Today we lament the tragic Rape of Nanking exactly seventy-five years ago, in which the recently Westernized & ‘modernized’ Japanese army – themselves less than a century out of their fiercely backward-looking Samurai past, and each soldier reeling from the still cruelly harsh authoritarian regime under which they served – inflicted upon the Chinese citizens of this ancient city such sustained and devastating cruelties over a two-week period that even the extensive photographic evidence available, being pornographic on such a colossal and citywide scale, somehow fails to ignite in the collective minds of we Moderns any sense of context in reality as we’ve known it. And whereas many of the foul SS guards who executed Jews by machine gun in the early days of Hitler’s Final Solution at least retained the human instinct to throw up whilst engaged in such nefarious activities, in Nanking, the 1937 version of the Japanese Army had long had such ‘weaknesses’ systematically knocked out of it, and instead held beheading contests upon hapless citizens that received much positive press back in Japan’s home islands. Many male Nanking citizens were forced to dig their own mass graves, into which they were then buried alive, whilst other Chinese men with guns held to their heads were forced to sodomize their neighbours. And it was during this sustained Japanese military orgy of violence and hatred that the rape of women became particularly vile and protracted. For, by the admission of a Japanese soldier at Nanking, he and his comrades ‘gang-raped women from the ages of twelve to eighty’, and even the most conservative estimates claim well over 20,000 rapes took place. In order to facilitate a more military rape, women all over Nanking were hoisted upon specially made rape racks and systematically gang-raped, though most of this would have remained only hearsay, had not many of these ritualized rapes of Nanking’s prettiest young women been photographed and sent home as souvenirs by the soldiers themselves. So how had it come to this? Teenage US soldiers perpetrated all kinds of atrocities upon Vietnamese villagers, but none sent photographic evidence back to Mom and Dad upon a gleefully-worded postcard. And even Hitler’s Nazi regime was canny enough (and ultra cynical enough) to know that their Final Solution could work only if it could be kept secret from the German people, let alone consider broadcasting facts about it in the press. In stark contrast, the general attitude of the mid-1930s Japanese was clearly still so xenophobic and nationalistic that the mass beheading competitions in Nanking could be reported not with embarrassment and shame, but with all the pride of some great sports victory: “Contest To Kill First 100 Chinese with Sword Extended When Both Fighters Exceed Mark – Mukai Scores 106 and Noda 105’ ran the delighted headline in The Japan Advertiser. So, once again we must ask, how had it come to this?
The tragic truth for the population of Nanking was that the motorised Japanese Army that invaded their city in 1937 had been Westernized in their weaponry alone. In everything else, however, Japanese military attitudes and its tough worldview remained barely changed from that of the previous centuries. Indeed, its harshness had even steadily increased. Living in blissful Isolationism for hundreds of years, the old world pre-technology Japanese of 1853 had been shocked into modernisation by the gunboat diplomacy of US Navy Commodore Matthew Perry, who – with just four modern steam warships – had entered Tokyo harbour, trained his canon on the emperor’s place, then demanded and received from the Japanese government precisely the trade treaty that American politicians had long required. Humiliated by the shocking simplicity of these events and still ostensibly living in the musket & gunpowder mindset of the 1600s, Japan’s highly militaristic Imperial Culture shocked itself into life and spent the next years importing into their islands as much Western weapons technology as they could pay for, whilst paying no heed at all to the accompanying Western values. Indeed, between 1853 and the beginning of the Second World War, the Japanese military took advantage of this new Western technology purely in order to revive its Samurai-informed ultra-authoritarianism both at home and abroad. The army policy of Bentatsu (‘the act of love’) allowed Japanese officers to strike their men ‘until they streamed with blood’, expected them to wash their superiors’ underwear, and to endure beatings and floorings for any perceived indiscretion. A similarly harsh form of discipline known as Tekken Seisai (‘the iron fist’) was practised in the Imperial Navy, ensuring that all members of Japan’s military existed at all times in a highly agitated collective state of resentment and humiliation, not to mention physical pain. And it was in this collective state of High Anxiety that the soldiers of Japan’s Imperial Army were unleashed upon those unfortunate Nanking civilians, free at last to lash out at all and everything in their path. According to the previously quoted soldier – now a retired doctor in Tokyo – “I beheaded people, starved them to death, burned them, and buried them alive, over two hundred in all… I was truly a devil’.
Ho-hum, but then what other lesson could a longtime militaristic epicentre such as Japan of the 1850s have learned from the US treaty so successfully secured by Matthew Perry’s bullying US gunboat diplomacy? Moreover, without the collective moral constraints of Christendom and the concept of Democracy breathing down their necks, just one glaringly-obvious answer met with Japan’s approval: Military Motorisation + Diplomatic Bullying = Success. And so, by cherry-picking only what its military agencies required from this recent interface with the West, Japan successfully embarked on a policy of belligerence and moral lawlessness that would rage so wantonly into-and-during the years of World War 2 that the United States – with itchy trigger fingers at all times – even justified that first massive deployment of atomic weapons to bring to an end Emperor Hirohito’s prolonged and Custeristic sacrificing of his subjects for his grotesquely solipsistic and ever more suicidal defence of Japan.
[Written by Julian Cope]