Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Japanese official protests
coverage of lecture by
‘Rape of Nanking’ author

By Burl Burlingame


The best-selling book in Honolulu last night was Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking," as an overflow crowd of more than 800 listened to the author talk about the 1937 massacre of Chinese civilians by the Imperial Japanese Army.

"It's interesting how wartime guilt is handled differently in Germany and Japan," Chang noted. "Wartime actions are viewed with guilt and shame in Germany, yet in Japan -- where comparatively few were found guilty of war crimes and no reparations were paid -- the leaders are worshipped as gods at Yasukuni Shrine, to the everlasting shame of their victims. It's like installing a bust of Hitler in the largest cathedral in Europe and proclaiming him a god."

Chang, of Sunnyvale, Calif., was at the University of Hawaii last night to discuss her book.

Atrocities are a fact of wartime, said Japan Consul General Gotaro Ogawa, who made an unprecedented visit to the Star-Bulletin yesterday to protest coverage of Chang's lecture. "Vietnam and Yugoslavia are also sites of atrocities," said Ogawa at a follow-up interview at the consulate.

"Miss Chang's book and content have never been denied by the Japanese government," said Ogawa. "The atrocities in Nanking were very serious. But there are different opinions on this incident that should be considered."

Ogawa offered a paper by Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata as refutation of Chang's charges. Titled "The Nanking Atrocities: Fact and Fable" and originally published in the August issue of Japan Echo, Hata finds fault with Chang's estimates of Chinese deaths in Nanking. He finds Chang's book a "preposterous fable" that reads like a "spy thriller."

Hata also suspects Chinese and Western historians and journalists of operating in tacit collusion. The Nanking figure of 300,000 arrived at by Allied courts in affixing convictions for war crimes is a propaganda figure, achieved by arbitrarily choosing a higher number of casualties than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, Hata suggests.

Ogawa said the Japanese government does not have any "firm documentation that certify the number killed" in Nanking and elsewhere, adding that if any such documentation exists, it would be open to scholars, provided they follow "certain rules for the declassification of such documents."

Chang's assertion that Japanese textbooks give short shrift to the war in China is a misunderstanding, said Ogawa. "Most Japanese know all about Nanking because there have been so many articles about it. Almost all textbooks discuss it, but not very much. Japanese textbooks are thin compared to thick American history books, and our history is much longer, back to before the time of Christ, so all Japanese history subjects don't get much mention."

Ogawa had Japanese textbook pages, with English translations, mentioning the Nanking incident. On this, Chang said: "Interesting. Why do I keep hearing from Japanese teachers whose students ask them who won the war?"

Nanking, Ogawa said, needs to be placed "in the context of politics of the time. Japan was trying to secure its position in the world. For the ordinary Japanese people, it was an abhorrent incident."

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