Not a Mormon topic but I found parallels in our own discussions around Mountain Meadows and Missouri period. Not straight on comparisons but rather the comparison from memory to history. First essay I have done in a couple of years so be gentle
In December of 1937 the army of Imperial Japan surrounded the capital of Republic of the China. After a bloody battle the Japanese forces took over the city of Nanking. All of the various academics studying the issue agree on these basic details. That is where the agreement ends for those studying this issue. Japanese people who want their soldiers and leaders remembered better than they might be, there was a desire to play down the actions of their forces during that period. On the Chinese mainland there is a desire for the Japanese to admit to a war crime.
Historians, both past and present are responsible for the history they presume to present. They have a moral responsibility to present history, not only factually, but to also take into account how their own biases will affect their conclusions. As well one must consider the bias of the sources when creating an argument and one must also reflect on the role they will have in defining history. Also historians should be ethical in the weight they give to their sources. Through an examination of the Nanking massacre and how it has been interpreted by historians this paper will argue the need for a moral examination of controversial subjects is critical to correcting the narrative of the event and in offering a valuable role in the discussion.
As historians have become aware of their position as observers of the past there has been some discussion of role they play in shaping history. Bethan McCullagh described how the preconceptions of historians can be helpful in understanding a subject without being direct bias. She views the role of academic historians to overcome personal interest and cultural bias to see facts as they are even if the interpretation of them is changeable.
Since the Nanking massacre one important debate has centered on the numbers of people killed in the three month period from December of 1937 to February 1938 when the Japanese forces finally stopped the violence. There are two extremes, first the Chinese academics and journalists, such as Iris Ching, who are with Japanese counterparts on the leftists end of the spectrum. The Chinese have consistently claimed that 300,000 were killed during that during the winter months of 1937 and 1938 in Nanking. On the conservative end of the spectrum is Tanaka Massaaki a former Japanese army veteran as well as some academics such as Professor Shudo Higashinakano in Japan who deny that there was any mass killings and that what killing there was aimed at Chinese soldiers who had become part of the population in Nanking throwing away their uniforms.
Other academics and journalists in Japan and the west have typically fallen into one of two camps, Academics such as Hori Tomio and those from the leftist perspective have shown that the killings were as high as 200,000 which agree generally with the findings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). These academics see the atrocities as being real and that they need to be kept from being ignored or doubted. On the other side are the minimalists who believe that the killings happened but that the total population killed was around 40,000.  Minimalists, over time, have become predominate conservative academic position. This battle over numbers is down to interpretation yet within each camp there is sense that political bias might be affecting the narrative more than the reality of the atrocities. The numbers matter, if they are seen as low, especially compared much larger numbers then it effects how the narrative views the Japanese as victimizers or overzealous in their war campaign. The conservative position held by Professor Hata Ikuhiko is that the massacre has been over blown by the leftists supported by weak oral testimonies.
The assault on Nanking and atrocities were perpetrated on a large scale. The numbers killed over the two month period points to a systematic terror which dwarfed a battle against some Chinese guerrillas. Even believing the low numbers of 40,000 it is obvious that Japanese armed forces were allowed to run riot throughout the city. Yet there is still an attempt by some educators, politicians, journalists and even historians to assume either that it did not really occur or that it was much smaller, less important, than made out by those who opposed them. They have tried to influence the narrative but putting Nanking up against either other similar events in history or against the atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The historian’s role should ethically be about pointing out the facts on these numbers not searching for political advantage or cultural excuses.
In history one of the most complex and difficult battles for academic historians is addressing the role of memory. Not memory in the sense as one remembers what they did at Christmas or some other significant event. Rather memory, in historical terms, is the way events and people are remembered in history, another way to describe this is as a narrative. At the beginning of the 1900s after the bitter Civil War and reconstruction much the narrative of the prewar south was idealized while the divisions over slavery were negated or lessened in public discourse. This not certainly something that is just found only in American history. Many nations and societies retell their narratives in a way that would be anti-historical from an academic viewpoint.
