Friday, August 18, 2006

Japanese Colonial Activity as Genocide: A Deliberate Case of Mistaken Identity

At the end of the 19th century, the Japanese has a desire to establish a colonial empire. This desire had three motivations. The first motivation was that the Japanese sought new markets for goods and new sources for raw materials. The prevailing economic theory was that the most efficient way for industrial powers to grow markets and secure a reliable supply of resources was to have access to all components of the trade cycle. A colonial power could extract resources from the colony, convert those resources into manufactured goods at home for export, some of which the colony would be required to purchase. Another motivator for Japanese colonialism was the desire to thwart Western colonial designs on Asia. Western powers had carved up Africa, Australia, and the subcontinent of Asia and were blocked from South American, so all that was left for Europe and the United States to pursue was Asia. The Meiji leaders were well aware that industrialization and expansion went hand in hand. They knew that European leaders invoked economic benefits to justify the acquisition of colonial territory (even if there was little evidence to support such claims) and that the European powers used trade, loans and investments as the entering wedge of political penetration. 1

The Western penetration into parts of Asia was extremely worrisome for the Japanese government and became the second impetus toward Japanese colonialism. In order to block or prevent Western powers from entering parts of Asia near Japan, the new Japanese empire would have to get to those parts of Asia first. Japan’s Foreign Minister Komura Jutaro, at the turn of the century, recognized the problem that faced Japan: “Competition through commercial and industrial activity and through overseas activities is a phenomenon of grave importance in recent international relations. Its emergence has been most prominent in the Far East. For a number of years, Western countries... have been zealous in expanding their rights in mining, railroads, in inland waterways and in various other directions on the Asian continent, especially in China.” 2 China and Korea were strategically, militarily and economically important for Japan. A colonial empire that included those two countries would keep the Western powers from encroaching on Japan proper.

A third reason that colonialism proved attractive to Japan was the fact that colonies meant prestige. Powerful countries had colonies, and weak countries were or were soon to be colonies. Having colonies also marked the colonial power as one of the wealthy countries of the world, something that caused pride in that country’s people. “In a way, Japanese colonialism was a matter of prestige. At the end of the nineteenth century and going on the first third of the twentieth, nationalists regarded colonies as a status symbol. Colonization was - among other things - a form of conspicuous consumption on a national scale. Great powers were expected to show their prowess by foreign conquests, past or present.” 3 Meiji Japan was eager to show its power, and eager to show itself the equal to any Western power. As Takekoshi Yokaburo, Diet Member, exclaimed after a visit to Formosa: “I cannot but rejoice that we, the Japanese, have passed our first examination as a colonizing power so creditably. The thought also of the future fills my heart with joy, because, as the Southern Cross seems to invite the wonders of the Southern Seas, so our successes in Formosa beckon us on to fulfill the great destiny that lies before us, and make our country Queen of the Pacific.” 4

Japan had a racist society. Any foreigner who has lived in Japan can tell stories about the stares and whispers encountered when one enters a train, or about the children who gawk and point when they are encountered on the street. A United Nations “Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” Doudou Diene, in early 2006 concluded that racism in Japan was endemic. “Finally, the most profound manifestations are of a cultural and historical nature. This type of discrimination affects principally the national minorities, but also descendents of former Japanese colonies. The fundamental sources of these discriminations are the identity construction of Japan, the writing and teaching of Japanese history, the image of the communities and people concerned and their perception by the society.” 5 What Diene found was the current manifestation of a historical trend in Japan, an inherent belief in the overall superiority of the Japanese people, and that others were inferior in intellect.

