HOW JAPAN ESCAPED JUSTICE
Japan, the "Land of the Rising Sun," the home of the fearless Samurai warriors, the economic model for all Asian countries--and the butchers of World War II. A great democratic modern country today has a past as dark as the black plague. What most people don’t know or have forgotten about is the Japanese army’s horrific war crimes against China, Korea, the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia, and countless other countries during World War II. A past that Japan has shamelessly refused to acknowledge even today, in the face of truth and the millions of dead and living people that they’ve wronged. Seemingly, the world has allowed Japan’s "collective amnesia." But how long can this go on? The souls of the dead will continue to haunt us all if the truth is not unveiled. The time is now for justice to be served.
Of all the countries Japan invaded, their central victim was China. They left a path of destruction all too horrible to imagine. Following their emperor and the proud Shinto religion, "…they were driven by unswerving obedience to a culture that had implanted in them the conviction they were the so-called Yamato race, a superior breed whose duty it was to uphold the honor of their society, whatever that required" (Karnow). These racists were determined to win back the glory that was tarnished from the economic sanctions imposed by the world during the early 1900’s and by any means necessary. Their philosophy was the "Three All" policy: loot all, kill all, and burn all (Chang 215).
In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria, a northeastern region of China. For the next sixteen years, the Japanese army ruthlessly killed more than 30 million Chinese people, a majority of them civilians (96%), and destroyed hundreds of billion dollars in property (Alliance). However, the number of people killed is not the most astounding part of the war. It was the manner in which these people died that was most unimaginable.
Nanjing, the then capital of China, was made into an example for all China and the world to showcase the power of Japan. On December 12, 1937, the city of Nanjing fell to Japan. What happened next is six weeks of unspeakable horror, and what later became known as "The Rape of Nanjing." Before the city fell, half of the one million residents of Nanjing escaped. The rest were either too weak to travel or were fooled by the smiling propaganda poster of the Japanese government. These people were subjected to the ruthless games of the Japanese soldiers. They engaged what was known as "Bushido" or killing contests, in which the soldiers tried to see who could kill the fastest. Chants of "kill and count, kill and count" were heard on the streets (Chang 85). Live burials, mutilation and torture was common place in Nanjing. "They nailed prisoners to wooden boards and ran over them with tanks, crucified them on trees and electric posts, carved long strips of flesh from them and used them for bayonet practice. At least one hundred men reportedly had their eyes gouged out and their noses and ears hacked off before being set on fire" (Chang 87). Not even babies were spared. "They were tossing babies up in the air and bayoneting them as they came down or throwing them into vats of boiling water" (Gergen). Neither did women escape the cruelty of the Japanese soldiers. There were more than 20,00 women raped, the second largest mass rape in known history (Nanjing Massacre). The shame imposed on these women were so great that many secretly killed their children of rape (Chang 89). Women weren’t the only ones raped neither(Chang 89). All humanity have left the Japanese soldiers. "In terms of measures and cruelty of the genocide, its duration and large numbers of people killed," says professor of history of Southern Illinois University "Neither Hiroshima nor Jewish Holocaust can rival the Nanjing Massacre" (Nanjing Massacre). Indeed, there were 879 persons massacred per day in the killing machine of Auschwitz compared to 8,095 in Nanjing (The Nanjing Massacre). In the end more than 300,000 people, more than half of the city’s population before Japan’s invasion, were slaughtered. This is undoubtedly the worst massacre that China has ever encountered.
