ICYMI: Douglas Todd: Lest we overlook the ‘Asian Holocaust’

Good piece by Todd:

Nazi Germany’s invasions and the Holocaust have been thoroughly exposed through an avalanche of books and movies. Germany’s leaders have repeatedly apologized and offered redress. And the German people, including the young, carry the guilt of their forebears’ atrocities.

That’s not the case when it comes to Japan’s war crimes.

Eugene Sledge, a U.S. professor and veteran who advised Ken Burns on his documentary, War, has said: “The best kept secret about World War II is the truth about the Japanese atrocities.”

The full horror of Japanese aggression began manifesting itself first in 1937, when Japanese soldiers launched a brutal, sexually sadistic invasion of the Chinese city of Nanking.

Peter Li, an historian at Rutgers University, continues to think Canada and the U.S. have to be held responsible for Japanese internment camps. But he also doesn’t want the world to turn a blind eye to the devastation wrought by Japan.

“As Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Jewish Holocaust and Nazi atrocities in World War II, the ‘Rape of Nanking’ has become the symbol of the Japanese military’s monstrous and savage cruelty in the Asia Pacific War from 1931 to 1945,” Li says.

“But in comparison to the Jewish Holocaust, relatively little has been written about the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese military in China, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia, where close to 50 million people died at the hands of Japanese aggression. In China alone, an estimated 30 million people lost their lives.”

Given the hot spotlight on Nazi Germany, it’s little wonder those who want to shift the attention of resistant Westerners to Japan’s war crimes often use the term, “the Asian Holocaust.”

Why have Japan’s war outrages lacked the scrutiny directed at Germany?

The University of Victoria’s John Price is among those who argue one reason for the silence has been U.S. strategy since the war. After Japan surrendered in 1945, the U.S. occupied the country and turned it into an ally in its conflicts with Communist China, Korea and elsewhere. Needing a “friend” in Asia, the U.S. and other Western powers, Price suggests, have not found it in their interest to rub Japan’s nose in its iniquities.

The second reason lies in Western guilt over dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Those explosions helped force Japan to surrender, but at the cost of roughly 100,000 civilian lives.

As a result, in East Asia, controversy burns openly over whether Japan should more fully apologize for starting the war. But in Canada the question rarely comes up.

That’s despite Canada sending thousands of young soldiers to the Asian war, where many were killed or injured or suffered torture and mistreatment.

A person needs a strong stomach to read even a basic Wikipedia page about “Japanese war atrocities.”

Japanese military leaders often ordered troops to “Kill all captives,” says Li, editor of Japanese War Crimes: The Search for Justice. Japanese troops were routinely ordered to decapitate, rape or pour gasoline on citizens and prisoners of war.

When Japan’s soldiers weren’t burying humans alive, they were told to build their courage by plunging 15-inch bayonets into unarmed people. “Killing was a form of entertainment,” says Li. The indignities performed on corpses of victims of rape are too gruesome to cite.

Grassroots efforts to draw attention to the need for fuller Japanese apologies and redress have faced a mountain of obfuscation and denial.

Unlike in Germany, Japan’s responsibility for the war “is not clearly established in the minds of many Japanese today,” says Li. “The Japanese people have introduced the notion of ‘a good defeat’ … and they rarely invoke an enemy, or hatred for the enemy. Somehow the war has become an ‘enemy-less’ conflict.”

Last year, on the 70th anniversary of the war, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his “profound grief” for his country’s actions.

But Abe continues to send mixed messages, since he has also visited the Yasukani Shrine, which contains graves of Japan’s worst war criminals. And accounts of war atrocities remain slim to non-existent in Japanese textbooks.

Source: Douglas Todd: Lest we overlook the ‘Asian Holocaust’

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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