Historians have at times tried to correct some of the ideas and help societies come to grips with the negative sides of history. Germans, for example, were forced to confront the Holocaust in a personal way. They were exposed to the death camps, unlike the Japanese and were brought face to face with the results of Nazi extermination camps and it may have made a larger impression on the society. Jeffrey Olik and Daniel Levy point out about cold war West Germany, “From the immediate postwar period to the , powerful images of the Nazi past have shaped West Germany. Virtually every institutional arrangement and substantive policy is a response, in some sense, to Germany’s memory of those fateful years. The Holocaust, moreover, has long been the standard for evaluating German political activity[.]” Certainly historians and other academics have been very important in marking the role of Germany in the Holocaust and not allowing it to just fade. Nearly seventy years later the memorial remains.
Academic historians as part of their position have a responsibility to not abandon their moral position. Richard Vann has pointed out, that historians are generally able to explain what bias means and their moral responsibility to get things correct but they struggle to follow their own advice. Some historians will abdicate any sense of judgement leaving it as George Kitson Clark put it, “”Fortunately these problems can perhaps be left with propriety to people who are not primarily historians, to jurists, to philosophers, to theologians, or perhaps psychologists; the historian’s task is completed when he has described what he thinks happened and, as far as history can reveal this, why it happened.”
Vann in his evaluation feels that historians would not be able to recognize objective history. They would not ever really separate moral judgements from academic history because part of the role of historians makes moral judgments. They do it by the sources they choose and way they use them. Even those who argue for moral free history cannot escape moralizing.
A narrative story was published about a killing spree done by two Japanese soldiers competing with one another for the highest number of kills with a sword of Chinese troops as they battled towards Nanking. The 100 man killing spree, as it is called, became famous thanks to publication of the incident in an English language newspaper called the Japan Advertiser. Historian Tomio Hora first brought the incident to light in his book The Nanking Incident in 1967. Using Japanese and Chinese source material Hora was one of the first to publish the 100 man killing story. Non academic Japanese journalist from the left and the right began to fight over the issue of whether the story was real or fabricated.
Bob Wakabayashi noted that Hora, working from available sources, seemed to agree the killings were real as various parties seem to corroborate the account. Wakabayashi reputed the existence of the 100 man killing spree. Conservative Akira Suzuki, a non fiction writer, went about researching the incident. He brought forward oral histories, testimonies, as well as official histories from the unit of the two men in question. Using these examples he tried to downplay killings as nothing more than boasting by the two men which went wrong.
However, Honda Katsuchi, a left wing journalist, would bring up his own examples to try and defeat much of the argument brought forward by Suzuki. Using news reports, photos and testimonies he was able to argue that at least a few of the positions of Suzuki were misleading. For example he contended that the two men may have reached their number of dead by killing prisoners of war rather than executing soldiers on the battlefield.
As with any historical writing there can be chances in perception and value of the reports as more research is done with sources. One thing that is pointed out about this incident is its validity is important to the over all argument of the Nanking massacre. Conservative Japanese journalists and academics appear to be prepared to try and use the source confusion to create a level of doubt. If this narrative is wrong they argue then the whole leftist narrative about the massacre may be in doubt. Certainly that appears to be what Suzuki was trying to do as Wakabayashi points out. The ethics of historians picking and choosing sources which defend their own points while ignoring opposing views shows a serious problem with arguments the person might be making. The conservative Japanese deny or seek to mitigate the numbers probably for political and cultural reason rather than because they are willing to consider all sides. One could argue that Shudo Higashinakano’s book The Nanking Massacre: Fact Verses Fiction appears polemic rather than a thoroughly researched academic paper. He spends most of his book presenting a litany of rebuttals but one gets the impression that the purpose of the book is to show only sources that support the author’s contention. Amongst the leftists there are similar problems for a journalist like Katsuichi who interviews mostly Chinese victims in his book, the book focuses on the plight of the civilians and covers little of the problems with the sources, their memories of the incident or whether covering the incident from purely one side does justice to the whole story. He admits that the history of the massacre was not his background.
James Cracraft said historians have a duty to their colleagues, students and the general public to report ethically on their subject. He said they, “should stop denying or downplaying the fact that their discipline is inescapably a moral one, from the choice of topic to be investigated to the interpretation of the evidence assembled.” In his view one can see that the role of historians is to use their ethical knowledge to report in a manner that is not polemic or restricted to using a one sided argument. This is where they stumble within their writings if they cannot understand the nature of the counter argument and how it impacts the discussion.