Nanjing was not the only Chinese killing ground for the Japan. The others are even more beyond belief, but all happened. The infamous Unit 731 of Japan is the worst of them yet. They were a unit made up of leading medical scientists in Japan designed to test chemical weapons on Chinese and others. "A member of Unit 731, Nobuo Kamaden, speaking on the record for the first time, told U.S. News that his main job at Pingfan was to breed plague bacteria. ‘We would inject the most powerful bacteria into rats. On a 500-gram rat, we would attach 3,000 fleas. When the rats were released, the fleas would transmit the disease’" (Half Century). The effects left by these experiments are still being felt today. Other experiments include dissecting Chinese POWs without anesthesia, testing various poisons on them, freezing them, and other inhumane acts. Recently, even the Japanese Supreme Court said that "the fact that the Biological Warfare Unit 731 existed and killed Chinese through live experiments had been established beyond denial" (Nanjing Massacre). Some infantries even engaged in eating people. These acts were documented in a memorandum found in the possession of a Japanese major General, "at times this consumption of flesh of the enemies was made into something of a festive occasion at officer’s quarters." Human flesh was often served up as soup at these events (Roling 410). These crimes were well beyond International Law of War, of fair play, and of humanity.
These transgressions were not committed by the soldiers without the knowledge of their commanding officers. Common stories from returning Japanese soldiers were: "one company commander unofficially gave instructions of raping as follows: ‘in order that we will not have problems, either pay them money or kill them in some obscure place after you have finished’" (Roling 393). Commanding officers also gave orders of mass killing. "Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, or however its done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose them as the situation directs. In any case, it is the aim not to allow escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces" (Roling 393). All knew, but no one cared.
In August 1945, United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This marked the turning point of WWII in Asia, and Japan surrendered soon after as a result of it. But this was not the end of a massacre committed on China, but the beginning of a second atrocious deed, for the dead, their justice was never served. The millions of innocents that Japan slaughtered during the war would remain restless even today, awaiting their peace. But just how was Japan able to elude their horrendous past?
At the end of World War II in 1945, the Allied forces, headed by the United States, created the International Military Tribunal (IMT) to try the major Japanese war criminals in Tokyo, Japan. The International Prosecution Section (IPS) was responsible for investigating war crimes. However, their job was made almost impossible. Before the Allied forces landed in Japan, the Japanese government had destroyed or altered many incriminating evidences. Also the eagerness of the landing Allied forces to rescue their POWs contributed to the chaos. "Rapid demobilization and repatriation of ex-POWs, witnesses and evidence scattered literally throughout the world, wholesale destruction of key documents by Japanese, incredible difficulties in identifying, locating and apprehending suspects in Japan proper and East Asia and other factors combined to render nearly impossible the tasks given to Allied prosecutors" (Piccigallo 13).
Despite all the difficulties, the trial began on May 3, 1948. The Allies wanted a quick and swift trial in order to democratize Japan as soon as possible. They believed too many defendants would slow down the Tokyo trial indefinitely (Piccigallo 17). This was not to China’s advantage, but although a victor, China did not have much say in the international arena (Wang). Therefore, only twenty-eight of the seventy criminals captured for class A offenses (worst crimes) were tried (Wu). To make matters worse, the Allies often disagreed among themselves on what constituted international law (Minear 36). But the trial continued. The court gave Japan every chance to represent and defend its actions. The Allied Court allowed the defendants to attain many prominent Japanese attorneys and offered them a pool American lawyers that were more familiarized with international law. "…Japanese and American lawyers at Tokyo furnished the accused extraordinarily sound and forceful defense," said Philip Piccigallo, author of The Japanese on Trial (Piccigallo 14). Not surprisingly, their main defense was that Japan acted in self-defense. They claimed U.S. was the aggressor in ordering Japan out of China, and freezing its assets internationally; this in turn devastated the Japanese economy and its "will to peace," and Japan had to retaliate for its own survival. This defense was dismissed since the Allies only intervened after years of Japanese aggression towards China (Piccigallo 27). Another defense was that killing was just a Japanese way of life, the Shinto way, in which it was customary to leave no prisoners alive. However, in an interview with U.S. army psychiatrists after he surrendered, Japanese General Yamashita responded to the question about the rules of Shintoism, "such atrocities are not condoned and should be punished if they occur" (Taylor 145). After the interview, the psychiatrists concluded that Yamashita’s answers were frank and honest. This defense too failed. The longest trial in history finally ended on April 6, 1948 and the verdict was handed down. Tojo, the Prime Minister and other five generals were given death sentences, the rest received prison terms (Piccigallo 25). The prosecutor made the statement "they declared war on civilization, that their design to secure domination and control of East Asia and ultimately the world meant murder and subjugation and enslavement of millions was of no moment to them" (Piccigallo 19).
