- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2000

Between December 1937 and March 1938, Japanese troops in China killed as many as 300,000 captive civilians of Nanking. They shot, beat, torched, bayoneted, beheaded and dismembered them; they drowned them and they buried them alive. The women of the city were raped and murdered on a gigantic scale, none seemingly too old or too young to be brutalized and defiled. The sheer cruelty of this human butchery strains descriptive language; to put the deaths in numerical perspective, consider that during all of World War II, the United States suffered 291,000 battlefield deaths. For decades, the incident was all too often consigned to a historical footnote; in recent years, historian Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" has appeared to great acclaim, searingly and solidly documenting the episode, ensuring that it will not be forgotten.

That doesn't mean, though, that there are not those who pretend that the Rape of Nanking never happened. In Osaka, Japan, this week, a conference held at the city's International Peace Center attempted to deny the truth of these epic atrocities. Titled "The Verification of the Rape of Nanking: The Biggest Lie of the 20th Century," the conference attracted some 500 people, 300 seated inside the auditorium, 200 standing outside, to hear the keynote speaker, Shudo Higashinakano, a history professor at Tokyo's Asia University, proclaim, "There was no massacre of civilians at Nanking." Two former Japanese soldiers joined him, drawing applause when they stated that other former soldiers had lied in their descriptions of the systematic slaughter of civilians.

The calumny is staggering. After all, survivors still live; pictures, both still and motion, exist. The documentation includes numerous war crimes trial testimonies, interviews with victims and soldiers, cables, letters and diaries of Western missionaries and officials, even wartime Japanese press accounts of decapitation "contests," and the like. To call the Rape of Nanking, as Mr. Higashinakano has, "groundless war propaganda," is to defy the blood-soaked record of death and agony that exists to this day. The question is, how significant is Mr. Higashinakano's utterly disreputable school of thought? In comparison with Germany, Japan's postwar efforts to make amends for its wartime atrocities against both allied prisoners of war and the populations of Asia have been, to say the least, inadequate. While Germany has widely admitted its crimes and remunerated many victims, Japan has generally withheld such reparations, avoiding any significant national reckoning with its wartime past. Whereas in Germany (and elsewhere) Holocaust deniers are shunted to the fringes of society, in Japan, as the New York Times puts it, "voices … dismissing or greatly playing down Japan's wartime crimes are regularly heard from the political, academic and media establishment. The governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, for one, has frequently called the [Rape of Nanking] a lie."

This is indeed appalling. The Chinese Foreign Ministry protested this most recent manifestation of this apparently mainstream viewpoint, urging Japan to stop the conference an understandable request that nonetheless echoes with profound ironies considering China's historic distortions of the truth about the terror and crimes it has committed against its own people. Osaka officials went ahead with the conference, insisting that they were merely preserving the sanctity of free speech. If so, one hopes other Japanese will find the courage to use free speech to denounce this grotesque falsification of history.

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