This belief originated in the late 19th century as a result of a series of events that shocked the Japanese consciousness. Admiral Perry, with his advanced military technology represented by his White Ships, forced Meiji Japan to open to the West and at the same time, highlighted Japanese inferiority vis a vis the West. Admiral Perry’s appearance also awakened the Japanese to the idea that they themselves, even though technologically deficient in relation to the West, were nonetheless superior to other Asian nations. “At the same time, aware of China’s backwardness, the Meiji elites began to hold China and other Asian countries in contempt. As a result, Japan chose to become an imperial power at the expense of Asia under the datsua nyuo slogan.” 6 “Datsua nyou” means “breaking away from Asia and joining Europe,” a slogan that gained purchase as the Japanese people became aware of the contrast between Western advances, and Asian backwardness. “This new view of Asia forged a sentiment of contempt toward Asians and even the depersonalization of Asians. Japanese have had a preconceived notion of Asia as being backward and inferior to this day.” 7

Additionally, Japanese colonialists consciously adopted the burden of colonialism because they felt the need to improve the lot of Asia by introducing Japanese influence. Takekoshi again gave voice to the imperial Japanese point of view. He recognized their racist attitudes inherent in the Japanese psyche, but thought these attitudes irrelevant to the good work that they were doing in Asia. “Western nations have long believed that on their shoulders alone rested the responsibility of colonizing the yet-unopened portions of the globe and extending to the inhabitants the benefits of civilization; but now we Japanese, rising from the ocean in the extreme Orient, wish as a nation to take part in this great and glorious work.” 8 This “pan-Asianism” of the Japanese was analogous to the “white man’s burden” in Africa and Asia, under which Western colonialists labored during this period. While no colonized people in Asia were excited or happy to be a Western colony, at the same time, the American and European examples were compelling, and less easy to resist that the Japanese method of rule. 9

Japan’s feeling of superiority toward other Asians, and the desire to compete with Western powers lead the Japanese to cultivate a colonial empire of their own. Arguably, Japan’s first colony was the Ainu lands of Hokkaido, where Matsumae fiefdom samurai assassinated Ainu leaders and asserted control of Hokkaido in 1669. Hokkaido became occupied territory and was eventually declared to be a colony of Japan by the Meiji Restoration in 1889. 10 Okinawa, or the Ryukyu Islands, was another early Japanese colony, exploited for its raw materials. The Meiji Restoration also formalized the colonial status of these islands as had been done with Hokkaido. 11 From 1895, Japan began to acquire colonies outside of the Japan archipelago. The first of these modern colonies was Taiwan or as it was alternately known, Formosa, acquired from China as reparations after Japan defeated China in the Sino-Japanese War in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Although the Ming Dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan, the Ming had but tenuous control of the major cities of Taiwan, and experienced difficulty in extracting taxes from the island. Japan, upon assuming nominal control of the Taiwan, was immediately faced with an insurgency they were forced to quell. In fact, in the interim between the time when China ceded control of Taiwan and Japan was able to arrive on the island to asset its authority, local revolutionaries declared a “Republic of Taiwan” with a flag and a set of principles. Japan dealt with this insurgency, and with other local flare ups of resistance, but no more ruthlessly than any other colonial power pacified any other average colony. Once the desultory resistance was put down in Taiwan, the Meiji Government of Japan attempted to enact policies to bring prosperity to the island. The Taiwanese, except for the Aboriginal people who lived in the mountain chain that runs down the middle of the island, and who traditionally resisted any outside authority, sensed the essential benevolence of the Japanese economic intentions. For the most part, the Taiwanese people went along with the Japanese colonial policies and the Japanese Army‘s rule. 12

The Treaty of Shimonoseki also ceded Korea and parts of Manchuria to Japanese control. Unlike Taiwan’s inhabitants, the peoples of Korea and Manchuria fiercely resisted Japan’s control. The Japanese initially attempted to control Korea by having the Army co-opt civilian organizations, but even this relatively unobtrusive intervention into Korean civil governance was resisted forcibly by Nationalists. The Japanese colonial administration proved skillful in establishing effective constabularies that doubled as intelligence services to keep control of the restive Korean population. Only rarely was it necessary to call for the regular army to put down uprisings. Although the Koreans had no more affection for the Japanese than did the Chinese, the proximity of Korea to the Japanese mainland, and the relative small size of the population in Korea made military reinforcements easier to recall and therefore made rebellion less likely to succeed.

