Correcting the Nanking Narrative: The Role of Historians

February 21, 2010

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.[1] 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.[2] Read the rest of this entry »


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