Retired Historian, Lecturer, and Lawyer
2014 Asia Study Tour Participant
I was honored to have been selected to join the 2014 Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour. I fully expected to enlarge and enrich my own knowledge of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese relations during World War II which has long been a subject I have had a keen interest in. I made a tour of many Chinese cities in the year 2005 when I was doing research for a book I was working on, and I intended to use the 2014 tour to enlarge my knowledge.
My expectations were more than fully satisfied, but more importantly, I saw first-hand and close-up, and heard testimony and lectures from individuals, scholars and historians, and learned things I had read about the Japanese treatment of the Chinese and Koreans. But the full impact of what had occurred from the dry reading of books and articles paled against the experience of what the tour leaders exposed us to.
As a student of Chinese history I am very familiar with the long history of China, especially its interactions with Western influences on China in the 19th Century, such as the often negative influence of the Christian Missionaries, the harmful effects of the two Opium Wars, the so called “Treaty Ports” imposed at gunpoint at the conclusion of the two Opium Wars where the humiliating signs posted at the guarded entrances to the treaty ports which read “No Dogs or Chinese Allowed” exposed the true feelings of the residents inside the luxurious and secluded compound.
Ingenious lawyers, in a further effort to protect their clients, at the expense of Chinese sensibilities, invented the grotesque legal friction of “Extraterritoriality” so that no westerner would have to face trial for a crime committed in China no matter how severe the crime. I have studied many histories of China in WWII, and observed how China was embraced as a full partner of the Allies by President Roosevelt at Casablanca, because of their heroic resistance to the Japanese invasion in 1937. Chiang Kai-shek and Madam Chiang were heroized in the American press at the start of WWII. In 1937 they appeared as “Man and Woman of the Year” on the cover of Time magazine. The Chinese who, because of the imposition of the many indignities, called westerners “Foreign Devils,” and eyed this embrace with justifiable suspicion and for good cause. The “embrace” was short lived; America at the commencement of WWII saw China’s proximity to Japan as a potential launching pad for bombers to reach Japan. As MacArthur’s island hopping campaign progressed, this strategic plan was discarded, and China from that time on received less than 1% of the Lend-Lease aid and China was put on the back burner of the American Planners war schedule.
Although I consider myself a student of the history of Asia in WWII, I early on discovered that the more you learn about a subject, the more you don’t know! Yes, I had for years studied the major sources dealing with the Rape of Nanking, the Comfort Women, Slave Labor, the Chemical Warfare practiced by the Japanese, and I had read two books about Unit 731.
It is one thing to read about these atrocities; quite another to actually experience not only seeing the site of where these terrible events transpired, but in the case of the Comfort Women and some of the victims of the Japanese Chemical experiments to hear the wrenching oral testimony of some of the few survivors. The visits to Nanjing and Harbin in particular brought home to me the reality of what the Chinese had suffered in WWII at the hands of the Japanese invaders. Again it is one thing to read about these stories and the places where the events took place; it is another thing to actually visit the places and realize that on the very ground you are treading, these awful events occurred.
I was totally awed by the Nanjing Museum, both by its immense size and thorough coverage of the tragedy. The Memorial Hall of The Victims in Nanjing is a place one could spend weeks, and I am sure that all of us regretted that we had less than half of a day to absorb the awful events that occurred so many years ago.
Actually hearing the testimony of the few surviving elderly women who suffered as “Comfort Women” (perhaps the most extravagant oxymoron in the English language) was heart rending; the aged woman who said that she received comfort during her long nights by singing softly to herself, and then yielded to our requests to sing one of the songs, brought tears to my eyes. The tour guide read a beautiful poem about their souls ascending into the sky, (heaven to many of us), was moving.
Testimony from the men who suffered as a result of Chemical contamination of the soil by the Japanese made me very angry. As a lawyer myself, my anger only intensified when I heard the accounts of the Chinese lawyers who argued for compensation in the Japanese courts for victims of various atrocities and were repeatedly turned down. I was heartened to hear that recent, related efforts in the Chinese courts against the Japanese companies doing business in China have so far had far better results. But much still remains to be done.
What the Japanese did to the Chinese during WWII has received little attention in the western press, and is virtually ignored by the Japanese media. No better example of this indifference on behalf of the Japanese can be given than describing what we saw when we joined the “Wednesday Demonstration” at the Japanese embassy in Seoul and saw the hundreds of demonstrators outside the building, protesting the Japanese indifference to the Comfort Women. This demonstration has gone on for 22 years. The Japanese shutter their windows, and their ears, to this demonstration. It is a “holiday” for them. This insult is only intensified daily in Tokyo at the famous or “infamous” Yasukuni Shrine where hundreds of Japanese come daily to pay homage to Japanese war dead, many of whom should have been in the dock at the Tokyo War Trials.
For our part, those of us who participated in this tour, we are obliged to carry the torch for the victims. It is our solemn duty to use whatever resources are at our disposal to educate the western audience of the true facts concerning the Japanese crimes. I for one promise to do so.