Manchuria and the remainder of Mainland China proved much more difficult for the Japanese army to secure. Much of China proved to be part of Japan’s “informal empire.” An “informal empire” as opposed to one with some formal demarcation such as exited with the Japanese in Taiwan involved a “metropolitan society exercising some degree of political dominance over the peripheral one. What distinguishes informal imperialism from nonimperialisic trading methods, therefore, is the use of coercive methods.” 13 Coercive methods of control and colonization were some of the confluence of events that resulted in a restive population not at all amenable to rule by a foreign power, especially Japan. Other of these influences included the mutual racial animus between the Chinese and the Japanese, the fact that the population was primed to revolt against the prevailing power given the loss of control by the Ming Dynasty, and the huge population with which the Japanese Army had to deal. The results of this volatile mixture were brutalities and atrocities committed by both sides until Japan gained the upper hand against Nationalist forces and marched onto Nanking. On the way to Nanking, the Japanese enacted the “Three No” policies and vowed to kill every Chinese who resisted, about which there will be more later.

There is nothing unique to Japan and Japanese society in the intertwining of colonialism and racism. Given the friction that naturally exists between neighboring states or different peoples, and given the often-confrontational character of colonialism, racism would seem to be a natural by-product. “It is significant that racism is a part of colonialism throughout the world; and it is no coincidence. Racism sums up and symbolized the fundamental relation which unites colonialist and colonized.... [The colonialist’s] racism is as usual to his daily survival as is any other prerequisite for existence....” 14 The people of a colonial power saw themselves as distinct and better than their colonial subjects, even when that colonial relationship was, at best, informal. The nature of colonialism engendered racist attitudes and feelings of superiority and dehumanization regarding the colonized people.

George Orwell, during his time in Marrakesh, also noted the dehumanizing effects that colonialism has on the colonialist, making the colonialist question the humanity of those over whom he rules. “When you walk through a town like this—two hundred thousand inhabitants, of whom at least twenty thousand own literally nothing except the rags they stand up in—when you see how the people live, and still more how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. The people have brown faces—besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone. And even the graves themselves soon fade back into the soil.” 15 Contempt towards the people who are colonized, and loathing by the colonized towards their masters are intrinsic to colonialism. The mutual lack of respect and understanding can have the effect of magnifying slights committed by either side to a point that results in violence on a massive scale, but such an outcome need not necessarily occur. Japan’s record as a colonial power illustrated this observation. In areas where the colonized people remained docile and compliant, colonies thrived. In areas that resisted Japanese rule, the outraged Japanese occupiers would react with massive brutality. These were unfortunate occurrences, but they were certainly not unique to the Japanese among all the colonial powers in the world.

In fact, Japan appropriated many of the terms and attitudes towards other races from the Western colonial discourse. This appropriation occurred in three phases. The first phase occurred in the late nineteenth century. Japanese thinkers began to discern that the Confucian belief that all individuals have a place in the world and in Heaven’s hierarchy fit nicely into Western “scientific” analyses of race. Many Japanese academics seized upon craniometry, Social Darwinism, and the notion of racial types and Western ethnolinguistic and phenotypical definitions of race to construct rustication for oppressive colonial policies. The second phase, beginning around 1895 to the mid 1930’s involved extended debates and discussions regarding the wisdom and necessity of assimilating colonial subjects, in essence, Japanizing them, or forcing those subjects to remain ethnically and linguistically distinct. During the period, Japan attempted to remain distinct from their colonial subjects. The third phase occurred after the mid 1930’s when Japan swung the other way from their earlier attempts to remain distinct from their colonial subjects and instead attempted to enforce Japanization on their largely unwilling subjects. The Japanese required their colonials to adopt Japanese names, used Japanese in everyday life, and the Shinto religion. 16

In mainland China, Japan’s decision to “Japanize” the population proved unpopular. “Rural people increasingly hated the Japanese. They told tales of how the enemy forced people to bow and crawl in a degrading manner, how a Chinese was pushed to his death from the top of a fortification or shot for sport. Indignities and injustices were the subjects of daily gossip and outrage... People came to believe that people in occupied towns and surrounding hamlets who cooperated with the Japanese were traitors, or as it was translated in peasant political culture, people devoid of any sense of moral duty. It was said of these morally tainted villagers on the outskirts of Raoyang town, ‘In Shao, XI, Cai, Bai, no one will bury you even if you die.’” 17 In the absence of reliable information, the peasants passed rumors from person to person, embellishing the atrocities with each telling. Each story, each misstep or reprisal by the Japanese were reported in the most negative light, which tended to increase the anger toward the colonial occupiers.

