Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Much Perspective

Starting your day off with a tour of a memorial dedicated to the victims of a mass slaughter is not exactly a day brightener, but a Sunday visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial was an educational and--while very somber--a very worthwhile experience. The memorial and museum are built on the site of a mass grave (10,000 some remains) that was uncovered in the 1980s.

Its main aim is tell the horrific tale of six weeks in 1937 when the Japanese Imperial Army captured Nanjing and went a bloodthirsty rampage of looting, arson, rape, and murder. In total, some 300,000 Chinese civilians and captured soldiers were killed during that time by the Japanese. A story also recounted by Iris Chang in the book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.

There's also sections on the history of Sino-Japanese conflict, the post-war justice meted out to those who lead the Japanese atrocities, and stories of foreigners in Nanjing who tried to limit the carnage and save the lives of Chinese civilians. That brave group included American missionaries, Red Cross workers, and diplomats among others.

In an interesting irony of history, some of the most forthright defenders of the citizens of Nanjing were German officials and businessmen. There are many pictures of refugees being escorted to safety under the protection of the Nazi flag. There is also a letter of commendation to John Rabe--one such German savior and leader of the local branch of the Nazi party to boot--from Herr Adolph Hitler himself on display.

Upon leaving the memorial, one feels a mixture of sadness at the horror just witnessed and relief. For in that particular environment, I was glad that I was not Japanese. You can understand why some of the locals are a bit hesitant about buying a Toyota.

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