Chicago Sun Times

Japan, media still deny Nanking massacre
Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe are co-authors of A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West (Regnery Publishing).
December 4, 2004

Here's something compelling to think about on Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7:

Last month on Veterans Day, the world learned of the tragic death, apparently by suicide, of Iris Chang, the youthful American author of Chinese descent who wrote the 1997 best-selling history The Rape of Nanking.

Chang's book did more than any other work to reveal the facts of the 1937-38 Nanking massacre in which the Japanese Empire raped untold thousands and murdered perhaps as many as 300,000 unarmed Chinese civilians and soldiers.

Many in Japan still officially deny the massacre took place despite historical evidence and eyewitness accounts establishing it as unimpeachable fact. Outcry among them succeeded in derailing a Japanese edition of Chang's book.

Intolerably, official denials of the massacre continue to this day among Japanese government officials and media editors. The same day news of Chang's death broke, the Japanese publisher Shueisha Inc. said that it would bow down to conservative Japanese politicians by censoring material about the massacre in one of its magazines.

Forty Japanese assemblymen and others mounted a protest against Shueisha's weekly magazine, Young Jump, over a historical cartoon (a serious and popular adult genre in Japan) titled ''Kuni ga Moeru'' (the country is burning), by artist Hiroshi Motomiya. The cartoon's offense was that it depicted Japanese soldiers brutally killing unarmed people in Nanking as the historical fact that it is. Acquiescing to the protests, the owner of the magazine apologized for running it, promising to censor it out of the book version. Such censorship on behalf of mainstream Japanese media and politicians can be compared to mainstream Germans denying the Holocaust, or mainstream Americans denying slavery.

Chang wrote The Rape of Nanking when she was just in her 20s. It enjoyed phenomenal success, but she was widely pilloried in Japan. Some credible scholars (both Western and Japanese) have criticized aspects of Chang's work (especially some of the photos used). But no serious scholar has denied the gist of The Rape of Nanking -- that it was one of the most brutal war crimes in history.

When inconvenient historical facts are conveniently denied and censored by power brokers in authoritarian regimes such as North Korea or Iran, we call it despotism, Orwellian, even evil. But what should we call it when such facts are denied by elected leaders and mainstream media in Japan, while journalists who champion the truth experience reprisals? How do we reconcile this with Japan's status as one of the world's leading democracies, the second largest economy, and one of the closest allies and trading partners of the United States, prominent in its support of the Bush administration's war on terror, eager to alter its constitution to allow more aggressive military deployment?

As media scholars know, since World War II the Japanese media evolved a plutocratic ownership structure, a cozy, subordinate relationship with the government, and a tendency towards infotainment and sensationalism. It frequently tolerates biased and factually inaccurate reporting extending to casual anti-Semitism, and de facto censorship extending to Holocaust denial. Chang called such silencing a kind of ''second rape'' in the inexorable logic of genocide: First, people are killed, and then the memory of killing itself is killed. ''Media atrocity'' is a strong description but apt in such cases, which strike at the heart of human rights and democratic freedoms that voices like Chang's struggled to uphold.


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