I went to the Foreign Languages Bookstore again today… it’s becoming a regular pitstop before my Tuesday/Thursday tutoring job. I was originally browsing the foreign books section for some light reading, maybe even an Oprah book. 🙂 But then I came across The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. I had heard of the book before, but after seeing the pictures inside, I was projected to an entirely different level. The images were so utterly horrifying. Photographs of decapitations, severed heads lined atop a log, a woman’s naked dead body with her genitalia mutilated… atrocities so shocking, I just can’t even fathom how human beings become trained to commit these crimes. As I thumbed through the book (and others about the Japanese invasion of Nanking), I grew so sick to my stomach. I felt saddened and angry and disgusted and ashamed. I started feeling light-headed and lost my balance a little. I heard the impassioned voice of my grandmother, describing the destruction she witnessed when Japanese soldiers blazed through Shanghai.
It’s amazing how as a child, you read all these history texts about war. You hear bits and pieces from your relatives. Yet none of it sinks in. Somehow history is this sterile subject and these accounts are simply too dramatic to be believed. Today I was reminded of just how much this world has seen… my family alone has lived through so much. My grandmother has a perspective far deeper than I have ever given her credit for: the Japanese invasion, World War II, the Cultural Revolution (fortunately, she escaped to Taiwan)… these aren’t just fictionalized events that turn into big Hollywood films. These are actual experiences. And the violence still continues today. Every time I read the news, it’s all death, destruction, intolerance, violence. The violence is real and yet so many of us carry on in our daily lives, existing in some oblivious bubble. Why? Because caring takes too much effort. And the ills of this world are so great, it’s simply too overwhelming. It’s far easier to just accept that we have problems and then dismiss them. Life goes on. So what’s the alternative solution? I don’t know, but I have to believe that somewhere someone has the answer. And it will come, because however small the minority, there are people who care enough to try. There are people who feel conflicted by the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, of freedom and intolerance, of stability and chaos, of peace and war. One reviewer of The Rape of Nanking advised, “Read it not as an end in itself but as a start of an investigation into the horrors of war and our constant need to justify it.” May I find the courage to read Ms. Chang’s book soon.