Lost album lays bare Japanese war atrocities

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The Independent Online
JAPAN is being troubled by its conscience. In the past year or so, three successive prime ministers have apologised to Asia for atrocities committed by Japanese troops during the Second World War.

In the same period, two cabinet ministers have been forced to resign for repudiating the apologies and attempting to justify invasions of China and South-east Asia. One even suggested that Japan's intentions were altruistic: to liberate Asians from Western colonialism.

But the discovery in New Zealand of a remarkable album of photographs taken in Shanghai in 1937 vividly brings back the reality of the terror the Japanese wrought. The photograph shown here is one of nearly 100 high-quality prints found in a house being demolished in the town of Huntly on the Waikato river, just south of Auckland.

It portrays two men being hanged during the Battle of Shanghai. The battle lasted three months, and the Chinese threw their best troops against the invaders. Atrocities were not confined to the Japanese, as Professor Laurie Barber of Waikato University, who is studying the pictures, notes: the head in the box was used by both sides as a warning to potential deserters and looters.

The struggle to take Shanghai brought home to the Japanese that the armed conquest of the country with its vast population would be long, bloody and difficult. It was here that a policy of terror began to take shape, designed to shock the rest of China into submission. The atrocities reached their fearful culmination a month after Shanghai's fall, in the city of Nanking.

Three infantry divisions, one led by Prince Asaka, an uncle of Emperor Hirohito, entered the city and began a methodical campaign of torture, murder, rape and pillage. The Chinese claim that as many as 300,000 died in the six-week 'Rape of Nanking'.

Some have tried to explain away the outrages as troops out of control. But testimonies and photographs from foreigners living in Nanking's Foreign Concession leave little doubt that the massacre was not a minor case of troops getting out of hand; it was a deliberate war of punishment.

(Photograph omitted)