Category: This Day in World History

nanking_bodies_1937

The long legacy of the Nanjing Massacre on Asian politics

“When will Japan’s war with China become history?”

Today, as with every December 13 for the past four years, Chinese officials gathered at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and rang the bell for the up to 300,000 killed by Japanese imperial soldiers who invaded and captured Nanjing in 1937.

The conquest of the Republic of China’s capital six months after the Second Sino-Japanese War started inspired joy and complacency in Japan. Just weeks earlier the Japanese had completed their capture of Shanghai, a three month battle. Nanjing fell in less than two weeks. General Iwane Matsui was confident that taking Nanjing would result in China’s surrender. (It didn’t, and the war went on for seven more years before Japan surrendered.)

Upon victory on December 13, soldiers committed random acts of violence throughout the city. Civilians fleeing were shot in the back. Homes were invaded, women raped and then stabbed. Pregnant woman were bayoneted in the stomach. Dead bodies were thrown in rivers. Much of the city was destroyed by looting and arson.

Japanese soldiers rounded up masses of men on the grounds they were suspected of being soldiers. Some soldiers had indeed thrown off their uniforms and tried to blend in with civilians, but many more of those taken out to be executed had never fought in the first place. Hundreds of POWs were tied up and shot to death by the Yangtze River on December 18.

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Berlin (West) Staatsbesuch Korea, General Park
Ankunft: Flughafen Tempelhof
(rechts: Willy Brandt)

This Day in World History: The birth of Park Chung-hee

99 years ago today, South Korean strongman and father of today’s president Park Chung-hee was born.

Born the seventh, and youngest, child of a fallen scholar-official (Yangban) family in the years of Japanese colonialism, Park had dreams of leadership and military exploits from a young age. While attending a progressive “new-style” school, he became class captain and figured out how to get his classmates to “submit unconditionally to whatever I said.”

Interested in war heroes and military history, including that of Japan, he quickly developed the dream of becoming a soldier. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, with the Japanese pushing south of Beijing and taking Tianjin and Shanghai, Park enrolled in Japanese military academy. Upon graduating as one of the best students, he was made a lieutenant in the Manchukuo Imperial Army in 1944 and served Japan in its last gasps of World War II. Though forced out of the military upon returning to Korea, he got back in when North Korea invaded the South. He rose quickly, and by 1960 he found himself Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army.

That same year, the Korean public rose up in protest after years of authoritarianism by Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, who presided over the young nation’s defense in the Korean War but didn’t open up room for democracy. With the success of the April Revolution, Rhee was forced out of office and a parliamentary system replaced him. But with the economy ailing and protests continuing to rack the country, and fearing that he would soon be retired, Park and his allies took initiative and launched a coup on May 16, 1961.

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