Awareness is so important.
History will always be one of the most important parts of our culture, of any culture. To study it, to teach it, and to remember it are keys to the foundation of a better future. To have knowledge of the past helps to prevent mistakes and atrocious events from repeating themselves. In order to do that, though, the mistakes of the past must be reflected on and revisited not only by all parties involved, but by those watching from the sidelines as well.
We cannot live in denial, we cannot live in ignorant states of bliss, and we cannot allow those who commit heinous crimes escape responsibility. In the case of the Nanking Massacre, a horrific genocide committed by the Imperial Japanese military, I can say for a fact that it is not a well-known tragedy. If it were, how then would 73 years have gone by in which Japan still seems able to escape the responsibility for such crime committed on its neighbors for so long?
Not once in my entire school career have I been taught about this genocide. Not in any discussion of World War II was this topic touched. It may have been mentioned, but I seriously, seriously doubt that. Have you ever heard about it? Some of you may have, or so I hope. Though whether you have or not, it’s time for you to grab a bowl of grapes, get your tea ready, and prepare to read. The animosity between Asian countries and Japan stem from this terrible past, something that undermines the stability and peace in the Asian region– and this is a key reason.
Warning: Graphic and disturbing pictures included.
In 1928, the Chinese Nationalist Government had moved its capital from Peking to Nanking, a city which eventually grew to more than 1 million people. These people were mainly refugees who were fleeing from the Japanese armies that had invaded China. After the Japanese had taken control of Shanghai, their began closing in on Nanking on the 11th of November, 1937. By early December, they had it surrounded.
In mid November, a group of foreigners formed an international rescue committee to establish a safety zone meant to protect the refugees. It was located inside the city, twenty camps large, each holding from 200 to 12,000 people.
On December 9th, Nanking was shaken when a massive attack was launched on them by the Japanese Army. They entered the city via the Zhongshan and Pacific Gates on December 13th, soon to be joined by two fleets of the Japanese Navy.
Before the Japanese even entered the city, a large number of Chinese soldiers had been captured while the rest escaped inside the gates of Nanking, changing into civilian clothes to disguise themselves. Even so, upon entering, the Japanese arrested anyone who was suspected to be a Chinese soldier, sending them outside of the city to be massacred. (They also frequently entered the safety zone to arrest young men 700 at a time, executing them on site.) These people, murdered in tens of thousands at a time, were shot by machine guns in most cases. Those who survived the shots were individually ran through with bayonets. In some cases, the captured had gasoline poured onto them and were then burned alive, where others suffered through poison gas.
Apparently these Japanese soldiers were masters at thinking of new, barbaric, and inhumane ways to torment and murder these people, inside and outside of the city. These methods included shooting, stabbing, cutting open the abdomen, excavating the heart, beheading, drowning, burning, punching the body and eyes with an awl (pointed tool for marking surfaces or punching small holes), castration and punching through the vagina.
On the initial day the Japanese entered the city, more than 100,000 injured Chinese soldiers and refugees filled the streets. . They were mercilessly fired at by the Japanese on day one, and on day two came the tanks and artilleries to continue in the bloody murder. The two major streets of Nanking city were rivers of blood and bodies.
Refugees tried to escape across the Yagntze River where they were trapped with no transportation. Even as many of them tried to swim across the river, they were fired at by Japanese military from the shores and in the river itself. More than 50,000 men, woman and children were murdered during this incident, their bodies covering the entirety of the river the next day.
The Japanese took pleasure in looting and seizing everything they could from the civilians. This included food, clothes, animals, cigarettes, fountain pens, buttons, jewelry, and antiques. They also organized burnings of the buildings, using either gasoline or other combustible chemicals. After the fires were set, they would run and hid in wait for people who came to try to extinguish the fires and watch many of them burn alive. The city of Nanking was burned to ashes.
Had I been taught something like that, it would have stuck. The images that formed in my head while researching this, even without the pictures, were absolutely terrifying. It was the same thing as learning about tragedies like the Holocaust or the Rwandan Genocide.
Japan eluded responsibility for these horrific war crimes, and one has to wonder why and how? How is it possible for something like this to happen, yet nothing to be done about it? The sad thing about it is…this is not the only horrific part of history that has gone unrecognized. I see raising awareness to this nightmare as a stepping stone to raising awareness for all other atrocities that have happened, are happening, and will happen in the future.
You don’t have to care, but you have to know.