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What Nanjing Massacre?
War Crimes Denial, Asian Edition

In another act of knuckle-headed nationalism, Naoki Hyakuta, an acting governor of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, has publicly denied that the Nanjing Massacre ever took place. This is not going to go over well with Japan’s neighbor to the west. The Asahi Shimbun reports:

A Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) governor handpicked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Nanking Massacre was a fabrication designed to cancel out U.S. atrocities during speeches supporting a like-minded candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election. […]

“In 1938, Chiang Kai-shek tried to publicize Japan’s responsibility for the Nanking Massacre, but the nations of the world ignored him. Why? Because it never happened,” Hyakuta said. […]

In a speech later in the day, Hyakuta also offered his views on education.

“During wars, some military personnel may have done cruel acts,” he said. “But that is not something only the Japanese have done. There is no reason to teach such things to children who are still in compulsory education. I want to first teach children what a wonderful nation Japan is.”

The Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanjing, did in fact take place. Japanese invaders slaughtered and plundered their way through the city over a six week period in 1937-1938. The only genuine debate about the event is over how many tens of thousands of people the Japanese killed.

Hyakuta’s remark is one of several recent incidents of public historical insensitivity. In December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, prompting outrage from Japan’s neighbors. Surprisingly, however, the Chinese media has yet to report on Hyakuta’s comments.

The killing spree that took place in Nanjing almost eighty years ago is still a thorny issue in Sino-Japanese relations. And tensions are already high over the disputed island territories in the East China Sea. The domestic political context in Japan doesn’t make this kind of thing any more reassuring. Abe’s government has made moves to sharpen its military teeth and rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution. The Prime Minister has boosted Japanese defense spending for the first time in years and built up Japan’s defense forces with new surveillance and marine defense units.

In a free and open society, leading figures are free to say whatever they want, but this kind of inane speech is far from productive for long-term regional stability.

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  • rheddles

    The only genuine debate about the event is over how many tens of thousands of people the Japanese killed.

    Don’t you mean hundreds of thousands?

    • Tim Godfrey

      China’s revisionists are no more trustworthy than Japanese revisionists.
      What matters is acknowledging that Japanese soldiers massacred large numbers of civilians in Nanking.
      The exact number is not that important.

      Judging Japan by the outbursts of extremists is like judging America by the outbursts of the tea party.
      Japan is a large democratic country with a wide variety of views that are freely spoken.
      Some of these views are grating but that is the price of free speech.

  • gabrielsyme

    There exists an interesting tension between proper patriotism and historical falsification and denial. This is obviously far over the line, beyond what is a healthy patriotic interpretation. Japan is quite timid militarily and in demographic collapse, so such views are not likely to have broadly negative consequences aside from the diplomatic problems they cause.

    Such is not the case in places like Turkey, where the denial of historical responsibility for its crimes (most famously the Armenian Genocide, but also the Istanbul riots of 1955, etc) has continued to fuel persecution against national minorities and even wars (Cyprus). Telling lies about history is a terribly dangerous thing, as the 20th century witnessed.

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