On 1946, just as the Tokyo trial was under way, China held its own war crime trial in Changking under the supervision of U.S. (Piccagallo 158). Unlike the Tokyo trial, many eye-witness were present to give their testimony of the horrific events. More than 1000 people testified about the cases of murder, rape and looting in Nanjing" (Chang 170). Like Tokyo there were just too many potential defendants and not enough people to investigate. In addition, given China’s terrible suffering, "its inability at this (that) time, amidst virtually nation wide chaos and destruction, to take action to commensurate with its intentions" (Piccagallo 150). After the trial, 149 Japanese, including the general in charge of Nanjing were given death sentences; 83 others were given prison time (Piccagallo 173).
However, the worst criminal of them all, the one who directed the entire war, the ruler of Japan--Emperor Hirohito--escaped indictment. This contemptible decision was made by General Douglas MacArthur, of the United States, with Japan before the trial: in which Emperor Hirohito would be given immunity for his role in the death of millions of people. The U.S. cited the reason was that Hirohito was nothing but a figure head, though history tells a different story. Mei Ju-ao, China’s representative on the bench at Tokyo tribunal expressed after the trial his belief that "the IMT had plenty of evidence which proved Hirohito had been an abettor or participator in Crimes Against Peace" (Piccagallo 172). Also, it was widely known that the emperor’s own brother directed the Nanjing Massacre (Wang). The US’s motive was more of a political one. It intended to use the existing government and Hirohito to control Japan and build it up as its version of the democratic country of the East.
Under another deal with Gen. MacArthur, all indicted Class A war criminals not prosecuted during the Tokyo Trial were set free. Most of them returned to Japan as prominent citizens (Wu). The most outrageous MacArthur decision was when he struck a deal with Lt. Gen. Ishii Shiro, the former commander of the infamous Unit 731. In this deal, all members of the unit were exonerated from any responsibility in exchange for the data they acquired through their experimentation on thousands of Chinese, Koreans, Soviets, and even U.S. POWs. "Without a shadow of doubt, Ishii's crimes had far exceeded those committed by the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele for conducting human experiments, while Unit 731 had murdered the people many times the number of Jews, Gypsies, Polish, and Russians killed by the Nazi doctors!" said Wu, author of The Failure of the Tokyo Trials (Wu). Many of the members of Unit 731 returned to Japan as medical doctors; some even became the "Governor of Tokyo, president of the Japan Medical Association and head of the Japanese Olympic Committee (Wu). The U.S. also tried to keep this horrendous "medical research" a secret after the war because they believed that data from human experiment would give them an advantage in germ warfare against the Soviet Union (Nanjing Massacre). This political decision rivals the acts of Unit 731.
Thus, the Tokyo Trial, dubbed by some as the "Trial of the Century" was nothing but a hollow show piece. In the end, "the total accused in all the Far East countries were 5,700, with only 3,000 convicted, as compared to the 80,000 that were accused in Nazi Germany. The Nazi criminals were totally eliminated from German government after the war, while many war criminals in Japan resumed important political posts" (Association).
A powerful and controversial contributing reason for Japan’s eluding justice is their victim status, in which they utilized it for everything it was worth. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a multitude of attention to Japan, especially as the primary victim of WWII. The horrible images of the atomic bombs disintegrating two cities is forever etched in people’s minds, especially Americans. A lot of press coverage was dedicated to the bombings in the United States but little to the massacres in China, which explains why there is hardly any books on this subject. The United States also felt remorse and responsibility for the bombing of Japan, and gave them tremendous help in the rebuilding of their country, nurturing the victim status. Perhaps it would be surprising for people to know that the A-bomb death for Hiroshima and Nagasaki is only 130,000 compared with Nanjing alone, where the Japanese soldiers hand killed more than 300,000 civilians (Unit 5). Though the atomic bombings were a tragedy, it was the main contributor to Japan’s surrendering in WWII and the end to mass killings in China. For what it’s worth, China was not an aggressor in WWII, though Japan was.
