The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocost of World War II
Iris Chang
ISBN: 0-14-027744-7
Penguin Books

In December of 1937 the defenses of Nanking fell apart and the Japanese Army swept in. From December of 1937 until March of 1938 the Japanese killed possibly 300,000 civilians. Thousands were raped, tortured or murdered for fun. Many were killed in bayonet practice. This book was hard to put down and yet also hard to imagine. It tells an important story and one that is often forgotten. Many Japanese don’t know the truth about Nanking because offically in Japan it never happened. However there is a great deal of photographic evidence compiled by many sources including the Japanese Soldiers themselves.

The book not only goes into the facts of the case but also tries to explore why it would happen. Chang is unsympathetic to the men that chose to commit the attrocities but she is sympathetic to the community that is trying its best to deny it and forget it. However she is adamant that they must not forget and they must admit their fault and apologize. She points to how Germany has healed its wounds since WWII.

The story, while graphic and reprehensible, is also very interesting. It speaks about the efforts of Western Diplomats who used the shield of their diplomatic status to help hundres of thousands of Chinese. John Rabe was chief among them; conspicuous for being a Nazi but recognized for his strength of character and humane nature. He was the Living Buddha of Nanjing some say. He saw his efforts as his duty because the Chinese were his people, he was quoted as saying.

The atrocities and destruction on Nanking should be remembered and some attempt made to understand them. In reading this book I feel like I have gotten closer to knowing the facts and a little closer to understanding it. I think in order to fully understand it you have to watch the evolution Japanese culture from the civil war of the 1860’s to the Meiji Restoriation to the Russo-Japanese War and what transpired up to 1937. I think Hirohito wasn’t a particularily strong Emperor so the military re-established itself as the defacto power and revived a twisted form of Bushido. In any case, while suicide and a fixation on death was always part of Samurai culture, it was never at the level that the Japanese of the 1930’s and 1940’s took it.

The book makes you think and that is the most important thing it can do. Wargames are fun, but war is not and this book grounds us into remembering that war brings horrors. I think this book is a worthy read. You won’t find ideas for your games in it but you will find a lot that will challenge what you may think is possible in terms of human cruelty. Also you will learn what a true measure of heroic courage is in the men and women who, unarmed, faced down the Japanese Army. To me that is the true definition of being a Hero.

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