These cultural misunderstandings and frictions often led to tragic consequences. A Japanese soldier recounted a situation in which he was moving through a Chinese village and encountered some civilians outside their houses. “Everybody thinks that only men are plainclothes soldiers. But there are women, kids,...all kinds. Once, a young woman of twenty-two or twenty-three came up to me looking very friendly. There in front of her house stood a crippled old grandmother, again smiling in a friendly way; naturally I thought they were ryomin (civilians). But then I had a bad feeling about one of them and I shouted a warning. The old woman ran hobbling off. I strip searched the girl... she couldn’t understand me so I gestured with my hands... Underneath her clothes she was wearing two pairs of panties. Hidden inside, sure enough, there was a pistol. I did not want to kill her, but she tried to hit me with the gun and that is why she died. She said something abusive before she died. Afterwards I felt sorry for her but at the time if I did not handle it right I would have been done for. I was provoked.” {Ellipses in original} 18 These experiences were not so unlike those that British troops encountered in Iraq in the 1870’s, American Marines encountered in Afghanistan in 2002 and Israel encountered in southern Lebanon in 2006.

That the Japanese army often brutalized the civilian population in China is not contested. Whether the reason was from the effort to impose Japanese culture on the local population in China, or as retribution for continued resistance by the Chinese, the Japanese Army could be ruthless in dealing with civilian populations or surrendered soldiers. Numerous writers have detailed the conduct of the Japanese Army in Manchuria and throughout China and some have sought to explain what could have happened to a Japanese Army that behaved in exemplary fashion elsewhere in Asia. For Mikiso Hane, “the answer no doubt is to be found in the complicated intermeshing of individual and group psychological forces that were at work.” 19 These “forces” included “submitting docilely to power and authority from above while domineering over the weak and powerless below,” “a strong feeling of national pride coupled with a sense of superiority over other races,” and “the exceedingly harsh treatment that the young recruits were subjected to in the Japanese armed forces” that “no doubt brutalized their spirit and inclined them to behave in a bestial manner when restraining forces were absent.” 20

One factor in the brutality that Japan visited on Mainland China is that is the fact the colonial agency there was Japan’s Imperial Army. The Japanese army had to fight their way into Korea, Manchuria and down into China, not out of any particular plan to do so, but instead because the opportunity was there. “Japanese imperialism was less deliberate than situational in origin. The aggressive movement of Japanese forces into Korea, China and Micronesia was as much due to the absence of effective power to resist it as it was to specific policies and planning.” 21 Effective power to resist is not the same as lack of resistance. Although the Chinese governments were not able to militarily resist the incursion into their mainland, the fact that government has a desire to resist informed the actions of the Chinese people themselves to offer a home-grown resistance.

This “cue” from the government about the acceptability of resistance was crucial in differentiating the resistance to Japanese occupation in the mainland versus that in Taiwan. As established above, the Japanese forcibly subjugated Korea, Manchuria and Mainland China. The Japanese were given Taiwan by China as settlement in the Treaty of Shimonoseki that ended the Sino-Japan War. The Taiwanese had much less incentive to resist their “occupiers” since the former rulers of Taiwan had formally invited in the “occupiers.”

Other writers have been less inclined to see Japanese brutality as the result of psychological forces, but instead have argued that what actually occurred in China was state sanctioned “genocide.” These analysts have drawn a direct line from the contemptuous and racist attitudes of the Japanese toward other Asians and their desire for “genocide” of the Chinese in Asia. Most notable among these observers was Sir Martin Gilbert who wrote: “with the Japanese attack on China in 1937, a genocidal menace entered China together with the invading army.” 22 Gilbert quoted casualty figures to bolster his case for Japanese genocide. “The ‘Rape of Nanking’ was to take its place among the massacres not only of the century, but of modern times. When the Japanese entered the city, the population was estimated at between 600,000 and 700,000, of whom 150,000 were soldiers. In the ensuing slaughter, more than 200,000 civilians and 90,000 soldiers were killed.” 23

