Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Richard called me this morning and shared a scripture:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

It was apropos. I had just been contemplating the tragic news about Iris Chang. Her car was found on a side road in California. There was a bullet in her head and a suicide note. I read about it first in the China Daily, and then went to npr.org and listened to the report.

Iris Chang was a young writer who was known most for her book The Rape of Nanking. This book is a detailed account of the sickening massacre that took place in Nanjing during the Sino-Japanese War. Her research was very thorough, but her writing was a bit morbid, and she seemed to feel that her book was the first to bring this atrocity to the attention of the world community. Certainly her book was the most prominent in recent years, but there were others, notably The Other Nuremberg, by Arnold Brackman, a UPI reporter who covered the Tokyo War Crimes Trials.

In her suicide note, she said that she wanted to be remembered as she was before her "illness." But those who knew her best described her as someone who really was obsessed with the terrible event she wrote about. Although her book was not a particularly positive piece of work, I did feel that it had the effect of stimulating others to address the history of this event. But her book was frustrating, because she gave so much attention to establishing her preferred figures for how many people were murdered or raped or tortured, and very little attention to exactly what went wrong in the Japanese command to allow this atrocity. In Iris Chang's mind, the Japanese were all monsters, so it didn't matter who actually ordered the massacre. But Sterling Seagrave pins it down to a particular prince who was on the scene at the time, and wanted to "teach the Chinese a lesson." Certainly countries should be held accountable for how they wage war. But individual commanders should also be held accountable for their individual actions.

This history of China in the Twentieth Century is certainly a painful one. But taken in its entire context, there is a redeeming quality to this history that Iris Chang completely missed. In the study of history, perspective is everything.

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