World War two is well known for the list of atrocities that were committed, starting with the Nazi death camps where millions of European Jews were butchered along with hundreds of thousands of other "lesser" races like the Roma, and undesirables like gays and the disabled. There was also the bombing of civilian populations by all sides that culminated in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But there's a dirty secret, the magnitude of which likely means that it's been more than just the perpetrators responsible for maintaining its low profile. Before really going "to war" in 1941 against America and Britain, the Japanese warmed up in China by conducting one of the most barbaric campaigns since the days of the Mongol hordes. From 1931 to 1937, they worked their way across mainland China slaughtering as they went, until they finally captured the capital city of Nanking.
What was known at the time as the Rape of Nanking has faded from our collective awareness, even though we commemorate and memorialize the other atrocities. But hopefully that is about to change with a new documentary movie being released during the week of December 12, 2007. Nanking not only details the events of that horrendous nine week period from December 1937 to February 1938, it also commemorates one of the finest examples of courage and compassion in the twentieth century.
Up until the 1930s, much territory from the Virgin Islands to China and the Sea of Japan were under colonial rule of one kind or another, between the British, the Americans, the French, and the Dutch. China may have had nominal independence, but they danced to the tune played by the East India Trading Company and American business interests. American battle cruisers in Nanking and British occupied Hong Kong and Shanghai ensured everyone knew which way was up.
Everyone but the Japanese, who wouldn't play by the rules of the game and know their place as a good little country of priests and fancy tea ceremonies. While the governments of Europe fiddled, letting Hitler and Mussolini make test runs in Spain and what's now Ethiopia, Emperor Hirohito and Japan began their conquest of the Sino Peninsula. In 1931 they established their foothold in the Mongolian capital of Manchuria and used that as their launching pad to conquer the rest of China.
In the course of their invasion of the country, the Japanese army used germ warfare, releasing typhoid and the bubonic plague in front of them as they marched. By the time they had completed their conquest with the capture of the capital city of Nanking, they had killed between thirteen and sixteen million Chinese soldiers and civilians as they pushed westward.