Why was Japan so ruthless in Nanking?

I don’t have a “why,” exactly, to explain the situation I wrote about here. There was a long history (many hundreds of years) of Japan’s proud and fierce warriors taking as much of China as they wanted — and Korea, too.


This extended back before Japan was a single country. A daimyo (local territory chief) would test a young aspiring samurai to see if he had the mettle to be a good general by sending him to these lands to conquer them. It was not uncommon for such boy-generals to bring back 10,000 right ears as a mark of achievement, and pile them in his chief’s central square for review. If he could do that, then he just might have the stuff to actually fight other samurai someday.

I have great respect for many aspects of feudal Japan; they accomplished things that hardly seem humanly possible. At the same time, I have for decades considered it the best example of what an alien society might be like. Modern Japanese seem to have something of these mixed feelings toward their own amazing history, a combination of pride, revulsion and denial depending upon the topic and person.

Japan, in my opinion, produced the most effective individual fighters the world had ever seen. They believed themselves invincible, and all others inferior — and they had history to point to as evidence. And human life did not have the sort of value that the West had given it in recent centuries, though even there one could point to obvious philosophical conflicts.

No one had conquered Japan for its entire history, about two millennia. It was this ferocious record that made it clear to both sides that a land invasion of Japan would be fiercely fought, and would kill a million or more people on both sides.

I understand the grim decision to use the atomic weapons, and so did many the Japanese leaders at the time and still today. And the United States become Japan’s first and only conqueror in 1945, in the process saving millions of lives.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  • http://nooneofanyimport.wordpress.com Linda

    I nosed into the book The Rape of Nanking once, and yeah. Pretty awful stuff, likes of which I had never heard of. I mean, we all know how awful the Nazis were, but we hear little about the Japanese brutality.

    I dunno why that is. History ends up being so narrowly focused.

  • David

    “I understand the grim decision to use the atomic weapons, and so did many the Japanese leaders at the time and still today. And the United States become Japan’s first and only conqueror in 1945, in the process saving millions of lives”

    Thirty years ago I read on this subject and came to the same conclusion. Although having no part in the decsion at the time, the world, seeing the horror of what atomic wepons are capable of, was a far greater teacher, lending strgenth to MAD policy, without which it would possibly be less effective.

  • Pascvaks

    This will take some time to think about. There is indeed a ying and a yang to everything and everyone under heaven.