For many of us in The West, The Second World War is marked with the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in the European Theatre of war.
The attempted Genocide of European Jews, the massacre of Gipsi’s, Slavs, Political dissidents and others, the events that unfolded in Europe during the mid twentieth century, have left a permanent mark on the historical, cultural and political landscape of the Western world.
Though prior to the beginning of the conflict in Europe, there is another story that solidifies the reputation of Imperial Japan and the Axis powers as awhole. Very much unknown, unstudied and not spoken about in Western countries, the 1937 Nanking massacre was one of the darkest days for humanity in the twentieth century and arguably the worst atrocity of the era.
The incident took place in the city of Nanking, the former capital of China. In 1937 the city fell to Japanese forces during the Sino-Japanese War and suffered under the brutal occupation of General Matsui Iwane.
After the city’s capitulation, General Matsui orchestrated a massacre of over 200,000 Chinese citizens. Furthermore, he approved the rounding up of more than ten thousand women to be raped, tortured and killed.
Acting under a hardline philosophy of Bushido, The Japanese saw the surrendering Chinese Soldiers as without honor and beyond disgraceful. They believed in this so fervently, that they saw the Chinese as inhuman and not capable of or deserving any type of mercy. General Matsui encouraged his soldiers to inflict the largest amount of pain and humiliation possible on the soldiers and citizens of Nanking. He told them to use this opportunity to rid themselves of weak attributes such as compassion, mercy or pity.
What followed, was a series of months long atrocities that will never be forgotten, nor ever completely removed from Chinese-Japanese relations.
The brutal acts that took place, were proudly recorded by the Japanese military and televised to troops back home. There are photos with soldiers smiling while proudly boasting severed heads on a bayonet. Perhaps most disturbing of all was, that not even babies or young children were spared from the carnage.
Westerners within the city, attempted to establish a safe neutral zone but this unfortunately did not deter Japanese soldiers from following their General’s orders. They described Nanking as a literal, “Hell on Earth” and reported that the city streets flowed with blood.
Thought Nanking was eventually freed from it’s barbarous Japanese occupiers, it would unfortunately experience more internal strife with what happened in the following years with The Communist Revolution. It would never return to being China’s Capital city. Thankfully, after the war General Matsui was successfully tried and executed for his crimes by Allied Forces.
To this day however, Japan has never fully accepted nor offered a solid apology for the horrendous War crimes that took place in Nanking. The Chinese Government has successfully turned the incident into a symbol of Nationalism and as a motivation to further develop as a world power and to resist more foreign influence.