Marcus Wendel wrote:
I find it interesting that none of the "sceptics" (or what ever the term is) have attacked these claims they way they would if it had been Germans instead of Japanese that were accused.
I will oblige you, if only out of orneriness.
I had wanted to see the program shown last Saturday on SBS, but unfortunately I missed it. However, its title, "Japanese Soldiers of the Devil", hardly suggested a sober, objective assessment of the issue.
It needs to be realised that the issue of Japanese war-crimes is used in modern Japan as a weapon in the political struggle between Left and Right. The Left tend to exaggerate Japanese war-crimes, and the Right to minimise them. One should not unreservedly accept the claims of either side.
Furthermore, accusations of war-crimes made against Japan by the governments of various Asian states need to be seen in the context of current political and economic relationships; essentially, they are a tool used by poorer countries to wring economic concessions from the wealthy Japanese.
From my reading, I have come to the conclusion that the atrocities committed by the Japanese in China during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45 were no worse, in both nature and extent, than the atrocities committed by the competing Chinese governments (Nationalist and Communist) and warlords on thier own people. The Japanese waged war in a barbaric way, but they were simply adapting themselves to the norms of the country.
There had been endemic warfare between competing groups in China ever since the revolution in 1911, and it was conducted in a very savage way. It is possible to read claims of acts of great brutality perpetrated by Japanese soldiers on Chinese, but I have read accounts of similarly revolting acts committed by Chinese on Chinese.
An example; when the forces of Jiang Jieshi suppressed the Communists in Shanghai in 1927, it was reported that they killed their prisoners by throwing them alive into the firebox of a locomotive steaming up at the station platform. That seems to me equal to any tale of Japanese barbarity, and quite possibly just as exaggerated.
Tales are told of Japanese beheading Chinese prisoners; but beheading was a traditional Chinese method of execution. It was routine practice for the Chinese Government to behead captured rebels. I have seen interesting photos of Chinese prisoners being beheaded in the street by Chinese soldiers.
Throughout the whole period that the Japanese Army was operating in China, competing Chinese armies were fighting each other. In Shandong Province, Communist Chinese fought anti-Communist Chinese, and the Japanese took the opportunity to attack them both. There were even Chinese armies fighting on the side of the Japanese.
After the capture of Nanjing in December 1937, and the retreat of Jiang Jieshi's administration to Hangzhou, some former members of his Government joined the Japanese and formed a pro-Japanese government located at the capital, Nanjing. Japan recognised that government, headed by Wang Jingwei, as the legal government of China; accordingly, any Chinese caught in arms fighting against that government were considered rebels, and given the traditional treatment meted out to rebels in China, ie summary execution. That is the primary reason for the mass execution of captured Chinese soldiers by the Japanese.
The Japanese also sponsored a separatist political movement in the North, the Hsin-min-hui, centred in Beijing. That movement enjoyed a surprising amount of support among elements of the Chinese population who feared the Communist armies located in the North-West.
A lot of nonsense is also spouted about the so-called "comfort women". These were women from a number of Asian countries but particularly Korea who volunteered to work as prostitutes in Japanese Army brothels. They were not forced to do so; there was no need for force, since there were so many poverty-stricken women willing to undertake the work in return for regular meals. It may be argued that a woman whose only alternative to prostitution is starvation does not have a real choice; nevertheless, a choice of sorts did exist, and the women were not dragged kicking and screaming into the brothels.
The same applies to those captured European women who served as "comfort women". Some of the younger female prisoners living in the prison camps were invited to come and live in the officers' casinos and work as "entertainers", in return for good food and lodgings. Many elected to accept the invitation; those who did not were simply sent back to the filthy conditions of the prison camps. Those European ex-prisoners who today claim that were "forced" into prostitution are simply hiding their shame and guilt at having lived in comparative luxury while many of their fellow prisoners died of starvation and disease.
One of the major Japanese crimes was the use of prisoners as experimental subjects for biological warfare. However, even here the difference was one of degree. Many states, including Australia, carried out experiments, generally chemical rather than biological, on subjects who were ostensibly volunteers, but had not been told the full extent of what they were being exposed to. And we also have the example of radiation experiments carried out by the United States Government in the 1950s on its own unsuspecting civilian population.
It is interesting that the Japanese experiments in Manchuria formed the basis for the germ-warfare accusation made by China against the United States during the Korean War. Given that the Japanese scientists had given all their material to United States authorities, there may well have been some truth in the accusation.
In summary, while the Japanese Army did commit atrocities in China, its behaviour was by no means unique, and hardly worse than that of Chinese toward other Chinese. After the Communists came to power in China, they began a campaign of accusation against Japan, largely as a means of diverting attention from the huge atrocities it was committing on its own population.