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The Dangers of Revisionism of the Rape of Nanking

Revisionism is changing the world of history. As more sources became available, our vision of history of changes. In fact, “our relationship with history is changing.” As the revisionists are taking another look at the Nanking Massacre, they are trying to establish that the IMTFE, original committee to review war crimes of Japan, was prejudiced against Japan and the witnesses that were called and even the documentation that was submitted. It has been contended that the “prosecution documents were admitted almost without question” while those on the defenses side were always questioned and challenged.

As new material come forth, such as diaries of those involved and unsealed official documents, it is always wise to take a fresh look at history. The history that was documented and taught fifty years ago was traditionally based on information available at that barring that it was not influenced by propaganda and those with specific goals in mind. Official documents might become available that can correct previous historical “fact” and does shed light on the correct history. This form of revisionism is healthy and should be included in all academic and scholarly approaches to history. It is not so much revising history as correcting it and focusing the lens that history is seen through. The danger comes when revisionism is a true revision of history not based on evidence.

When revisionists begin denying the events such as the Rape of Nanking, academics is left and spin takes over. To deny that an act occurred is more akin to political spin to cover up an act or to win supporters to a particular side. This happens in politics all the time as scandals are denied, changed to look more innocent, or the reasons justified. This version of revisionism becomes a way for lies to become facts.

In questioning the actual massacre of Nanking is calling all eyewitnesses from both sides of the war liars. There is just too much evidence supporting the fact of the event to say that the event did not happen and was created in order to make one culture look bad. The numbers are disputed which seems appropriate as there is not concrete evidence of the exact number and probably never will be. In fact, “there appears to be no consensus over such crucial questions as how and why the Rape of Nanking happened and how extensive the loss of human life was.” This has led many to claim that it did not happen. Taking disagreements and areas that could never be completely solid to disclaiming the entire thing leads the world to a very slippery slope.

The world needs to ask itself where does it all stop and if anything can be denied if there is not a hundred percent agreement on every single detail. This dangerous form of revisionism disregards the fact that “the trauma of these crimes maintains a real, painful and lingering presence in the personal and collective memories of both countries.” Justice cannot be achieved if the truth cannot be acknowledged. A dark point of history does not mean that the future cannot be bright or that a culture is evil. It means that the civilization is comprised of humans who can learn from their mistakes. Extreme revisionism takes that away allowing history to repeat itself since there is no history to learn from.


- Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. “Historical Revisionism in Japan: Truth, Postmoderinism and Historical Revisionism in Japan.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. Volume 2:2, 2001.
- Sedgwick, James Burnham. “Memory on Trial: Constructing and Contesting the ‘Rape of Nanking; at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, 1946-1948.” Modern Asian Studies. 43:5, 2009.
- Williams, David. Defending Japan’s Pacific War. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2004.
- Yamamoto, Masahiro. Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. Westport: Greenwood, 2000.
- Yoshida, Takashi. The Making of the “Rape of Nanking”: History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States. New York: Oxford, 2006.
- Zapotoczny, Walter. “The Rape of Nanking Reasons and Recriminations.” MilitaryHistoryOnline.com. Published 2008. http://www.militaryhistoryonlin.com/

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