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Published by (November, 1999)

Honda Katsuichi.  The Nanjing Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts
Japan's National Shame.  Trans. Karen Sandness.  Ed.  Frank Gibney.
Armonk, N.Y: M. E. Sharpe, Inc, 1999.  xxvii + 367 pp.  Photographs, maps,
expository notes, index.  $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-7656-0334-9; $24.95
(paper), ISBN 0-7656-0335-7.

Reviewed for H-Japan by Edward J. Drea, U.S. Army
Center of Military History (Retired)
Since the early 1970s Honda Katsuichi has devoted a good part of his
professional life to recounting the brutality of the Imperial Japanese
Army in China, particularly the Nanjing Massacre.  Honda's first book on
the subject, Chugoku no tabi, (1972)  originally appeared in Japan in
serialized form in the Asahi shimbun during 1971.[1] The section on the
Nanjing massacre created a sensation surfacing as it did at a time of
Japanese-Chinese rapproachment exemplified by Prime Minister Tanaka
Kakukei's impending to visit Beijing.  Honda's next book on the
atrocities, Nankin e no michi, (1987) more specifically focused on the
1937 Central China campaign culminating in the slaughter at Nanjing.[2]
Although at that time still a work in progress, Honda published the book
to weigh in on the textbook controversy of the early 1980s which, among
other things, had sparked a high profile dispute created between Japanese
revisionists and conservatives over the "truth" of the Nanjing Massacre.

When originally published, Honda's polemics were topical to
contemporaneous political, social, and educational debates in Japan.
There was an immediacy and intensity to the gruesome depictions of the
murderous and rapacious conduct of the Japanese army in China that made
them fresh and powerful indictments of a military organization gone amok
and a society unwilling to confront either that historical fact or its
legacy. In other words, timing was everything, and without that special
immediacy conferred by the context in which it originally appeared, the
overall impact of Honda's indictment is diminished.  Honda's works are as
much period pieces of reportage as anything else, and reviewing an English
language translation of Nankin e no michi ten years after reading the book
in the original ranks as an antiquarian experience.  The facts are there,
but the intensity and emotion are gone. Or are they?
Iris Chang's bestselling The Rape of Nanjing has reignited, at least in
the American academic community, the issue of Japanese military atrocities
committed in China, and general readers familiar with Chang's book may
find Honda's accounts just more of the same.[3] This would be unfortunate.
Honda tells his English language readers that his purpose in approving the
translation of his work is to stir Americans to exert _gaiatsu_ (outside
pressure), that mysterious external force that somehow compels Japanese
bureaucrats to mend their ways, and in this case make the government
acknowledge its horrific past, or as Honda puts it; "bring about change in
the disgraceful anti-internationalist behavior of the Japanese government
and the conservative forces." (xxvii)  This statement implies either that
his own efforts in Japan have proven unsuccessful in this regard or that
his latest book _Nankin Daigyakusatsu_ (1997) in conjunction with gaiatsu
will change opinions.[4]

Now, available for a wider English-reading audience, Honda's work is,
after its own fashion, a far more compelling indictment of the imperial
army than Iris Chang's bestseller.  Honda spares few feelings.  He is as
critical of the official histories of the campaign for concealing by
omission facts unfavorable to the imperial army as he is of Japanese whose
appeals to the world about Hiroshima and Nagasaki gain Japan a reputation
for emphasizing Japanese victim hood "without ever reflecting upon our own
violent aspect." (139)  In its English-language version, The Nanjing
Massacre combines the translation of Nankin e no michi_ with selected
excerpts of Chugoku no tabi_ and Nankin Daigyakusatsu _ plus an
introductory overview written by Frank Gibney and an afterword prepared by
Japanese historian Fujiwara Akira. Before discussing The Nanjing
Massacre, however, it is worth noting that Honda's exposure of Japanese
atrocities in China had precedent.

Kanki Haruo's edition of _Sanko, Nihonjin no Chugoku ni okeru senso hanzai
no kokuhaku_ (1957), drew on confessions made by Japanese soldiers in the
early 1950s while awaiting repatriation to the Chinese Communists.[5]
Protests by Japanese veteran's groups, an attack on the editor, and
accusations that the accounts were trumped up communist propaganda enabled
many Japanese to dismiss the book as mere sensationalism.  More to the
point, the several accounts drawn from the confessions were unrelated to
one another and indeed were heavily laced with then current Chinese
Communist propaganda themes, making it possible for apologists to claim
the former soldiers merely mouthed the script their captors prepared for
them.  A more systematic effort specifically recounting the Nanjing
Massacre was Waseda University Professor Hora Tomio's 1967 article "Nankin
jiken,"  the first of several articles and books on the massacre that Hora
published over the next two decades.[6] Hora drew heavily on testimony and
exhibits of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East to craft
his tale of horror at Nanjing.[7]