Another prominent critic of the Japanese has been Iris Chang. In her book Rape of Nanking, she offered the most searing and recent indictment of the Japanese Army, detailing the wantonness with which they conducted their operations. She did not use the term “genocide” to describe what happened in China, but she certainly wanted to leave her readers with the impression that the Japanese committed genocide. Chang called what occurred in Nanking in 1937 a “mass extermination” and she compared the “Rape” to the Jewish Holocaust and to Stalin’s purges in order to make the point that what the Japanese perpetrated in China was worse because it occurred over a shorter period of time. 24 Like other advocates of the argument that the Japanese were racists who were attempting genocide on the Chinese, Chang used numerous rhetorical devices to confuse, muddy and obfuscate the issue. For the subtitle of her book, The Rape of Nanking, she deliberately chose the provocative subtitle of “The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.” For most readers, the term “Holocaust,” when used in the context of World War II, brings to mind the Nazis’ concerted attempt to exterminate the Jews from Europe, and oftentimes, to burn the bodies of the murdered innocents. While the word “holocaust” literally means “burned offering” in Middle English, the word now means much more than that.

The “Holocaust” was the reason Raphael Lemke coined the word “genocide” in order to describe the peculiar horror that existed in Europe, directed against the Jews there. “Holocaust” has entered our lexicon as shorthand for all the events in Europe perpetrated against the Jews, as well as all the other racial groups that the Nazis tried to eliminate. The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC tells the story of that time. The name of the Museum is so evocative, that visitors will not mistake the contents for something other than the events in Europe from 1936-1945.
Chang appropriated the word “holocaust” to strengthen her contention that the actions of the Japanese Army were something more than a strategic response to the Republic’s resistance. While she does not call the actions of the Japanese Army “genocide,” Chang is content for the reader to make the association on his or her own. Chang cites the “Three All” policy not as orders for genocide but instead, as orders to “wipe out everyone in certain regions of China.” This was a distinction without a difference. She claims the depopulation in Northern China was the result of extermination of the Chinese people, alternately citing the figure of 19 million and 6.3 million killed by Japanese bayonets, gunfire, diseased fleas, looting, bombing and medical experiments. “If those deaths are added to the final count, then one can say that the Japanese killed more than 19 million Chinese people in its war against China.” 25

Chang has deliberately blurred the meaning of the words “genocide,” “holocaust,” “mass killing,” and “atrocity,” to argue that regardless of what one calls what happened in Northern China and Nanking, those actions were inexcusable and the Japanese should atone to the Chinese. The reality of the motivations of the Japanese actually fighting the war against China was different from the ones that Chang ascribes to those soldiers.

“Genocide” and “holocaust” are terms that are so charged with meaning that writers will appropriate them for use to describe situations for which the terms are not appropriate. The American Heritage Book of English Usage notes there is a specific link between the words: “But because of its associations with genocide, people may object to extended applications of holocaust.” 26 Both Gilbert and Chang have insisted on broadening both terms genocide and holocaust to mean “atrocity,” “mass killing” or both. However, the term genocide has a clear that has been adjudicated by the United Nations and war tribunals and should not be applied to any atrocious situation in the world. There is no doubt that the Japanese Army perpetrated mass killings in China, but their conduct in China did not constitute “genocide.”

The term “genocide” was created by Raphael Lemkin to describe his observations of the conduct of the Nazis in Europe. Lemkin asserted that the Nazis were attempting to destroy entire ethnic groups and this action was “genocide,” Lemke coined the work by combining the Greek “genos” for “race” or “tribe” with the common Latin ending “cide” to denote “killing.” Following his description of this new word, Lemke wrote: “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.” 27 The key phrases from his observation were that genocide requires a “coordinated plan” and the aim of destroying the “national group as an entity.”