The United States was not the only one that made mistakes. After Japan’s defeat, China was still enveloped in a civil war of its own: the Communist government against the Nationalist government. Ironically, the two governments now needed Japan to play off against each other. They saw the present as of more importance than the past and allowed for it to be ignored.
Then came the Cold War. A perfect cloak of cover for the Japanese government.
Now U.S. needed Japan as an ally in its cold war with Russia and communist China. The United States had no incentives to scrutinize Japan on its war crimes, thus they didn’t. A peace treaty was even signed in 1951 (Association). In the treaty Japan paid about 15 dollars each to POWs as reparation, a total of less than 1% what Germany paid (Chang 12). On the other hand, China was still too busy in its internal affairs to even demand reparation of its own or an apology. With the tensions of the cold war mounting, all but ignored Japan, and they were able to slip away into the mist.
Many years have past, but virtually nothing has been done. China has done little in demanding that history be known. The reason lies with the weakness of the Chinese government even today in needing Japan as a trade partner. As time goes on, and more and more witnesses parish, many have become reluctant to speak out. "The Rape of Nanking did not penetrate the worked consciousness in the same manner s the Holocaust or Hiroshima because the victims themselves had remained silent," said Iris Chang, author of the best selling novel The Rape of Nanking.
One would think that Japan would voluntarily try to repent for its past sins, and compensate its victims in order to put the past behind them. However unlike Germany, Japan’s war government was left virtually intact by General MacArthur. They had control of the media and were able to hide the truth from their own people. The head of their government during the war was the same as after the war. It’s unlikely meciless killers would apologize for their actions. Wu writes, "despite a western-style, democratic Japanese Constitution which MacArthur helped to adopt, Japanese political leaders, unlike their counterparts of West Germany, have run counter to the original promises and inclinations. Totally ignoring their legal and moral obligations and responsibilities as a defeated nation as they have pursued the policy of ‘Three Nos,’ no admission of aggression, no repentance and apology, and no compensations to their victims" (Wu). Japan has made the smooth transition from the "Three Alls" policy to the "Three Nos" policy. So as of today, the Japanese government and people are exercising "collective amnesia" instead of facing up to their past war crimes. Japan’s actions have been called a second rape.
Japan’s silence in recent years is not merely a cultural uneasiness, but its motives are sinister. "Senior politicians and officials have referred to the rape (of Nanjing) as ‘a lie,’ ‘a fabrication’ and ‘just a part of war.’ The Japanese distributor of the film "The Last Emperor" cut the scenes depicting Nanking's fate" (Will). The Japanese government has also been censoring its text books regarding Nanjing and their role in WWII. In 1965, Professor Saburo Ienaga , an established scholar of Japanese history, sued the government for censoring parts of his text book. The Japanese government was unhappy with the use of words like "massacre" and "aggression" (British Columbia). The government seems to be succeeding in hiding the truth from its people. Naruki Orita, an intelligent 13-year-old Japanese boy, when asked about the war replied, "we don't ever talk about the war, "he said, "no one's interested" (Alliance). Iris Chang identified the ultimate fear, "I became terrified that the history of three hundred murdered Chinese (in Nanjing) might disappear just as they themselves had disappeared under Japanese occupation and that the world might actually one day believe the Japanese politicians who have insisted that the Rape of Nanking was a hoax and a fabrication—that the massacre never happened at all" (Chang 200).
