The Nanking Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan’s National Shame, by Honda Katsuichi, M.E. Sharpe Inc., Armonk, N.Y., 1999, $24.95.
This book attempts to lay out the facts surrounding one of the most egregious human rights violations in history. Honda Katsuichi does a wonderful job of sticking to the facts but comes up short in answering the question of what caused the personal tragedies that he describes. Packed with the personal accounts of survivors of the Rape of Nanking, both Chinese and Japanese, the book brings the reader as close to the events in China in late 1937 as it is possible to do at this late date.
Katsuichi begins with the Japanese army landings at Hangzhou Bay on Novem-ber 5, 1937, and follows the movements of the various units as they advanced on, and ultimately captured, Nanking. The focus of the narrative, however, is on the atrocities committed against Chinese peasants and soldiers. Since the official Japanese position at the time was that prisoners were not to be killed, why they nevertheless were allowed to be butchered in the tens of thousands is never explained. A few field-grade officers are named as having given orders to execute prisoners, but their reasons are never given. No attempt is made to excuse or mitigate what the Japanese did, although there are references to the lack of ability to feed prisoners and to strong feelings aroused in the Japanese soldiers by the loss of comrades.
This book was written by a Japanese author seeking to confront a Japanese “national shame” with more accuracy and investigative honesty than was present in previous works. Whether he achieved his goal or not must be left to the reader to judge. In any event, this book takes some of the mystery out of Chinese xenophobia.
John I. Witmer