Japanese actions in China did not reach either threshold to be considered genocide.
The United Nations has since taken Lemke’s definition of genocide, and refined it. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines “genocide” as: Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 28 The amount of killing that one group inflicts on another is irrelevant to whether the actions amount to genocide, but rather, the crucial determinant for genocide is the motivation of the killers: “The specificity of genocide does not arise from the extent of their killings nor their savagery nor resulting infamy, but solely from their intention: the destruction of a group.” 29

Another non-psychological explanation for the brutality displayed by the Japanese in China is that the Japanese Army was attempting to replicate some of the tactics of the US general William Tecumseh Sherman, in his “March to the Sea” during the Civil War. “Terror was the basic factor in Sherman’s policy as he openly says. Here are two quotations out of a number: ‘Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources... I can make the march, and make Georgia howl.’ ‘We are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor feel the hard hand of war... The truth is the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance.” 30 Sherman’s vision for Georgia and South Carolina was similar to what the Japanese Army visited on the Nationalist in Nanking and the Communists elsewhere. The Japanese conducted kind of a “scorched earth policy in reverse. Indiscriminate devastation was designed to break the will of the populace from supporting the resistance cause, and to deprive the Chinese Communist forces military sources of manpower and food supply. 31 Li echoed Chalmers Johnson idea that Japanese acted in China in pursuit of strategic goals through the “three ‘all’ policy; kill all, burn all, loot all.” “The essence of the ‘three all’ policy was to surround a given area, to kill everyone in it and to destroy everything in it, so that the area would be uninhabitable in the future.” 32

Chang specifically cites the strategic “three all” policy as a “holocaust” in China at the hands of the Japanese. She used the specific term to equate Japanese attempt to crush a guerrilla force that was supported by the local population with the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate Jews and other minorities in Europe. She thus has attempted to indict the Japanese civilian leadership and army as war criminals. As mentioned earlier, no honest commentator would deny the brutality and scale of Chinese deaths before and during World War II. Had Chang offered her work as a historical record of events, her book would be seen as a welcome testament to the brutality of total war, on those terms. However, Chang had a different agenda.

Fueled by her outrage by the events in China, and by what she considered the lack of candor on the part of the Japanese to accept their responsibility for the unjustified “holocaust” in Nanking, and other places, Chang attempted to thwart Japan’s modern engagement in the world by tarring the entire current government and army as unrepentant war criminals. Note her description, not of the events, but of the Japanese people’s attention to the “Rape of Nanking” in the years that have followed the events. “This book describes two related but discrete atrocities. One is the Rape of Nanking itself, the story of how the Japanese wiped out hundreds of thousands. The other is the cover-up, the story of how the Japanese, emboldened by the silence of the Chinese and Americans, tried to erase the entire massacre from public consciousness, thereby depriving its victims of their proper place in history.” 33

Later, she became even more explicit in her goals for writing the book: “When it comes to expressing remorse for its own wartime actions before the bar of world opinion, Japan remains to this day a renegade nation. Even in the period directly after the war, and despite the war crimes trials that found a few of its leaders guilty, the Japanese managed to avoid the moral judgment of the civilized world that the Germans were made to accept for their actions in this nightmare time.” 34 Chang’s anger at the Japanese for skirting the “judgment of the civilized world” has led her to ascribe to the bulk of the Japanese Army, a mindset similar to that of the most recalcitrant Nazi prison guard at Dachau in the hopes of poisoning world opinion about the Japanese. Lest readers miss the point, William Kirby, Harvard Professor of Modern History drives it home in the most explicit terms: “But the events of Nanking - to which Hitler surely took no exception - would later make them (Germany and Japan) moral co-conspirators, as violent aggressors, perpetrators of what would ultimately be called ’crimes against humanity.’ W.H. Auden, who visited the China war, made the connection earlier than most:
And the maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now:
Nanking; Dachau.” 35

Note the pernicious linking of events, the moral equivalence that Kirby and Chang have made between Hitler and the Japanese Army. Deconstruct the statement: “to which Hitler took no exception.” China was an enemy of his ally, and the world was at the time engaged in a total war. Hitler took no exception to the events in Western Russia either, at least the ones that resulted in the death of millions of Russians there. He also took no exception to the death of thousands of Japanese during the firebombing of Tokyo, except inasmuch as the bombing would effect the Japanese in prosecuting the war against America. What Kirby and Chang are explicitly attempting is to link Hitler’s lack of exception to the “rape of Nanking” and Japanese people’s indifference to events there and America’s refusal to consider the Japanese people’s indifference as an “atrocity.” So events that had been acceptable throughout history and around the world in waging war against a hated enemy have in retrospect been transformed into war crimes and atrocities that should continue to hamstring the international relations of the “offending” nation in the present day.

