I went to see Ted Leonsis’s film Nanking this week. It is a hard movie to write about, let alone see. The film documents the rape of Nanking, an event that I thought was named as a metaphor for a city that was pillaged. Pillaged it was but the people were also indiscriminately raped. It’s an awful, gut wrenching documentary of human nature and war. It is also a story of eight or so people who managed to save hundreds of thousands of lives — but there is little to no glorification of their roles, its told upfront, in your face, the words are taken directly from the diaries of survivors. Disasters of this kind are usually told from a distant, sanitized, and historical perspective. This movie does none of the above — similar to Spielberg’s Shoah documentary. Amazingly one of the people who saved so many was the head of Siemens — a Nazi. I also didn’t realize the dates of the massacre — this was 1937/38 — a full year before the start of WW2. Seemingly we leant nothing, would things have turned out differently if this history had been documented and telegraphed around the world?

A few people asked me — should I see it? I think its a personal decision that warrants a few minutes of thought. We are at war today and almost everything we see if filtered through the sanitized lens of our media — this film is about war and the depths of human depravity, its not nice and the loose ends aren’t tied up in a way that gives you any closure. The bravery of a few people is a small measure compared to the depth of evil that is documented. I never understood the degree of attention that rested on Koizumi’s decision to visit the Tokyo War Shrine. I now understand what an historical affront that was.

Finally, documenting the tools of war propaganda — so literally — was something I had never seen before. It’s clear why this history was never clearly documented or told in Japanese history books. Why the soldiers wanted the westerners out of the city before the military arrived. Seeing clips of Japanese journalist filming children getting candy from soldiers as the people of Nanking were been “liberated” — while nothing could have been closer to the truth. Even if you insist on discussing the many subjective truths that make up history — there needs to be some averaging, and history here has been seemingly devoid of any perspective. Nanking is a reminder to chew carefully before consuming any news media today. For that reason alone I think its worth seeing the film.

  • Hank

    It seems like the Asian community in the United States has no problem with Japan being portrayed heroically in World War II.

    Outstanding Film: Letters from Iwo Jima

    Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima tells the untold story of the Japanese soldiers who defended their homeland against invading American forces during World War II. With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Their sacrifices, struggles, courage and compassion live on in the taut, gripping film Rolling Stone calls “unique and unforgettable.” It is the powerful companion to Flags of our Fathers.


    I am not one to hold a grudge but the Japanese used Chinese citizens for chemical warfare testing. The Chinese still haven’t forgiven them for that.

    And somehow American history has lost the stories of how the Japanese treated American Prisoners of War

    And how about the Rape of Nanking?

    But, no to Clint Eastwood (and I guess the American Asian Community who honored his film) the Japanese soldiers were merely defending their homeland against those mean olde invading American imperialists.

    Clint Eastwood is a traitor to America who has denigrated all those who fought in the Pacific as merely racist imperialists going after the yellow men instead of the liberators of Asia which they really were.

    I spit on Clint Eastwood! No wonder Hollyweird can’t distinguish the good guys from the bad guys in Iraq when they can’t even do that when it comes to the Japanese in World War II.

    By the way, on the Truth Serum video, of course I disagree with the whole part accusing Bush or America covering it up in order to get access to the scientific research that the Japanese inhumanly performed. That is just insane.

    But everything else on that Truth Serum video seems historically accurate. If that isn’t the case, I would really appreciate someone educating me to the inaccuracies in the video.

    I do wonder why we didn’t after World War II convict Japanese of War Crimes to the extent we did the Germans. They Japanese did terrible things to AMERICAN POWs. From my understanding the Japanese treated American POWs far worst by and large than the Germans did. And then of course there was the way they treated the Asian Civilian communities they invaded. They never seemed to be personally held accountable for it the way the Germans were the Holocaust.

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