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Iris Chang and the Forgotten Holocaust

David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Iris Chang, author of "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II."

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  • DAVID GERGEN:

    Iris, your book tells a tale that is almost unbearable and unbelievable. Tell us what happened.

    IRIS CHANG, Author, "The Rape of Nanking:" Well, in 1937, in December, the Japanese swept into the city of Nanking and within six to eight weeks, they had massacred more than 300,000 civilians and raped 80,000 women. And 300,000, please keep in mind, is more than the death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Three hundred thousand is also more than the combined civilian casualty count for several European countries during the entire World War II period. So, in other words, if you add up the number of people who died, civilians who died, in England, France, and Belgium for the entire World War II period, that would still be less than the number of people who died in Nanking, just one Chinese city, in six to eight weeks.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    You say 300,000 were massacred. How many people lived in Nanking before the Japanese arrived?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    One million.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    And about half fled before the Japanese got there, and of the rest, more than half died?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    That's correct.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    Iris, you went back yourself and had an opportunity to talk to some of the survivors who are still alive, and some of those tales are just awfully grisly. Can you tell us about them.

  • IRIS CHANG:

    Yes. I mean, we have to keep in mind that it's not just about the numbers of people who died; it's also the manner which many of these victims met their deaths. The Japanese turned murder into sport. They rounded up tens of thousands of men and used them for bayonet practice or decapitation contests, or they simply sprayed gasoline on them and burned them alive. Some men were skinned alive, tortured to death with needles, or buried waist down and in the soil, where they were ripped apart by German Shepherds. The Chinese women suffered far worse, and many of them were mutilated horribly after rape. And the Japanese even forced fathers to rape their own daughters or sons their mothers, brothers their sisters in order to further degrade the victims.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    They were equally brutal to the small children, in fact, the babies.

  • IRIS CHANG:

    They were tossing babies up in the air and bayoneting them as they came down, or throwing them into vats of oil and water.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    It was some two centuries ago that Robert Burns wrote those memorable lines, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." How do you explain in your own mind the inhumanity you found in Nanking?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    What was really chilling for me was to discover that many of these atrocities were committed not by people who were diabolical serial types by nature, but by people who were very ordinary citizens. Many of them were model citizens from Japan and when they returned became respectable members of the community. In fact, in my book there's a doctor who had committed horrible crimes in Nanking, but now he's a respectable family practitioner, and it's a true life Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    So what explains it? How does someone become such a butcher?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    You know, it seems that the greatest factor behind whether these atrocities can be committed is this concentration of power. Research has found that the more concentrated the power in the hands of a few, such as in a totalitarian regime or in a dictatorship, the more likely that few powerful elite will commit atrocities both at home and abroad. So it seems as if almost all people have this potential for evil, which would be unleashed only under certain dangerous social circumstances.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    In which they're indoctrinated, in effect.

  • IRIS CHANG:

    Absolutely. And what research has shown is that power seems to be the greatest factor behind these atrocities, regardless of that country's nationality, political affiliation, race, or religion. Power is the greatest source.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    Let me ask you about another mystery surrounding Nanking, and that is, as you point out, there were more people killed in Nanking than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. And yet, after all the debates about Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we have amnesia about Nanking. Why?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    Well, I think the Cold War is the main reason why we have this worldwide amnesia on the subject. After 1949, neither the People's Republic of China, nor the Republic of China and Taiwan wanted to push the Japanese for reparations or an apology because both of them ironically now needed Japan as an ally against each other, and they needed Japan's economic and political support. To this day, I think there is a reluctance on the part of both governments to broach the subject with Japan.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    In the year since World War II Germany has paid reparations to victims, has apologized, sent its leaders into the Warsaw Ghetto to apologize. Why have not we seen comparable actions by the Japanese?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    I think it's because the United States permitted the Japanese wartime bureaucracy to remain virtually intact after the war. Unlike the Germans, whose top officials were either thrown in prison or executed or at the very least many had to live as fugitives from the law, in Japan many of the leading wartime officials were permitted to stay in power, or were permitted to flourish in academia or business. By 1957, Japan had elected as its prime minister a class A war criminal.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    Iris, you've written this book as one way of trying to address these issues some 60 years later. Is there more that can be done?

  • IRIS CHANG:

    There's a lot that can be done. The Japanese need to do three things: One, pay reparations to the victims, which they have not done; two, give a sincere official apology to the people of Nanking; and thirdly, they have to stop censoring this event from their textbooks. They've been whitewashing the history of the rape of Nanking so that Japanese schoolchildren remain ignorant of the event.

  • DAVID GERGEN:

    Iris Chang, a strong story, a strong indictment. Thank you very much for joining us.

  • IRIS CHANG:

    Thank you.

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