The entire Japanese government’s outright disgrace of the dead is even more unbelievable. In 1995, Japan planned to build a history museum to mark the 50th anniversary of WWII. In another attempt to avoid the truth, they’ve decided the museum should focus on the cause of Japan’s entry in to WWII, meaning their economic hardships and also the soldier’s military attire during the war instead of the war itself (Kristoff 95). As another spit in the face, "Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto visited the Yasukuni Shrine in his official capacity as prime minister. This act is clearly in defiance of Japan's history of aggression and represents a worshiping of war criminals (Ping). Only recently, did the Prime minister Murayama make an weak apology. And he pointed out his apology was purely personally and the majority did not share his sentiment. His "No War" resolution was defeated with only 26% support in the Japanese parliament (Murayama). "According to a New York Times report from Tokyo on March 6, Japan's right-wing parliament members of the Liberal Democratic Party can't hold back chuckles as they are defeating its government attempt to apologize to the world for Japan's naked aggression against its neighboring countries fifty years ago" (Karnow).
Not only does the government refuse to speak the truth on the matter, it seemed many Japanese who wants to speak out have been intimidated not to. "In 1990 a gunman shot Motoshima Hitoshi, the mayor of Nagasaki, in the chest for saying that Emperor Hirohito bore some responsibility for WWII." Also, Japanese soldiers are faced with ostracism and even death if they break the sinister silence" (Chang 12). Azumashiro, the first Japanese veteran to admit openly of his crimes received death threats (Chang 213). The Chinese government does not even permit historians to enter Japan in fear of their safety (Chang 12). Anyone else in the world who dare to make Japan face the consequences is labeled as "Japan Bashing."
Surprisingly, even Japanese historians will bluntly ignore the truth. "In name of emperor, Japanese historians dismisses Nanjing reports "even if 20 or 30 people had been killed, it would have been a great shock to Japan" (Chang 13). It even has the audacity to go as far as trying to make itself as the hero of WWII. According to a currently popular revisionist view, "The Japanese fought the war to ensure its own survival and free Asia from the grip of Western Imperialism" (Chang 201).
According to the well-respected Harvard philosopher, George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Gen. Shiro Ishii, head of unit 731 once said, "‘there's a possibility this could happen again,’ smiling genially. ‘because in war, you have to win’" (Unlocking). If Japan does not learn it’s own ruthless capability, this will happen again, or has it started already?
The Diaoyutai Islands are a group of eight uninhabited islands near Taiwan, Nationalist China, and it’s also near some Japanese islands. Chinese records dating back to 1403 proves the discovery of these islands, and it has been a base for Chinese fisherman for hundreds of years. In 1968 when oil was discovered around the island, Japan suddenly claimed the island as theirs. In the same period, the Japanese "naval force" mutilated the Nationalist Chinese flag on the island, repelled all Taiwanese from the island, then proceeded to build a light house there (Alliance).
We all pray this isn’t the start of another plan for Japanese expansion. But people who refuse their own history will not learn from it. They will not know the consequences of their actions until it is too late.
The dishonor to the millions of people slaughtered in China and other countries has lasted long enough. It is time for Japan to wake up and face the consequences of its actions. With more people fighting for this cause, more books coming out on the matter and a stronger and more open China, it won’t be long until justice is served. However, no one should have to force Japan to tell the truth, it could still retain whatever dignity it has left by doing what it should have done 60 years ago. At a minimum, the Japanese government should give an official sincere apology. To stop censoring it’s people from the truth, and set the record straight once and for all. To give back the wealth it robbed from China. And to give compensation to the remaining victims and families. Until then, the Japanese government will be drowning in the blood of millions of lives that they so needless ended. It isn’t just the victims that are suffering, but also their own people. In the words of an ex-soldier, "The Japanese Government by denying the Nanjing Massacre has given a fatal blow to us Japanese people who are longing for genuine peace and reconciliation between China and Japan" (The Nanjing Massacre).
They have a right to know the truth and to instruct their government to make atonement. However, nothing they can ever say or do could neutralize for the pain they’ve inflicted, the humiliation they’ve endowed, and the lives they destroyed. But only if the past is remembered and the memories of those died honored can the souls of millions rest in peace. "Only the slaughtered have the right to forgive, the survived have no right to forget" (Ding).