More than 65 years have passed since the end of WWII. Massive inhuman atrocities were committed by the Japanese military in many countries in Asia during WWII. Because most people, especially people who do not have relatives who lived through that part of history, have no knowledge of what actually occurred, it is very easy for them to be misled by distortions of that part of WWII history. People may think that such distortions occur only inside Japan, they are not aware that such distortions also occur frequently in the U.S., even in academic and scholarly literary circles. This article discusses two examples to illustrate such distortion.
The book The Making of the “Rape of Nanking”: History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States by Takashi Yoshida: This book came out of a study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University and was published by Oxford University Press in 2006. It was based on Yoshida’s Ph.D. dissertation in history at Columbia University that he completed in 2001. The book is a subtle, and not so subtle, distortion of the Nanking Massacre. Such distortion is best illustrated with several quotes from the book.
- “In truth, however, the image of Nanjing  as the site of particularly brutal atrocities is a more recent construction.” How can one honestly claim that the image of the brutal atrocities of the Nanking Massacre is a more recent construction when there were so many well documented eyewitness oral, written, pictorial, and film archives recorded at that time by numerous foreign journalists, businessmen, missionaries, college professors/administrators, and diplomats. One example of such historical eyewitness accounts was the home movie made by the American missionary John Magee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeIxDezImGM), who was also the chairman of the Nanking Committee of the International Red Cross Organization. Magee filmed several hundred minutes of movie, which was smuggled out of China and shown to members of the U.S. government, as well as others, including the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade them to institute sanctions against the Japanese government who was their war ally.  These brutal atrocities were also acknowledged by many former Japanese soldiers who took part in those atrocities. There were also eyewitness accounts of thousands of Chinese survivors, including many currently residing in the U.S.
- “The massacre as it is discussed today did not exist in either national or international awareness until decades after the event.” Again, the Nanking Massacre was international news at the time of its occurrence in 1937-1938, and was also part of the trial of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East that took place in Tokyo between May 1946 and November 1948.
- “Initially an event with primarily local repercussions, the Nanjing Massacre has evolved over decades into a matter of extraordinary international significance.” As already discussed, this event was much more than “of local repercussions,” and had extraordinary international significance from the very beginning. Although it might be true that China did not publicly focus on this event during the 1950 and 1960’s when it was trying to establish itself as a unified country under a new form of government and trying to achieve diplomatic recognition from other countries, including the U.N., it definitely does not mean that it was not of international significance from the beginning.
- “No single account or interpretation of the massacre has emerged as dominant, in part because there is no agreement even as to the basic terms of the debate. Commentators have been unable to agree on the very definitions of the matters they are discussing. They differ as to the proper meaning of words like ‘victim’, ‘perpetrator’, ‘atrocity’, and ‘civilian’.” It seems that the author is trying to lead people to believe that because there might not be universally agreed upon terminology such as whether a victim should only be a civilian and should not include captured soldiers, then the massive inhuman atrocities reported by the eyewitnesses should not be believable.
Because Yoshida also criticized the revisionists in Japan who even go as far as denying the existence of the Nanjing Massacre, people may think that Yoshida presented a fair and thorough treatment of the events. Unfortunately, a fair and thorough treatment is clearly not the case when you realize that Yoshida also wrote “Had there not been intense challenges from the revisionists, the history and memory of the Nanjing Massacre might have remained a domestic issue rather than becoming an international symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.”
Being published by the Oxford University Press under Columbia University’s Weatherhead East Asian Institute may lend a lot of prestige and credibility to Yoshida’s book. In reality, Yoshida’s book presents a revisionist view of the Nanking Massacre under the disguise of scholarly research, and is trying to create confusion in the general public so that people may think that other accounts of the Nanking Massacre were over exaggerated. It is important to note that the Japanese influence in academic Asian studies in the U.S. is substantial through their funding to establish various professorships and research grants.
