To what extent was Japanese military mentality responsible for the Nanking massacres? The aggressive Japanese military mentality was the largest contributor towards the brutal nature of the 1937 Nanking massacre. Both long term Japanese military personalities formulated over the years combined with the short term circumstances such as the Battle of Shanghai and the First Sino Japanese War exacerbated the extent (of the Japanese military mentality.
The Nanking massacre, also commonly known as the Rape of Nanking, has become a symbol of outrages committed by the Japanese troops during World War || for the Chinese and highlights China’s victimisation by imperialist aggression. The international military tribunal alongside the Tokyo war crimes tribunal provided an estimate that 20,000 Chinese men of military age were killed and a further 20,000 cases of rape of women aged 8 to 80 occurred during the 6 weeks following the fall of the city.
More ever, a total estimated death of over 200,000 disarmed civilian combatants, according to burial figures, has been a crucial fact towards gaining an understanding into the mentality of the Japanese troops during these 6 weeks and the circumstances prior their invasion which led to the violent nature of the Nanking Massacre. The Chinese government had fled, leaving no remaining authorities behind to defend the city and protect those unarmed.
When Nanjing was taken, “All military-age men among the refugees were taken prisoner,” (Yin and Young, The Rape of Nanking, p. 76. Popular debate have surrounded the death figures, with historians such as Sun Zhaiwei in his 1990 Paper “The Nanking Massacre and the Nanking Population “estimating that a total number of 377,400 number of people were killed through using Chinese burial records and adding an estimated 150,000 deaths from a report given by Japanese
Imperial Army Major Ohta Hisao confirming the Japanese army’s disposal efforts of dead bodies. On the other hand, Japanese denials of the extent of the massacre and revisionist accounts of the killing have become a staple of Japanese nationalism. The debate concerning the Nanking massacre and the extent of deaths took place mainly in the 1970s. During this time, the Chinese government’s statements about the event were attacked by the Japanese because they were said to rely too heavily on personal testimonies and anecdotal evidence.
Aspersions were cast regarding the authenticity and accuracy of burial records and photographs presented in the Tokyo War Crime Court, which were said to be fabrications by the Chinese government, artificially manipulated or incorrectly attributed to the Nanking Massacre. On February 24, 2012, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara was another whom believed that the Nanking massacres was merely a fabrication intended to victimise the Japanese, reportedly claiming it would have been impossible to kill so many people in such a short period of time and that deaths tolls would have been closer to that of 10,000. Wikipedia)
Japanese military personality was a mixture of both harsh discipline and indoctrinated disdain created over time, with the moulding and training of young men for combat to serve with the military from a young age through the education system. Japanese power and wealth had increased at the turn of the 20th century, yet China continued to falter behind. Anti- Chinese attitudes quickly spread in Japan, as the voices of popular politicians and journalists condemned China as backwards and further encouraged the military expansion into Chinese territory.
By the 1930s, Japanese school textbooks contained content teaching the students to view China as a civilisation in decline, formulating the beliefs of superiority and preparing these young boys for a war with China. Ideologically, they were taught that their imperial hierarchy lay at the centre of world morality and that the Japanese were superior to other people. This view permeated the Japanese military, with an overall atmosphere of contempt towards those beneath, racial slurs and superiority.
Expansionist ideologies then began gaining fervent support from right winged ultranationalists, who called for military dictatorship that would limit personal wealth and instead nationalise property in preparation for domination of the rest of Asia. A missionary writing in 1938 felt that a lack of Christian heritage was what had made the Japanese more prone to brutality, whilst Azumo Shiro a soldier during the war noted: “At home I was a good father, a good brother and a good husband, after a month of the battlefield, I killed without remorse. I’m often at loss to as why this happened.
Thus it was the prevalent mentality embedded and built over time amidst the Japanese military combined with the events encountered by the troops leading up to the Nanking massacre which exacerbated their aggressiveness, creating a basis for the brutal massacres. Japan’s military successes beginning with the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War followed by claiming the Liao dong peninsula in the First Sino Japanese War with China and Korea saw the military troop size double in size and with the nation at the turn of the 20th century reaping the rewards of modernisation, military prestige and unprecedented economic prosperity.
World War I created a huge demand for Japanese iron, steel, textiles production and foreign trade but by the 1920s as the War reached a conclusion, it halted the previously insatiable demand for military products and in turn shut down production factories leaving thousands of labourers unemployed.
The 1929 US stock market crash and great depression heavily crippled trade relations with Japan, the economic downturn having a devastating effect on the Japanese community with businesses ceasing, inflation and unemployment soaring and the September 1923 Earthquake only heightening these dismal conditions. By the 1930s, the Japanese economy had mostly recovered, with new acquired technological skills and advancements. The government wanted to this time build a better and stronger society, using the nation’s military superiority over its neighbours to embark on a program of foreign conquest.
However as an island country, Japan did not have the sufficient amounts of supply of natural resources especially oil and iron within its territory, and this became the largest reason for the Japanese government to expand its zone of influence over other countries particularly in regions such as China and the South East . Around the same period, China had also strengthened herself as a nation from a disintegrating empire into a struggling national republic and as Chiang Kai Shek’s gained momentum, it threatened Japanese interests in Manchuria and Mongolia.
After discovering that Chiang was supported by both the United States and the United Kingdom through several trade routes, the leadership of Japanese military forces argued that it was necessary to expand the battle into South East Asia to maintain the support routes open and at the same time securing vast amounts of natural resources and economic prosperity coming from those territories. The 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria marked the beginning of the Second Sino Japanese War with China, with the Nanking Massacre as an episode highlighting the brutal extent the Japanese were willing to commit.
A mixture of harsh discipline and indoctrinated disdain created the potential for an event like the Nanking massacre but the circumstances at the Battle of Shanghai The Battle of Shanghai lasted from August to November 1937, and it was the traumatic situation and circumstances in Shanghai which had nurtured the psychological conditions and exacerbated military aggression amongst the troops necessary for the Japanese soldiers to later commit the atrocities in Nanking.
Japanese military leaders had the expectations and boasted that the city would fall in a month and could conquer all of mainland China within the next three; instead the battle with the one city of Shanghai had lasted 4 months. The Shanghai forces outnumbered the Japanese marines ten to one, and the army was faced with strong resistance and both sides suffered heavy casualties, which in urn heightened the Japanese anger and despise for the Chinese. By Mid-November, the low morale Japanese troops had captured Shanghai, with the aid of aerial and naval bombardment, and marched towards the capital Nanking with the goal of retribution to once again prove Japan’s dominance and superiority.
On December 13, 1937, the Japanese 6th Brigade released a commandment that “All prisoners of war are to be executed… ince the defeated enemy soldiers are believed to be in plain clothes, you must arrest any person who is suspected of being so. ” This statement alongside the commander of Japanese forces in Nanking, Prince Asaka’s secret orders to “Kill all captives” therefore contributed an individual responsibility towards the brutal extent and aggressive nature that had been placed in the mindset of the army before the battle of Nanking had begun.
Furthermore, The Japanese soldiers, who had expected easy victory, instead had been fighting hard for months and had taken infinitely higher casualties than anticipated. They were bored, angry, frustrated, tired. The Chinese women were undefended, their menfolk powerless or absent. The war, still undeclared, had no clear-cut goal or purpose. Perhaps all Chinese, regardless of sex or age, seemed marked out as victims. “