The Nanking Massacre

Japan began to embark on its own imperialistic endeavors in Asia. First, Japan took over the southern part of the Korean Peninsula during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In 1905, Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) and gained control of Manchuria. Defeating a European nation empowered Japan to renegotiate its trade treaties with the United States and Europe as equals. Japan took over southern Manchuria, legitimized its control of Korea, and absorbed the southern half of Sakhalin Island. By 1910, Japan had colonized the entire Korean Peninsula.

During World War I, Japan joined the Allied Powers and sent ships to fight Germany. In 1914, while the European powers were embroiled in conflicts at home, Japan became an industrial power. In 1931, the Mukden Incident ceded Manchuria to Japan. In 1937, Japan invaded China during the second Sino-Japanese War. By 1940 it had consolidated its control of Vietnam. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor to draw the United States into World War II. By 1942, Japan controlled the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Several of these events remain controversial. Many Japanese historians believe Japan was responding to U.S. and European hostility during this period. Meanwhile, Chinese, European, and American historians accused the Japanese Imperial Army of massacring 50,000 to 300,000 civilizations and raping 20,000 women during the Nanking Massacre, also called the Rape of Nanking. Many Japanese historians deny this massacre occurred or believe the number of casualties has been exaggerated.

Read this article to examine arguments for and against the validity of the Nanking Massacre.

Lucifer Effect

Some people initiate hatred and justify their deeds using legal means, such as with the Nuremberg Laws12 that seemed to give German soldiers a direct instruction that it was legally permitted to humiliate or even kill Jewish people. In contrast, and how interesting it is, that in other contexts, the omission of certain words from a legal document, in this case the Imperial rescript, became a silent endorsement for massacre. Both approaches should be treated as a legalization process, meaning that every legal act, be it a positive action or a deliberate omission, leads to war for which perpetrators must held responsible. Soldiers and officers, who carried out war crimes like rape and murder, cannot be exonerated on the grounds that they were not instructed to obey international law. In addition, the Emperor, who did not specifically command Japanese soldiers to uphold international law, also cannot avoid accusations on the grounds that his failure to mention international law was not meant to incite soldiers' inhumane conduct.

Authority and ideology inform the law, the law mandates obedience and obedience numbs our conscience. Unconscious minds cease to question authority and ideology. Therefore, evil stems from authority and ideology and the laws that represent them, although there may be an evil part in all human nature. In 1971, Philip Zimbardo and his team conducted a famous, and also notorious, experiment called the Stanford prison experiment in which college students were divided into two groups, guards and prisoners, in order to examine their performances and the psychological transformations that took place based on their roleplay activity. The experiment was conducted in a prison - a punitive, restrictive and suppressive government institution. The experiment came to an abrupt end 6 days after it began, because of the many mishaps and conflicts that erupted between the guards, who were convinced that they represented authority and were supposed to execute the law, and the prisoners, who had been mistreated and wanted to stop the experiment. Although the circumstances surrounding the Stanford experiment are controversial, it reveals the psychological response that human beings are vulnerable and susceptible to authority and power. As Philip Zimbardo says:

Let's begin with a definition of evil. Mine is a simple, psychologically based one: Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others - or using one's authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short, it is "knowing better but doing worse".

Evil, then, is wrong things done by people who know they are wrong but still intentionally do them because authority and systemic power creates a scenario in which they are no longer individuals but are simply part of a larger group.13 This group has the authority, or is authorized, and is legally justified to execute conduct that is normally considered malicious. Expressions like "I am just following the order that everyone else is following" and "I do not need to take responsibility for what I have done because the authority is the only one who is responsible" create the illusion that the individual is powerful and entitled to do whatever they wish to those who are defined as "others" since these others are not like us. A situation created by authority and the law, that makes individuals' behaviours deviate from social norms, disassociates individuals from their moral codes.

Mindlessly taking the first small step. Dehumanization of others. De-individuation of Self. Diffusion of personal responsibility. Blind obedience to authority. Uncritical conformity to group norms. Passive tolerance to evil through inaction or indifference. And it happens when you're in a new or unfamiliar situation. Your habitual response patterns don't work. Your personality and morality are disengaged.

According to Philip Zimbardo's explanation, the reason why Japanese soldiers in Black Sun IV are capable of such atrocities is because they are in the unusual situation where their moral sense does not apply and where they believe that they have been empowered by the authority, in this case the Emperor and his non-elaborative rescript. The rescript in reality was made to give the Emperor an alibi for the mass-killing in Nanking. However, the rescript in the film, on the contrary, highlights the Emperor's legal responsibility for the Nanking Massacre. The dialogue between the Japanese officers mentioned above as a literary strategy is, on the one hand, designed to hold the Emperor, and the Japanese government, responsible for the Nanking Massacre, even though no clear orders were issued to the soldiers. One the other hand, since the Emperor did not specifically tell the soldiers not to follow international law, the soldiers and the officers are responsible for their own actions since they are rational and reasonable adults with sound minds. It is also the way the Emperor writes the rescript, which is intended to shift responsibility for the massacre to the officers and soldiers.

Philip Zimbardo's experiment, if applied to Black Sun IV, shows that good people - if the Japanese soldiers in the film are assumed to be good in everyday life - will turn into evil if they are trapped in a unprecedently bad situation and empowered by an authority. However, this seems not to fully explain why Japanese soldiers can cross, effortlessly or not, their moral boundaries. Even though the Emperor's rescript can "instruct (the soldiers) without (saying the) instruction", liberate the soldiers' sense of guilt and free them from the fear of punishment, it is still difficult to explain how it is possible for Japanese soldiers to totally abandon their conscience and the moral codes they usually followed. Therefore, in the next sections, I will use the theory about dishonesty in psychology and behavioural economics, alongside the Emperor's rescript and the narratives in Black Sun IV, to demonstrate another interpretation of the Nanking Massacre.