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Japanese War Crimes during World War II: Atrocity and the Psychology of Collective Violence
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Introduction The late Iris Chang (1968–2004) wrote an important book, yet not a good one.1 Like others who followed her example, she used the term “Asian Holo- caust”2 and thereby tried to highlight the events related to the so-called “Rape of Nanjing” or “Nanjing Massacre” in which soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army raped, tortured, and murdered Chinese civilians in the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937 and 1938. The history and knowledge of these events, as Gayle K. Sato correctly remarked, “did not figure prominently in Asian Amer- ican war memory.”3 Although a comparison with the historical dimensions of the Holocaust is rather inappropriate,4 Chang and later authors chose to bring greater attention to the topic. However, in pursuit of gaining this attention, Chang delivered what can be called a “controversial international bestseller”5 that was more Japan bashing than a provision of profound discussion about why violence erupted in Nanjing.6 The narrative served the victims and their families, who still directed their anger toward Japan as the enemy, but it did not allow readers to understand why the event occurred7 why these people became victims of the Japanese soldiers’ violence was not explained. The Japa nese were claimed to be evil by nature, incapable of sympathy toward their victims and therefore deemed not as equals, but rather as dangerous enemies. Chang was correct when she claimed that “even by the standards of history’s most destructive war, the Rape of Nanking represents one of the worst instances of mass extermination.”8 On the other hand, however, she would “condemn all Japanese people for not acknowledging the facts, even if there are parts of the modern Japanese society that do understand the meaning of the Rape of Nanking and recognize it as a Japanese war crime.”9 Nanjing was not Auschwitz. However, Jürgen Habermas emphasized that “Auschwitz has changed the basis for the continuity of the conditions of life within history,”10 and this also applies to the victims of Nanjing who endured rape and torture in China under Japanese rule. Regardless of this fact, it would