Friday, June 12, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Finally got around to reading Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" (the Chinese city now usually called Nanjing). The book is the story of the wide-spread massacres and atrocities committed by Japanese troops after taking the city in 1937. Like Richard Rhode's Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust (which details the actions of SS units who began the "Final Solution" on the eastern front) the horrific nature of the acts makes for difficult reading at times.

I was struck by the similarity between the reaction of the Chinese civilians and soldiers to their fate and that of many Jews during the Holocaust. Despite plenty of obvious evidence to the contrary, they clung to a belief that they would be okay right up until the very end. The Japanese troops carrying out the killings were often outnumbered ten and even a hundred to one by their prisoners yet there were very few instances of any resistance even though the Chinese likely would have been able to overwhelm their captors had they acted together. It's probably part of human nature at some level to refuse to accept that a horrible fate awaits and to rationalize your way into inaction.

I don't know if there are any lessons that one can take from this (and hopefully they would never need to be applied), but one seems to be that if armed men come to take you away you should assume the worst. Resistance at that point, even if futile, is probably preferable to the alternative. It reminds me of how people are usually advised that if you are getting car jacked or kidnapped, the best chance of escape is in the initial moments of the attack.

Unlike the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking has not received the historical attention or study that it deserves. I would venture to guess that most Americans aren't even aware that it occurred and few appreciate the scale and scope of the murderous brutality. Chang's book is a good place to start to remedy that ignorance.

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