Supporters of the argument cannot point to a single instance where leader at the highest level of the Japanese Army or in the government gave orders regarding their conduct in China that could be construed to meet either the Lemke or the UN definition of “genocide.” The Japanese Army displayed extensive killing and savagery that Destrexhe deplored in his commentary, and certain elements conducted ghoulish experiments on prisoners but the Japanese Army never set out to exterminate all Chinese.

The most compelling counter-argument to Chang’s assertion of holocaust or genocide on the Chinese mainland was the behavior and comportment of Japanese troops on Taiwan. George Kerr, an American diplomat arrived in Taiwan soon after Japan’s surrender, was a close observer of all things in Taiwan. He made many contacts with local Taiwanese who recounted isolated incidents of Japanese brutality that Kerr documented in his book Formosa Betrayed. The Japanese quelled three concerted rebellions but were measured in their response and did not resort to collective punishments. In fact, compared, ironically to the Nationalist Chinese troops who came over to take over Taiwan from the Japanese, the Japanese were remarkably disciplined and restrained. In fact, the Formosans, when they first got a look at the dirty, bedraggled Chinese forces, were not impressed, especially in comparison to the Japanese who had garrisoned the island. “Formosans along the way laughed at the shambling, poorly disciplined, and very dirty Chinese troops. It was evident, they said, that the "victors" ventured into Formosa only because the United States stood between them and the dreaded Japanese. Much evil and many individual tragedies were to spring from these expressions of open scorn, for the mainland Chinese were losing face, dearer than life itself.” 36

Other authors have documented isolated Japanese atrocities committed against prisoners of war housed in Taiwan prisoner of war camps the likes for which Japanese commanders and troops were tried and executed. The Japanese never displayed the eagerness to destroy huge parts of Taiwan as they did in Manchuria and Nanking. If Chang’s assertion that the Japanese were motivated by racial animus to ethnically cleanse China, then it would have been logical to start such a policy in Taiwan. The Taiwanese people, except for the aboriginal people who resided in the mountains, were ethnically Chinese, with few means to resist the powerful Japanese military. Had the Japanese truly have been on a genocidal mission, such a policy could have rapidly depopulated Taiwan, and opened the island to resettlement by Japanese colonials. However, instead of ethnic cleansing or genocide, the Japanese did their best to be benevolent colonial rulers, in an effort to extract maximum economic benefit from the local population. Taiwan was the test case for Japanese colonial policies, and by far the most successful colonial effort by the Japanese. The Japanese attempted to duplicate the success in Korea and Manchuria, but were never able to duplicate the success. In fact, resistance by the locals, especially in China forced the Japanese into repressive security policies that proved counter productive to their economic efforts.

Japanese were racist, and not above committing atrocities in pursuit of their war aims. Their war crimes in their treatment of POWs of all races and their indefensible medical experiments were ghoulish and sadistic outrages. However, the idea that the Japanese attempted genocide in the mold of the Nazis is not supported by the facts and does not provide a useful lens with which to analyze the conduct of the Japanese as a colonial power. The Japanese sought colonies for the reasons that Western powers did; power and economic benefits. Once on the ground in China, they faced an indigenous resistance that was spirited and effective enough to provoke the Japanese to respond aggressively and ruthlessly. This ruthless aggression in Manchuria and around Nanking was further marred by sadistic atrocities. However, at no time did the Japanese attempt to exterminate all the Chinese people, even on the island of Formosa, where such a policy could have been quickly carried to completion. Finally, Japan, as a maturing democracy, has taken responsibility for its crimes in China, and has explicitly apologized for their atrocities. Many of the perpetrators have faced justice. 37