Honda's lasting contribution to the historiography of the Nanjing massacre
derives from his path breaking interviews with Chinese victims of the
Japanese army's brutality.  Their testimony, recorded and published by
Honda, makes plain the scope of the atrocities far exceeded the confines
of Nanjing. Murder, rape, and pillage began weeks earlier when Japanese
forces landed at Hangzhou Bay and continued remorselessly during the
Japanese forces drive upriver the Yangtzu River toward the Chinese
capital.  What happened at Nanjing in December 1937 was neither the start
point nor the end point of Japanese brutality in China.  Honda concludes
that to speak only of five days at Nanjing is meaningless, and the three
month period from November 1937 to January 1938 must be considered as a
single phenomenon.  (134, 285)  One might add that during the next seven
years in China, especially in the notorious "mopping up" campaigns
conducted in north China, the Japanese field army's conduct was a running
tale of atrocity.
Honda's methodology relies on heavily on the journalistic device of
juxtaposition.  He quotes at length, for instance, from contemporary
Japanese newspaper accounts of military operations in China, replete with
the "patriotic gore" so characteristic of the period, and supplements
those journalistic accounts with the versions of operations in the
published official military history of the campaign.[8] Contrasting
wartime propaganda and the impersonal rendering of the official history
with the oral testimony of Chinese victims of the brutal war machine
highlights all the more the discrepancy over "historical truth" between
the oppressor and the oppressed.  Where available, Honda also provides
Japanese soldiers' first person accounts, including excerpts of the diary
of 16th Division Commander General Nakajima Kesago [9], of the field
army's brutality "for the sake of those Japanese who believe the strictly
disciplined imperial army would never act like that." (119) The narrative
is liberally illustrated with facsimiles of contemporary Japanese
newspaper accounts of the fighting, maps, schematic drawings, and photos
of the sites of various massacres or rapes or both, and photographs those
of aging Chinese peasants whose straightforward testimonies of personal
suffering are the heart and soul of Honda's work.
The reader is entitled to ask why the Japanese soldiers routinely
committed such crimes.  Honda does not address that issue preferring to
let Japanese veterans of the campaign explain their motivations directly.

He implies that social forces of "a forced, undemocratic modernization
that dramatically benefited the military,"(27) were at the root of the
behavior.  More compelling speculations on the soldiers' motivations for
systematic murder and rape are offered in Frank Gibney's well drawn
introduction and Fujiwara Akira's postscript.  Gibney plays off Iris
Chang's work as an uncritical account of what happened at Nanjing in order
to emphasize to the reader that Honda gets the facts straight.
Given the wide range of translated materials -- from transcribed
testimony, to prewar accounts such as _Ikite iru heitai_, to official
documents or personal diaries -- Karen Sandness is to be congratulated on
the felicity of her translation.[10] In a curmudgeonly fashion I offer a
few minor observations which in no way detract from her superb effort.  In
several instances, military nomenclature is not as precise as one might
expect. For example, should the "small battleships" on page 39 not be
"small gunboats?"  Asagumo, not Chuon shimbunsha (17) publishes the
Defense Agency's official history series, and Shirai Katsumi is surely the
historian Usui Katsumi (284).  Better editing should also have eliminated
the maddening repetition of the awkward construction "who was xx years old
by traditional Chinese reckoning," which carries literal translation too
far.  These are minor cavils.  Sandness' excellent translation has made
available to a much wider audience one aspect of Japan's attempts to come
to terms with its disgraceful conduct in China and should effectively put
to rest fatuous assertions that Nanjing remains a taboo topic.  The debate
over the Nanjing Incident in Japan may not have been resolved in a
politically correct manner, but as Honda's work shows it has been and
continues to be an emotional issue that prompts outrage, reflection, and
perhaps someday closure.


[1].  Honda Katsuichi, Chugoku no tabi, (Travels in China)  Tokyo:
Asahi shimbunsha, 1972.

[2]. Honda Katsuichi, Nankin e no michi, (The road to Nanjing)  Tokyo:
Asahi shimbunsha, 1987.

[3]. Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking:  The Forgotten Holocaust of World
War II.  New York:  Basic Books, 1997.

[4]. Honda Katsuichi, Nankin daigyakusatsu_, (The great Nanjing massacre)=

Tokyo:  Asahi shimbunsha, 1997.

[5]. Kanki Haruo, ed., Sanko, Nihonjin no Chugoku ni oekru senso hanzai
no kokuhaku_, (The three all: Japanese confessions of war crimes in China)=

Tokyo:  Kobunsha kappa, 1957.

[6]. Hora Tomio, "Nankin jiken," (The Nanjing incident)  in _Kindai senshi
no nazo, (Mysteries of modern war history)  Tokyo:  Jimbutsu oraisha,

[7]. Hora Tomio, Ketteiban: Nankin daigyakysatsu_, (Authoritative
edition: The great Nanjing massacre)  Tokyo:  Tokuma shoten 1982.

[8]. Boeicho Boei senshishitsu, ed., Senshi sosho, Shina jiken Rikugun
sakusen (1) Showa 13 nen 1 gatsu made, (Official military history:  The
China incident:  Army operations to January 1938)  Tokyo: Asagumo
shimbunsha, 1975.

[9]. Nankin koryakusen 'Nakajima dai 16 shidancho nikki,' (The capture
of Nanjing in the diary of 16th division commander Nakajima)  Zokan:
Rekishi to jimbutsu, Hishi Taiheiyo senso, December 1984.

[10]. Ishikawa Tatsuzo, _Ikite iru heitai, (Living soldiers)  Tokyo:
Shincho bunko, 1973 edition.

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Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 12/01/00
S D Stein

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