The book So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins: This is an autobiography published by Beech Tree in 1986 describing the author’s experiences as an 11 year old Japanese living in Korea in 1945 near the end of WWII, when she and her family had to flee from Nanam (now part of Chongjin), a city in northern Korea to travel south to Seoul, then to Pusan to be repatriated to Japan. This occurred at a time when the Korean people were regaining control of their homeland from the occupying Japanese. It describes the terrifying experiences that she and her family endured.
Over the years the book has become very popular and is often part of the required or recommended reading for students in the middle grades in many parts of the U.S. The book has been criticized because it gives its young readers a very much distorted understanding of that part of history. For example, it does not mention any of the many Japanese war crimes and the atrocities that Japan imparted to the people in Korea and many other countries. Such distortion has resulted in Korea American students being criticized and harassed in their own schools by their fellow students. In several parts of the U.S., parents have attempted to remove the book from their curriculum and reading lists. These attempts were sometimes successful and sometimes unsuccessful.
In assessing whether a book like Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ So Far from the Bamboo Grove should be included as required or recommended reading for students in the middle schools or some other grades, I believe that one needs to distinguish two perspectives. One perspective is whether the author is accurately reporting her own experiences and her own understanding of the events. The other perspective is whether a reader, especially a young reader, who has no knowledge of that period of history, after reading this book would get a very much distorted understanding of that part of history.
First I comment on the first perspective. Although I do not want to question the accuracy of the author’s reporting of her experiences as a young child, I do want to point out that when she wrote this book, she was already an adult. So she should know very well the reality of that part of history, in particular, the Japanese as a whole were not victims, but the Japanese government and military were the invaders and ruthless instigators of the violence. I think in the text of the book, the author should have at least explained clearly and more fully this larger context in which her experiences occurred. It is not sufficient just to add a preface to a later edition of the book stating that her book was never intended to be a defense of the Japanese.
Regarding the second perspective, what concerns me the most is that a reader, who has no knowledge of that period, which would be the case for essentially all young American readers, would get a very much distorted understanding of that part of history. The reader would not understand that the Japanese were the invaders of Korea and the aggressors, that the Japanese had done terrible and massive atrocities against the Koreans and other people in Asia, and the reader would not understand that there was justifiable hatred of the Japanese occupiers by the Koreans.
Thus, from both perspectives, there are good arguments against this book. Education leaders of a school district have the duty and moral obligation that they should not require, recommend, or encourage their students to read books that could give rise to such a distorted understanding of history. I hope that they would reconsider their district’s position with respect to Yoko Kawashima Watkins’ book.
 Both spellings, Nanking and Nanjing, are used.
 John Magee’s film was donated in 2002 by his son David Magee to the Nanking Massacre Museum in Nanjing. For more information on John Magee, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Magee_%28missionary%29. John Magee also described some of the shots that he took. Here is an excerpt from the letter that he sent with his film to the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin: “On December 13, about 30 soldiers came to a Chinese house at #5 Hsing Lu Koo in the southeastern part of Nanking, and demanded entrance. The door was open by the landlord, a Mohammedan named Ha. They killed him immediately with a revolver and also Mrs. Ha, who knelt before them after Ha’s death, begging them not to kill anyone else. Mrs. Ha asked them why they killed her husband and they shot her dead. Mrs. Hsia was dragged out from under a table in the guest hall where she had tried to hide with her 1 year old baby. After being stripped and raped by one or more men, she was bayoneted in the chest, and then had a bottle thrust into her vagina. The baby was killed with a bayonet. Some soldiers then went to the next room, where Mrs. Hsia’s parents, aged 76 and 74, and her two daughters aged 16 and 14. They were about to rape the girls when the grandmother tried to protect them. The soldiers killed her with a revolver. The grandfather grasped the body of his wife and was killed. The two girls were then stripped, the elder being raped by 2-3 men, and the younger by 3. The older girl was stabbed afterwards and a cane was rammed in her vagina. The younger girl was bayoneted also but was spared the horrible treatment that had been meted out to her sister and mother. The soldiers then bayoneted another sister of between 7-8, who was also in the room. The last murders in the house were of Ha’s two children, aged 4 and 2 respectively. The older was bayoneted and the younger split down through the head with a sword. …”