Sunday, December 16, 2012 | Categories: Episodes
This past Thursday marked a grim anniversary ... 75 years since the rape of Nanking, when the Japanese Imperial Army seized what was then China's capital city and went on to rape, torture and kill some 300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians.
The late American historian Iris Chang referred to the rape of Nanking as a holocaust, but it has largely faded from memory in the West. Last Sunday, Joseph Wong - a founder of ALPHA, the Association for the Learning and Preservation of World War II History in Asia - spoke to Michael about his work to keep that memory alive, and about that word, holocaust.
A listener named Hilary McLaughlin was one of several people who wrote
with their reflections on the memory of the massacre and the language we
use to talk about it. She writes:
"I think Dr. Joseph Wong was being unduly politically sensitive in
his hesitance to use the word "holocaust" to refer to the Rape of
Nanking. While the capitalised and article-modified usage, "The
Holocaust," is applied exclusively to the victims of the Nazis in WW II,
the lower-cased noun has been in existence since its Greek origins and
applied, judiciously, to a number of specific activities.
"The origins refer to sacrifice by fire -- which makes the WW II application so particularly apposite and as a result enduring -- and later to large-scale destruction, again usually through fire. Later still it was used, with perhaps a little less precision, in reference to any mass slaughter. In this context, the reference to Nanking would be very appropriate.
"As the term "nuclear holocaust" is still current (though happily
less so than in the post-war period), it must be recalled that
widespread application of the word to the events of WW II did not really
take place until the 1960s.
"The word still has currency without the definite article. Unfortunately it has all too many very appropriate applications, both in history and in contemporary times."
Mike Thibault of Clare, Nova Scotia took issue with Dr. Wong's explanation for why Japan's political culture has not come to terms with the atrocities its army committed.
"I found your interview with Dr Joseph Wong on the Rape of Nanking
truly compelling - that is, until you asked him why it is that Germany
can look at its Nazi past critically while Japan still has trouble
reconciling with its 20th Century history.
"He stated that Germany after the war simply got rid of its Nazis while Japan, thanks to American designs for Asia, kept all its redoubtable leaders in place.
"I would invite Dr Wong to study Chancellor Adenauer's government in West
Germany in the 50s and check out the influential former Nazis in
prominent positions. Almost all major posts in Adenauer's government
were held by former influential Nazis.
"I believe, however, that Modern Germany's reconciliation with its past was made possible by its roster of great German post-war leaders of integrity. From Mayor Reuters of Post-war Berlin to Adenauer to Willy Brandt, West German leaders had an intelligent and visionary way of dealing with the delicate question of their nation's recent past. I don't believe Japan had such great leaders. The sight of Willy Brandt falling to his knees in tears at the Warsaw ghetto memorial does a lot to inspire and lead a nation. I am still waiting to see a Japanese leader do the same in Nanking."
And finally, Dorothy Field of Victoria sent these thoughts about the Chinese government's violent reprisals against its own citizens. She writes:
"The horrors of Nanking are not to be denied in any way, but isn't there something missing in today's discussion? Without doubt, we are challenged when it comes to Asian history, but I can't help remember how the Chinese continue to minimize drastically the deaths at Tiannenmen Square. We all have much to own up to."