Tomorrow in the Bay Area, Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s documentary “Nanking” will open in the Bay Area. Featured in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, it chronicled the invasion by the Imperial Japanese Army of the city Nanking in December 1937 and the devastation that the Japanese Army wrecked upon the Chinese inhabitants. In the official website(http://www.nankingthefilm.com/synopsis.aspx) the film is summarized as such:
“By November 12th, Shanghai had fallen and by December 13th, the Japanese had defeated the defending Chinese army and invaded the city of Nanking.
The events now known as ‘the rape of Nanking’ lasted approximately six weeks. The city was looted and burned, and marauding Japanese soldiers unleashed a staggering wave of violence on Nanking’s population. According to the summary judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East – also known as the Tokyo Trials, ‘estimates indicate that the total number of civilians and prisoners of war murdered in Nanking and its vicinity during the first six weeks of the Japanese occupation was over 200,000. Approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred in the city during the first month of the occupation.’
Prior to the fall of the city, many Chinese fled the approaching troops and all foreign citizens were ordered to evacuate. A group of 22 European and American expatriates, however, refused to leave. Despite devastating air strikes and the threat of an oncoming army, these Westerners – including John Rabe, a Nazi businessman; Bob Wilson, an American surgeon; and Minni Vautrin, the American headmistress of a missionary college – remained behind in order to set up a Safety Zone to protect civilians. Some two hundred thousand refugees crowded into the Zone, which spanned two square miles. During the brutal occupation, Safety Zone committee members vehemently protested the army’s actions to the Japanese authorities, but the carnage continued. Every day John Rabe, Minnie Vautrin, and the others fought to keep the Safety Zone’s boundaries intact and the refugees safe.”
For many Asians of my parents generation, the Japanese militarism of the 1930s and 1940s is still a painful wound that has not healed. I know many older Filipinos who still are angry at Japan for the cruelty it inflicted when they invaded the Philippines. Iris Chang’s book “The Rape of Nanking” was a wake up for Asian Americans of my age, especially Chinese Americans. I used to attend an evangelical Chinese American church in the 1990s, and I remember conversations on how Chang’s book helped many people to better understand what their parents and grandparents went through during the great war.
“Nanking” reminds us of the cruelties of war. This movie is not a condemnation of the Japanese people, but it condemns a militaristic mentality that all nations are vulnerable to. This militaristic mentality glorifies war and conquest and brings out the worst in people. With the wars that America is involved with in Iraq and Afganistan, the families of those soldiers serving do not need to be reminded of the costs of war. But there are other areas in the world that are devastated by war that Americans take little notice of.