In the aftermath of the Nanking revelations in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s the great debate of the right and left both in and out of academic circles was how issues such as Japanese atrocities in World War Two should be handled. Many debated the relative value of reliving the past while others proposed that until the past was fully confronted and dealt with it would never really be overcome. As well countries outside of Japan were beginning to put pressure on the Japanese to not only face the issues of what was done, but also to show remorse in words and financial repatriations to those they injured. Within this whirlwind of competing ideas the conservatives and leftists groups in Japan were preparing to confront another side of the debate. They wanted the students of modern Japan to receive their narrative of the role of the Japanese military in World War Two.
In the 1950s the Ministry of Education in Japan added details about the role of Japanese forces in the massacre at Nanking to their Japanese history textbooks. The conservatives and leftists in Japan fought over the national education system and how it had created or reinforced the national narrative of the Nanking Massacre. The textbook controversies in Japan began not with a redaction but rather through a correction in the Japanese textbooks about what actually happened in Nanking. Though the entry was minimal by comparison to the story it was in opposition to the national story that downplayed offenses committed by the Japanese Army in China.
The battle over textbooks began in Japan in 1953 with the publishing of New Japanese History written by history professor Saburo Ienaga. The Ministry removed the textbook out of the curriculum. Ienaga, upset over what he saw as censorship of his book by the Ministry sued the government. It was to be the first of three trials over the use of textbooks in Japan in their content as well as the constitutional responsibility of the ministry which Ienaga would raise with the government.
Ienaga’s first lawsuit argued about whether the textbook review committee had the right to remove and add books as they chose. His second lawsuit focused on the constitutionality of people to have access to materials, a free speech issue. The final one focused on the content of the textbooks and how they are right or wrong. According to Professor Yoshiko Nozaki the success of the first two lawsuits in achieving most of their aims forced into the public much of the oppositional arguments over Japanese military atrocities. It also gave ammunition to supporters of Ienaga to carry forward their own agendas to confront the conservatives on Japanese war atrocities.
Conservative academics unhappy with the changes in the school system and their failure to control the narrative took aim at textbooks. Tanaka, the former soldier, was one of the leading voices against the death toll numbers, was once again leading the outcry against the Ministry of Education. He engaged argument that the victors told the story at the end of the war. He tried to make it seem as if no one had said anything about Nanking until 1946 at the war crimes trials. Ignoring sources Tanaka expressed the idea that poor Japan was the victim of a propaganda campaign from the Allies. Tanaka would along with five other veterans file a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education to get the chapter footnote on Nanking in the textbooks either changed or removed.
Today public figures such as Yashou Ohara still fight with the government over textbook reform. He helped to form the conservative Japanese Society for Textbook Reform which continues to advocate for changes within the text books. Their publication of a New History Textbook would see the Nanking incident passed to a tiny footnote, “At this time, many Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded by Japanese troops (the Nanking Incident). Documentary evidence has raised doubts about the actual number of victims claimed by the incident. The debate continues today.”
Politically Japan was generally controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who was supported in part by interest groups such as Military Pensioners Federation and Japan Association of Bereaved Families. These groups wielded a great deal of power within the party. From the 1980s and 1990s the party would in general be conflicted between conservatives who wanted to avoid any admission to Japanese war guilt. The LDP has continued, even as recent as 2007 to deny or minimize the effect of the Nanking massacre. The continual denials continue to create political friction between Japan, China and South Korea who continue to demand recognition by the Japanese government of the wartime atrocities.
Earlier it was pointed out that historians have to be careful for ethical and moral reasons on how they use sources and create arguments. The textbook debate in Japan turns a debate on academic ethics into a question of the role of historians in controversial narratives. Do historians work within the common narrative even if it is wrong? Worse, do historians stand on the sidelines of a discussion which has ramifications in the present simply because they are maintaining a position of “non-bias”? It becomes obvious that historians are responsible for correcting false narratives. While this can be difficult and in some cases may be a life or death decision, such as in the case of a war crime trial, historians cannot stand aside, as Kitson Clark would say just reproducing information and letting things fall where they will. In Japan historians have not stayed on the sidelines of the debate. In some cases on both sides historians have led the debate. They have questioned numbers, stories, and the general narrative. They have become important characters to the discussion and without them most of the arguments would be nothing more than polemics.