Nonetheless, many commentators insist that the Japanese committed atrocities on the scale of the Nazis in Europe. One of the reasons stated by the lead critic of the Japanese Army, Iris Chang, for asserting the idea that the Japanese were genocidal murderers was to keep pressure on the current Japanese government. As long as the Japanese must defend themselves against charges of genocide, the Japanese are less effective in the international diplomatic arena an outcome which serves an expansionistic China quite well. China’s attempt to demonize Japan has been deliberate and ongoing: “In fact, it was in the 1990s, when Japan was still China-friendly and the main aid provider to Beijing, that the Chinese Communists began a ‘political education’ campaign demonizing Japan for its past atrocities. That campaign laid the groundwork for the upsurge of nationalism and the deterioration of China-Japan relations. In seeking to address domestic political imperatives to replace the increasingly ineffectual Communist ideology with fervent nationalism, China's rulers have helped whip up Japanese nationalism.” 38 It seems that charges of Japanese genocide have less to do with crimes of the past than with politics of the present.


1. Peter Duus, The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910 (Berkley: University of California Press, 1995), 20.
2. Gaimusho, ed. Nihon gaiko nenpyo oyobi shuyo busho, 2 vols. (Tokyo, 1955); cited Ibid.
3. Lewis H. Gann, “Western and Japanese Colonialism: Some Preliminary Comparisons” in Ramon H. Meyers and Mark R. Peattie, The Japanese Colonial Empire: 1895-1945 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 502.
4. Yosaburo Takekoshi with George Braithwaite, trans., Japanese Rule in Formosa (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907), 70.
5. Doudou Diene, Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia And All
Forms of Discrimination: Mission To Japan (New York: United Nations, 24 January 2006), 18.
6. Mayumi Itoh, Globalization of Japan: Japanese Sakoku Mentality and U.S. Efforts to Open Japan (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2000), 68.
7. Ibid, 69.
8. Yosaburō Takekoshi, vii.
9. Albert Feurewerker, “Japanese Imperialism of China: A Commentary” in Peter Duus, Ramon H. Myers and Mark Peattie, The Japanese Informal Empire in China, 1895-1937. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 207.
10. Brett Walker. The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590–1800 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001) Pg49.
11. Alan S. Christy, "The Making of Imperial Subjects in Okinawa," in Tani E. Barlow, ed., Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997), 141.
12. Ramon H Myers and Mark R Peattie, 19.
13. Peter Duus, Ramon H. Myers and Mark Peattie, xvi.
14. Albert Mimmi. Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), 70.
15. George Orwell. “Marrakech 1939.” Collected Essays of George Orwell,( Internet
16. Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire (Berkley: University of California Press, 1998), 364
17. Edward Friedman, Kay Johnson, Chinese Village, Socialist State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 40.
18. Louise Young, 100.
19. Mikiso Hane. Modern Japan: A Historical Survey (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001) pg 298.
20. Ibid.
21. Ramon H Myers and Mark R Peattie, 13.
22. Sir Martin Gilbert. “Twentieth Century Genocides” in Jay Winter, American and the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 23.
23. Ibid.
24. Iris Chang. Rape of Nanking (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 5.
25. Iris Chang, 210-217.
26. American Heritage Book of English Usage (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 159.
27. Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation - Analysis of Government - Proposals for Redress (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), 79.
28. Mary Jacobson. “Balkan Glossary of Terms.” FACSNET:
( 18 Jan 2000. Internet.
29. Alan Destexhe. Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century (London: Pluto Press, 1995), 4.
30. JFC Fuller, Military History of the Western World (New York: Da Capo Press, 1988), 85.
31. Lincoln Li, The Japanese Army in North China: 1937-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 209.
32. Chalmers Johnson, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China, 1937-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), 60-61.
33. Iris Chang, 14.
34. Ibid, 15.
35. Ibid, XI.
36. George Kerr, Formosa Betrayed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), 74.
37. Joshua A. Fogel, The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography (Berkley: University of California Press, 2000), 96.
38. Brahma Chellaney, “Japan-China: Nationalism on the Rise,” International Herald Tribune, 15 August 2006 [newspaper on-line];; Internet; accessed 15 August 2006.