Bold journalist Brit Hume took a lot of heat last month for saying, while commenting on the fall of Tiger Woods, that Buddhism does not "offer the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith." Maybe so, one Buddhist blogger replied, but Buddhism is a religion of peace without any of those nasty crusades lurking in its past.
Juxtapose that sentiment, please, with this news note: A panel of Japanese and Chinese scholars recently completed a three-year study aimed at reconciling differences of viewpoint on contentious historical issues involving the two nations—and concluded the study without reconciliation. The final report of the Japan-China Joint History Research Committee will merely consist of papers submitted by each side.
In particular, the scholars could not agree on the number of Chinese civilians killed by Japanese soldiers in Nanjing in 1937 and 1938, when Nanjing (sometimes called Nanking) was the capital of China. The Japanese suggest tens of thousands. The Chinese insist that 300,000 were killed. But more is at stake than numbers.
The best book I've seen on the subject is Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking (Basic, 1997), which quotes Japanese eyewitnesses who, for example, witnessed Japanese officers training soldiers in cutting off heads: "Standing behind the prisoner, Tanaka steadied himself, legs spread apart, and cut off the man's head with a shout, 'Yo!' The head flew more than a meter away. Blood spurted up in two fountains from the body and sprayed into the hole. The scene was so appalling that I felt I couldn't breathe."
Utter brutality was common. Rapes in front of family members tied up and forced to watch, with the women then mutilated and killed. Soldiers betting on the sex of unborn children and using their bayonets to cut open women and find out who won. Soldiers forcing family members to commit acts of incest, with any resistance leading to immediate execution.
Three Japanese generals were eventually executed for their roles in the Rape. For a time it was convenient to blame just "Japanese militarism." But some contemporary Buddhists acknowledge that Buddhism was not innocent. In particular, Zen priest Brian Victoria's Zen at War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd edition, 2006) and Zen War Stories (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003) bravely revealed how Zen leaders in the 1930s applauded killing.