On taking responsibility for historical war crimes

The Nanjing Massacre is a relatively unknown historical event that occurred during the Second Sino-Japanese War prior to World War II. During the Nanjing Massacre—also known as the Rape of Najing—an estimated 300,000 Chinese and Korean civilians were murdered and raped by Japanese soldiers.

The number of people who were killed during the Nanjing Massacre is widely debated among scholars because of the fact that records for this historical event were kept hidden or destroyed by the Japanese. Since then, Japan has largely tried to cover up the massacre by omitting it from school history books, downplaying the event and even denying it altogether.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization announced on Oct. 9 that the Nanjing Massacre would be added to its Memory of the World Register. This register is an international initiative that calls for the preservation of important historical documents.

Japan claims that the documents being preserved are not authentic and has threatened to cut funding to the United Nations in response. Japan’s reaction is not altogether surprising given the country’s history of denial of the event. The denial of the Nanjing Massacre—along with the denial of any genocide—is not only incredibly disrespectful to victims, but is also deceptive to the rest of the world. In order to prevent mass genocides from ever happening again, proper documentation of them is necessary.

Historical events are recorded and studied so future generations can learn from them. If countries continuously covered up events in fear that they would tarnish their reputations, we would have a difficult time learning from their mistakes. Genocides occur through a cycle of racism, prejudice and extreme nationalism. Without studying this and actively trying to limit the factors that cause them, genocides will undoubtedly occur over and over again.   

Japan memorializes the lives lost during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki each year. Unlike Japan, the United States in no way denies or downplays the amount of lives lost due to the atomic bombs. It is an incredibly hypocritical move to mourn the deaths of one’s own people while denying a massacre that claimed approximately 300,000 lives.

Japanese soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War did atrocious things to innocent civilians and the world deserves to know what happened. Preserving the memories of the lives lost during this time period and the families that were affected by it is Japan’s duty to the world. It is sad to see that the Japanese government remains unmoved and unapologetic—even after all these years.

After the end of World War II, there were many people that denied that the Holocaust occurred. In response to this, many countries made laws against Holocaust deniers and, later on, deniers of genocides in general. Holocaust denial can be considered hate speech or racial vilification.

As a result of these laws, people were jailed for speaking out and denying that these genocides existed. While some may argue that this is an infringement on freedom of speech, it is necessary given the magnitude of horrors that occur during genocides.

In order to move forward as a country now devoted to peace, Japan must take responsibility for their atrocious war crimes.