A Non-Pollyanna Post. (Don’t read if you’re happy).

I’m currently reading The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II and it is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read.

Oh, it’s not overly footnoted or heavy on scientific terms. It’s just that I have about a 40 minute tolerance of the sheer human depravity depicted. It is perhaps more depraved than the holocaust, even though the numbers do not compare. Why is this so? It is because the depravity of the Rape of Nanking was much more personal.

It is the difference between industrial killing and experiencing first hand the spurt of blood and dying moan from each victim. The Nazis, though killing many more people, were not, for the most part, individually involved in the killing of individuals.

I do not mean to imply that assembly line killing is a lesser evil. It is, I think, the greater evil. What I am saying is that is does not involve as many killers and it is spared the grotesque experience of massive blood and guts. The resemblance lies in the requirement of the agreement of many people to acquiesce. The difference lies in the actions of those who acquiesce.

Is it less moral to herd prisoners onto a rail car not knowing for sure (though cognizant of the possibility) that are on their way to die or is it less moral to personally rape, tortue, disembowel, and kill a prisoner? Is there, in fact, a moral difference?

Does the fact that the more personal killing is based on the fact that the prisoners could not be fed therefore they must die (a painful and humiliating death) a more moral position than one that says the prisoners are inferior human beings and therefore must die to preserve a perceived genetic preference?

Why were the Germans prosecuted with the utmost zeal and the Japanese were prosecuted with negligible fervor after WWII?

Which do we rally against? Why has it been so much easier for most of humanity to rally against the industrial style? Is that because our governments are getting bigger and bigger and more controlling?

Or is it because it is simply easier to protest government actions than it is individual actions — even when those individual actions are at the behest of a government?

The bottom line to me seems that individual action is likely to kill fewer people but do so more gruesomely. State actions are much more efficient and bloodless thus more people are killed.

Which is better? Individual violence or government violence? That is one question. There are many others.

10 thoughts on “A Non-Pollyanna Post. (Don’t read if you’re happy).

  1. Very good post. I’ve often wondered if the reason the Japanese were not more prosecuted for their genocide of the Chinese and other war crimes were these: most of their victims were non-Western, the triumph of Chinese communism and our Occupation of Japan made our ties to Japan more essential to maintain.

    But perhaps I am influenced by the fact that my father’s family of British planters in the Far East narrowly escaped a Japanese invasion, and friends were interned by the Japanese after joining the Brit forces and being captured by Japanese. My dad and his sister were sent to boarding school in S. Africa to be safe from the Japanese, and suffered terribly in a racist Boer environment where being British made one hated, not seeing their parents for the six years of the war.

    Perhaps we did not prosecute Japanese war crimes as zealously as German ones because of horror at the great human cost of the dropping of the atomic bomb? Even tho the death toll would have been far greater had we not dropped it, and fought a bloody invasion of the Japanese mainland.

    But your discussion of industrial versus primitive methods of genocide, on people using technology and bureaucracy or machetes and individuals makes one wonder about why we do so little to stop the current bloody conflicts in Africa and around the globe. At some level, I fear that many Americans simply don'[t give a damn how horribly a bunch of far away “primitive” foreigners die, if they are not friends, relatives or business associates.

    Whereas America was, during World War II, still primarily a nation of European immigrants, who all had relatives suffering thru the rampages of the Nazis.

    Families like mine, with ties to the Far East were more aware of the Japanese racism and butchery.

    Excuse hasty remarks, unpolished, but am glad to have found your blog.

  2. Children of Huang Chi is recent film which begins with a glimpse (fictional) of the Rape of Nanking. About an American journalist (based on a true story) who tries to rescue a bunch of Chinese orphans. Not a great film, but helps one imagine the setting and the people involved better.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. History has much to teach us and much of it is uncomfortable, to say the least.

    My uncle was a Japanese POW for several years before he escaped the Palawan Massacre (one of only 11 to do so) and he noted several instances of kindness of the Japanese guards. Not all were overtaken by the monstrous policies of their government.

    I find myself able to read “The Rape of Nanking” in short segments. An hour is about all I can emotionally tolerate.

  4. The simple fact of the matter is that both acts are reprehensible. Each is grotesque and immensely disturbing. But to assign quantitative attributes is difficult, at best. Perhaps the reason that people react more strongly to the actions of the Holocaust is *because* of the complicity of those that just let it happen. When millions of folks are being put to death, those who send the doomed on their way are just as responsible. The Japanese atrocities were not, per se, the result of a self-induced national amnesia. While the ends of both are horrific, the means… individual commission versus collective commission… are quite different.

  5. I think I disagree at the words “self-induced national amnesia”. That is, to my way of understanding exactly what the Japanese invoked.

    In no way do I mean to excuse Nazi Germany’s acts. I am merely saying that Japan’s were in some ways worse and in almost all ways more forgiven. My question is why?

  6. I’m not sure. I’m grasping for some pseudo-psycho reasoning that escapes me. I don’t understand why we have differentiation/gradation between differing kinds of death. Is a person who dies in a fiery car wreck “more dead” than someone who passes gently while sleeping? No. But one is considered horrific and the other is not. And then we try to weight differing levels of horrific. Is it an academic exercise?

  7. You calling me a psycho??? LOL, take a number and get in line for that.

    Dead is dead, but we do differentiate between types of murder. My question is why were the Germans treated so differently from the Japanese after WWII? Is there any doubt that Hitler would have been tried and executed if he’d been captured? Hirohito was left in power and members of the ‘royal’ family were given immunity.

    Was it guilt over Nagasaki and Hiroshima? If so, fine — we should admit that.

  8. Interesting offering! Hadn’t considered that possibility. Or could it be that Europe provided the center of Anglo “civilization”? As such, large scale atrocities would be considered an act against humanity. While atrocities committed by a culture alien to us, and different looking, would be considered much less and not as bad? I don’t know if that is it, though.

  9. I find it interesting to see that, while Nagasaki and Hiroshima were causes of large amounts of casualties and destruction, the fire bombing of Toyoko took more lives, destroyed more property, and later became outlawed globally due to its horrific nature, yet nobody seems to remember it. If anything, that is the why we felt “shame” and didn’t further prosecute the Japanese. Or maybe we saw the potential of profit from remaining on realtively friendly terms with their government. Remember those transistor radios(amongst other things) from Japan in the 50’s/60’s that all the kids had? How about the auto industry, which the US essentially built for them?

    The point is this: Murder is murder. It doesn’t matter how you kill someone, if you kill people you are a murderer and should be treated accordingly. Having said that, who are we(the US) to judge any nation on Earth? Don’t forget our multiple(and ongoing) murderous rampages worldwide. Has the federal government ever been held accountable, or even appologized, for the pillage, plunder, burning, and destruction of southern towns? Have they appologized for the rape, murder, kidnapping and torture of citizens of, as Lincoln called, a mere Nation divided, not even a foreign people? The US has committed attrocities nearly equalling the worst ever by any nation. Just remember that as you say “Why didn’t we do more?”. We have done more than enough.

  10. FCJ — as far as I know, neither the Union Army or the Confederate engaged in systematic “rape, murder, kidnapping and torture”.

    It’s the systematic type I address in this post. By systematic, I mean that it occurs with the approval of those in charge and is encouraged and rewarded.

    Upon finally finishing the book, one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, I find that the Cold War had a lot to do with the way Japan was dealt with. It was political. When I get around to it, I’ll probably post about that.

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