Brutalization. Educated Japanese tried to avoid having to enter the IJA in particular, opting for the navy or airforce if they could. As one historian put it, marching your men to a brothel in the red light district for some r\’n\’r is bad enough. Giving them just five minutes to get their business done is demeaning for the men, and inviting trouble and brutality towards the women. War tends to brutalize people generally. And the war in China had several turns for the worse, and quite some time to fester too. Being unwinable for the Japanese, who had positioned themselves on to of a huge, hostile Chinese civilian population would provide opportunity. (It\’s not as if the Japanese were alone in showing signs of becoming inured to some pretty nasty stuff. MacArthur was at one point presented with the gift of a pen-knife carved from the thigh-bone of a Japanese soldier. (He didn\’t accept it. ) And the US armed forces in WWII kept themselves pretty much as clean as was possible. )
Other indicated culprits have been the Japanese army going for cadaver discipline, beating it into their own men, coupled to the so called shame culture and collective mind-set. You get interesting group dynamics that way. The Japanese have also been noted for very strong in group – out group thinking, simply put they tend to be very keen to be in agreement among themselves, going along with whatever the group is doing, and on top of that there\’s a tendency to discount people not part of the group, i. e. if you\’re not Japanese, you don\’t count. (You get Japanese people who study and work in the west, and who in the end find it impossible to return to Japan and subject themselves to the group-think.
They tend to describe themselves as no longer being Japanese, and the process pretty much as a defection. ) Group dynamic processes leading to brutality in wartime aren\’t exactly uncommon even with the non-Japanese, not least when dealing with hostile civilians. (Abu Ghraib anyone? ) It tends to depend on who\’s setting the tone. Another common feature of brutality towards captured enemies, or civilians, is the nasty human psychology feature of a kind of circular logic which runs: These people deserve this. We\’re doing it to them, and we\’re the good guys, and since we\’re doing this nasty stuff to them, they obviously deserve it. It tends to crop up in situations of frustration, especially in armed forces where the leadership isn\’t careful to stop tendencies of that kind quickly. Ideological investment helps to make it fester like Nazi acceptance of brutality towards Slav Untermenschen, the 16th c. War of Religion where the other side is literally in the sway of the devil and chastising their flesh might save their souls (Montaigne lauding the cannibals of the Amazon rain forest as more humane than his fellow Frenchmen at the time. ) The mindset of blaming the victims, and their de-humanizing, has been noticed from the Finnish 1918 civil war White terror (democratic) against the defeated reds (communists), the French torture-fest in Algeria, the Serb militias against the Bosnians at Srebrenica.
Etc. Humans can be frighteningly good at rationalizing some very nasty tendencies. Then there\’s a last bit to the Japanese case. There never was any official policy with regards to brutality towards civilians. It was left to commanders on the spot how to play it. Some adhered to things like the Geneva convention. Some were obviously sadists. In either case, Japanese high command didn\’t really have a care. The situation was set up in such a way that if things were going to turn for the worse, there would be no correcting mechanisms. The atrocities committed during World War II are a recurring theme on Historum, and they can get controversial. Let\’s try not to turn this thread into a flame war. Every major player in WWII had some skeletons in their proverbial closet, but (with the glaring exception of the Holocaust), nobody developed a tradition of cruelty and militarily unjustified homicide quite like Japan.
I\’m sure everyone reading this thread has read accounts of Allied POWs being abused during forced marches, or being tortured and executed. And most notoriously, the \’Rape\’ of Nanking involved the horrendous, large-scale mistreatment of Chinese civilians. People were buried alive, sexually assaulted with bayonets, and used for \’practice\’ by officers wielding katanas. We have a good general idea of what happened, but why did it happen? I\’ve heard some people explain these atrocities by pointing out the arrogant nationalism and sense of cultural superiority prominent amongst the Japanese at the time. But the Germans, the British, the French, and the Americans, each in their own way, also had superiority complexes – and yet none of these peoples were in the habit of mistreating enemy POWs, and even the Germans seldom treated occupied civilians with the same degree of savagery that the Japanese meted out in China. I\’ve even seen people claim that Japanese cruelty during the war was a reflection on the true nature of medieval Samurai warfare. That theory is hard to take seriously, when one considered that all the other participants in WWII were every bit as brutal during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Point being – why was the Japanese army in World War II so hard on its prisoners, and the civilians in its occupied Chinese territory?