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The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II – Review by Kenneth Ellman

You will read it and reread it and reread it but it is all true

From Kenneth Ellman,

Well what can be said. I have read this book more times than I remember over a period of many years. Published in 1997 perhaps it is no longer necessary to give another review. But some books form a bond with your mind and the author and the story become part of you. Iris Chang’s story “The Rape of Nanking” is just this kind of book. What it did to the author who later committed suicide we can only imagine. You reread and reread it over many years because it is easy to read (very well written), very well factually supported (so you know it is true) and most important because it is such an extraordinary story the truth of which tells so much about the Japanese but perhaps most significantly about human beings and ourselves.

Importantly it again discusses the well established extraordinary German Nazi hero John H.D. Rabe. You could not make Rabe up in your imagination if you tried. You don’t have to though because he, Rabe, is real and true and what he did was saintly. Perhaps this book, this story like other genuine historical facts, truly meets the phrase “the truth is stranger than fiction”. Ironically remember while Rabe the German Nazi, saved Chinese from the Japanese, Sugihara a Japanese diplomat (of whom many books have also been written), not much later on, was saving Jews from Germans.

We want to think we are not like the Japanese of that time and place the same as we want to think we are not like the Germans who manufactured helpless children and adults to death. The terrible killing and military work of soldiers in warfare is not what affects us so much, because inside we expect that and know it is what a soldier is to do and a war to cause. We also know that in war civilians, woman and children, will die through the natural course of the destruction of countries and cities that warfare brings. That is not what shocks or surprises us. But it is the intentional, purposeful and planned killing and torture of so many helpless people that makes us see a different side of what humans are, and what the Japanese were, in this case and what the Germans did in that same time period.

Keep in mind the Japanese are not the Germans. They did not utilize engineering processes to burn and kill. They did not build ovens and chambers with poison gas. As Chang so clearly shows (and most importantly as the historical documentation shows), the Japanese were far more straightforward and simple in their actions. They just militarily conquered this city and then immediately raped, raped, raped and as a policy then burned, tortured and killed the inhabitants. How interesting that the Japanese, in some of the cases, would attempt to force the fathers to rape their daughters and the sons to rape their mothers. This was all done with simple brute military force of guns and bayonets etc. And it was done quickly.

What can we say. These events only define a part of what human beings are capable of. We know both the depths of evil and we also know the extraordinary heights to which human beings can attain. We know that both Rabe and Sugihara were examples of real people who stood against this at great personal risk to themselves.

I read the reviews here and see some challenge the facts of what occurred. Remember, this is not an account of a war from two thousand years ago where we might argue over what occurred. It is an account of a war so recent that it is still almost contemporaneous with our current lives. World War Two is just like yesterday and many of us have or had immediate family who lived through that period of time and served in that war and know what happened. Some are still alive today.

SO, I do find it somewhat strange that there are reviews here that have challenged whether this Japanese destruction and torture of human beings in Nanking even actually occurred.
I must assume that such reviews are knowingly false. In any large event there will always be some dispute of a specific act or incident which occurred in the scope of a massive human turmoil or tragedy. But to argue about whether this occurred at all or is a fabrication, is not an argument. It is merely an effort to escape history and history will not allow such an escape.

Keep in mind that in addition to all of the eye witness accounts, newspapers accounts and both American and Japanese and other documentation, we have the extraordinary event of Rabe sending a detailed report of what occurred to Adolph Hitler and this report is available today to be read.

This type of history along with those human beings who acted so heroically in opposition to these human tragedies such as Rabe and Sugihara, should be part of the curriculum and education of all students. It helps us to teach our children what human beings are capable of in a very gut personal realistic level, the choices people may make and the heights to which they can rise in contrast to the depths to which they can sink.
My heart and respect goes out to the family of Iris Chang for this accomplishment by their now deceased daughter.
Kenneth Ellman,