorship and human rights issues in Chinese territory, including Chinese authorities silence over the 1989 Tianan’men Square crackdown (well, not really these days, but some media point them out from time to time). However, the same diligence is not exacted from Japan. The Imperial Japanese Army had a long history of cruelty and abuse since the beginning of the First Sino-Japanese War and the Port Arthur Massacre in November, 1894, including torture, vivisection, and biological experiments on POWs conducted by the Unit 731 in Manchuria. There are also testimonies of acts of cannibalism in New Guinea –not only against the fallen enemy but also on younger Japanese soldiers–, looting, mass executions, comfort women disposed of by herding them into caves which were then dynamited, and thousands of rape cases involving anything from eight to eighty years old females, not only Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, Dutch, or Filipina, but also Japanese. Why do Western media ignore all these past human rights violations? Donald Calman, author of Nature and Origins of Japanese Imperialism, believes that the Japanese “got their freedom and America got their scientific data”. But this could not have been done without the assistance of the Japanese government, the military, and the implied consent of Japan Studies scholars and Japanese citizens alike, some of whom have categorically denied all these war crimes. For example, the North China Daily wrote on January 30, 1938:
“London, January, 29. The Japanese ambassador in London, Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, today said in an interview with the ‘Daily Sketch’ that he ‘deeply deplored’ reports reaching Europe accusing Japanese soldiers of ‘unspeakable atrocities’ and added that it was ‘unthinkable that our troops would forget their traditions’ […] ‘Such conduct is utterly foreign to our noble traditions, and there is nothing in the whole history of Japan which shows any precedent for such conduct’”.
In fact, it was true that their troops had not forgotten their traditions, but as we shall see in the third part, these were actually closer to Auschwitz than to the legendary samurais we see in the movies –because the samurai code of conduct, based on Western Asian traditions of thought, was rejected by the nationalists in order to purify themselves from the obnoxious influences of China and other “Yellow” people.
The reasons behind this amnesia are to be found in the Japanese education system, which has been largely controlled by right-wing revisionists –yes, in Japan the far-right is actually far-right! Many textbooks have undergone significant “quality control” revisions to hide or minimize Japanese war crimes. As Iris Chang once explained, “a few years ago that some Japanese children weren’t even sure which side won — the United States or Japan.” The best and brightest in Japanese society are also victims of this amnesia –no surprises here. When one teacher from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government addressed the issue, “his Japanese students — mostly diplomats — they had no idea what he was talking about. And some were psychologically unprepared to deal with the subject in classroom discussions. Apparently one Japanese student became so distressed that she bolted from the room, weeping hysterically.”
Criticism ended up with Masayuki Fujio, the Japanese Education Minister, who was fired in 1986. There were those who spoke about a “new era” but, in fact, the new Japanese textbooks after his dismissal only accepted the existence of a Nanking Massacre, with no detailed account of war crimes or the number victims. In 1991 Japan removed again any reference to the incidents and, three years later, the government approved that the number of victims had only been 15,000. According to the New York Times, Justice Minister Shigeto Hagano declared in 1994 that the massacre was a “fabrication” and, some months later, The Times quoted Shin Sakurai, head of the Environmental Agency, who claimed that “Japan had not intended to wage a ‘war of aggression’ in the Pacific during the Second WW”. In 1998 Nanking was not even mentioned in many textbooks –for example, the Nihonshi B (History of Japan B) – and, seven years later, the Atarashii rekishi kyoukasho (New History Textbook) claimed that there were serious doubts concerning the reality of the massacre.
Japanese scholars are often silent about this topic, especially historians, because they are aware of the consequences they could face both socially and professionally. As Peter Edwards explains in Friendship East and West:
“Ít should be borne in mind that the dangers of abandoning tatemae [public behavior] and speaking out in public on such issues are considerable – a fact of political life to which the shooting in 1990 of Hitoshi Motoshima, the Mayor of Nagasaki, bears witness” (pp. 41-42).
Because of this manipulation of their own history, it is not surprising that Lu Chuan may find contradictions between Japanese soldiers’s reports and the testimonies of Chinese citizens and foreigners who lived in Nanking when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied the city. Japan’s self-imposed historical lie has also been imposed upon us.
Look forward to the third chapter, “The forgery of the Japanese Culture Myth.”
Left: Atarashii rekishi kyoukasho (New History Textbook), edited in 2005 by Atarashii rekishi kyoukasho o tsukuru-kai (Japanese Society for the Reform of the Historical Textbooks), which tries to preserve Japanese revisionism against most recent trends. Right: Another edition of the same book. The band reads: “¡The first book to include the imaginary Incident of Nanking and what really happened in the Tongzhou Incident!”