To review this book is to grapple with the piercingly harsh questions of why such an egregious event not only happened, but continues to happen around the world. Iris Chang succinctly depicts what occurred, as well as how the Japanese advance on the Chinese city of Nanking manifested itself over the course of three weeks, but I am not convinced that she successfully argues deeply enough about the reasons why this atrocity of Herculean proportion occurred.
Citing the phenomena of "transfer of oppression", she points out that the Japanese army possessed great potential for brutality from its very inception because of the brutality that Japanese officers exacted on their own soldiers, in an attempt to harden them. She further argues for social status as a source of power, but this did not successfully convince me that she, or anyone else for that matter, knows why there is such violence, so carefully organized, and so completely accepted by so many at one time.
I was deeply informed by her arguments that both religion and claims to racial superiority contributed to Japan's view that they should control Asia. But nothing satisfied my yearning to hear how to stop such atrocities from appearing. This is where I believe the investigation might have explored more deeply why the Japanese felt so powerfully inclined to move brutally from Shanghai into Nanking, and then to have exacted such a terrible toll on the civilian population there. Chang calls the rape of Nanking, a "blemish upon the honor of human beings", and demands that we look at events in Nanking as a "cautionary tale"; but she is remiss in offering a finer historiography that would inform present scholars in framing arguments on how to achieve a future worldview that demands peaceful co-existence. It does appear to be an exercise in futility.
Today, according to Chang, the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty is the current (as of 1997) position used by Japan. This is their justification that no more financial reparations need be considered by Japan to China. But I do not think that money can stop genocide and mass murder, and on this, I think that Chang and I agree. Although hers is a book of strong conviction (after 60 years, she still demands financial reparations), even Chang does not seem to think that money is the answer to healing history. She says: "Japan carries not only the legal burden but the moral obligation to acknowledge the evil it perpetrated at Nanking" (225). Her demands continue to include the obvious cries for apology, financial reparations, and perhaps most importantly of all, education of today's young people; especially those in Japanese classrooms.
And that is her strongest argument - education. I would definitely consider including snippets of Chang's book in classroom discussions on morality, ethics, and religious understanding of war. I would ask students to discuss, most particularly, current Confucian world views and Buddhist practices in Asia, in the context of Pan-Asian relationships. I would also initiate a discussion regarding the morality of war monuments (I was very inspired by our class on the Ear Mound.) And, I would like to see how students would respond to the query that, perhaps sometimes, too much study of war crimes can be too much. In other words, what would be the instructional motivation of pressing for a deep awareness of such violence?
I teach seniors, and I still struggle with curricular questions of whether a particular focus is too much for high school students, who are only 17 - 18. Should the truth be sanitized for as long as possible? Or, do we owe a tribute to the dead to honor their memories by teaching about the violence and aggression of one group against another, regardless of unsuccessful attempts to stop such violence? What does the future hold for such memories? What should young people learn?
Chang's book offers a great deal in the way of keeping alive the focus on Japanese imperialistic history in the first half of the 20th century. I am interested in pursuing the Japanese response to her strident indictment, as I am sure that there is much that the Japanese would refute.