So if historians enter a debate as sensitive as the arguments in the Nanking massacre what responsibility do they have to students, colleagues and the general public? Certainly they must use moral judgement and they must have the ethics to avoid getting caught in cultural, religious or nationalistic traps where one overriding viewpoint influences the writer before a word is written. This means not doubting the sources which disagree with the historian’s narrative. These sources must be investigated and considered legitimate until proven not. Historians should have time and resources to carry out multilayer research of various sources. In the Japanese debate it became clear that the two extreme sides were not prepared to do this. However, the most convincing argument against either side is that conservatives have given in on the position, in academic circles, that there was a massacre and it was carried out by the Japanese Army. The numbers games mean nothing if it becomes obvious that tens of thousands of people are dead. What happened in Nanking was a massacre the Japanese Army committed a war crime in a binge of killing which happened after they entered the city. This is now agreed by almost all academics. If a historian wants to take on various narratives, such as the 100 man killing spree, they need to do so because it clarifies and corrects the narrative not supposedly debunk it.
In Japan the focus of the conservatives is two fold, national pride and political purposes. In reading their literature and opinions conservatives in Japan are no different than those in North America who discount or deny the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans through contact with European explorers by disease and slavery. The idea that academic continue to support that narrative seems to break the moral and ethical boundary, not because they are specifically wrong, but it is the role of historians to act as facilitators not obstacles to reaching a narrative which represents what really happened.
 Nanking is also known as Nanjing but for consistency I will be calling it Nanking for the remainder of this essay.
 C. Bethan McCaullagh, “Bais in Historical Description, Interpretation, and Explanation,” History and Theory, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Feb 2000), 48-50.
 For the sake of clarity I have referred to the left wing side as leftist and the right wing as conservative.
 Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking, (New York: Basic Books 1997), 4-5.
 Shudo Higashinakano The Nanking Massacre: Fact Verses Fiction Transl. Sekai Shuppan Inc. (Tokyo: Sekai Shuppan 2006), 288-291.
 James Burnham Sedgewick, “Memory on Trial: Constructing and Contesting the ‘Rape of Nanking’ at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 43 No. 5 (2009), 1239.
 Takashi Yoshida, The Making of the “Rape of Nanking”, (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006), 100.
 Yoshida, 99-101.
 Michael Cunningham, “Prisoners of the Japanese and the Politics of Apology: A Battle of History and Memory,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 39, No. 4, (Oct. 2004), 567-569.
 Ann Baron et al, Photos: “Germans Confront Nazi Atrocities,” A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust, (2009),
http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/resource/gallery/confront.htm (Accessed February 16, 2010).
 Jeffrey K. Olik and Daniel Levy, “Collective Memory and Cultural Constraint: Holocaust Myth and Rationality in German Politics,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 62, No. 6 (Dec., 1997), 921.
 Richard T. Vann, “Historians and Moral Evaluations,” History and Theory, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Dec., 2004), 9-10.
 George Kitson Clark, The Critical Historian, (London : History Book Club, 1968), 208.
 Vann, 12-13.
 Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, “The Nanking 100-Man Killing Contest Debate: War Guilt amid Fabricated Illusions, 1971-75”, Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), 307-308
 Wakabayashi, 322-327.
 Wakabayashi, 333-334
 Wakabayashi, 330
 Honda Katsuichi, The Nanking Massacre: A Japanese Journalist Confronts Japan’s National Shame, translated by Karen Sandness, (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe 1999), 287-288.
 James Cracraft, “Implicit Morality,” History and Theory, Vol. 43 No. 4 (Dec. 2004), 42.
 Cracraft, 32-40.
 Ryuji Mukae, “Japan’s Diet Resolution on World War Two: Keeping History at Bay,” Asian Survey, Vol. 36 No. 10 (Oct., 1996), 1016
 Cunningham, 564-565.
 Yoshida, 94-97.
 Yoshiko Nozaki, War Memory, Nationalism and Education in Post-war Japan, 1945-2007: The Japanese history textbook controversy and Ienaga Saburo’s court challenges, Vol. 20 of Routledge: Contemporary Japan, (Abingdon, UK: Routledge 2008). 27-30.
 Nozaki, 32-46.
 Yoshida, 95-96.
 Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform trans., New History Textbook, Chapter 4 & 5, (Tokyo: Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform 2005), 49.
 Daiki Shibuichi, “The Yasukuni Shrine Dispute and the Politics of Identity in Japan: Why all the fuss?” Asian Survey, Vol. 45, No. 2, (2005), 199-202.
 Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, (New York: Vintage Books Inc., 2006), 108-111.