Iris Chang grew up in the U.S., but her parents and grandparents escaped from Nanking before the slaughter began so the tale of the city’s horrors became part of her childhood lore. A remarkable woman and accomplished writer, she became involved in telling the story to the world when she heard of a pending independent film project and contacted those responsible. The 1997 publication of The Rape of Nanking brought many in America and around world out of ignorance about the event. She describes an educated group of friends and acquaintances who were completely ignorant of the whole thing until she told them. I was like those friends. Despite its having received a great deal of international press, the story got lost in history under the weight of the German ovens and a host of political considerations. Yet, just in pure numbers, the slaughter of as many as 350, 000 in a month or six weeks ranks up there in the world’s awful deeds. Add to it the barbarism of it all, the fact that it was carefully prepared for and fostered by policies and practices emanating from the emperor down to the lowest private, and you have a look at the most putrid side of human nature fueled by the virulent power of genocidal government. Take the killing contests. Bet I can chop off 20 heads with my bayonet faster than you can. Damn. You won. How about two out of three? Ah, come on. Let’s go three out of five. The rapes by the soldiers were massive and inclusive of all age groups. Bad enough. But the forcing of family members to rape each other in front of the rest? A gruesome innovation. Of course there were the mass graves, the burning corpses, the blood-red rivers.
There was also heroism. A group of Europeans and Americans created a safe zone that managed to save quite a number of lives when they could get the Japanese to observe it. One of the Europeans was a prominent Nazi who believed in the worker socialism in 1937 when all this began, but became disillusioned the more he saw of how Hitler put the theory into practice.
It’s hard to read the text and look at the pictures, but you should do it. It’s even harder to read about the coverup that continues to this day. Germany’s owned up, apologized, made some reparations. Japan not at all. Our U.S. textbooks carry little or nothing about Nanking, and there has been little published about it outside the textbooks, which is why even one such as I who likes to be up on these things to a certain extent, was completely ignorant.
The Rape of Nanking–both the event and the book–changed Iris Chang’s life, but one can’t say it was for the better. She gained international recognition and performed a great public service. However, in the middle of her next project–a book on the Bataan Death March–she committed suicide. 20005. Age 36. And Nanking claimed another victim.