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Never Again, Again

August 4, 2008

If the genocide in Darfur ever ends, the Sudanese government should call on China to help build and design a memorial museum. If the Memorial Hall for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression (less formally known as “The Massacre Museum”) is any indication, the Chinese will do justice to the everlasting and devastating heartbreak that accompanies the worst of all human atrocities. And, as hinted by the museum’s name, they will sharply capture the anger and resentment of the generations left to carry on after the carnage, and their cry to the world not to let it happen again. Never again.

It was one of the genocides that predated the very word. On December 13, 1937, the Japanese army, which had occupied Manchuria since 1931, captured the then-imperial capital of Nanjing, known at the time as Nanking. (They had captured Shanghai about a month prior.) Over the next six weeks, the Japanese slaughtered, individually and in mass, through beheadings, bayonet stabbings, and firing squads, around 300,000 innocent and unarmed civilians, many of whom were children. (This number comes from the Chinese government and has been disputed by some, though evidence indicates it’s a fair estimate.) They raped roughly 20,000 women (hence its other moniker, “The Rape of Nanjing”), killing most of them afterwards. Roughly a third of the buildings and their contents were burned and nearly all the shops were stripped. According to survivors (and soldiers), their accounts on display in the museum, corpses canvassed the city, floating in the rivers and littering the streets.

I was there in January, just a month after the 70th anniversary of the massacre, and a month before the five-year anniversary of the onset of atrocities in Darfur.

The museum grounds consist of three parts: the outdoor exhibits, a “shelter” housing the remaining bones of the victims, and the museum itself. The outdoor exhibits include sculptures and statues, plaques, monuments, redeeming and repentant tablets, a wall carved with the names of the victims that could be identified (so far), and an outdoor “graveyard” where white stones represent the bones of those killed. The shelter is shaped like a coffin and houses bones exhumed from the pits, along with photos of the excavation work.

The museum, which sits to the right as you enter the grounds, is half buried. It is described on their website as “a colossal tomb.” It is certainly that, with targeted commentary and an immense collection of graphic photographs, found relics, and charts to drive the point home. But what is the point? The exhibitions capture, in the words of the Chinese government, “the tragedy of the cruel holocaust in Nanjing and the beastly atrocities of the Japanese militarists…”

That description of the exhibitions’ purpose, filled with raw emotion, is accurate and can just as well be used to describe the future Memorial Hall for Victims of the Darfur Genocide (less formally known as “The Massacre Museum”) by simply replacing two words. The exhibit photos—a Chinese man tied to a post and being used by Japanese soldiers for bayonet practice, bodies stacked in shallow graves, pregnant women and children crying just before going to slaughter—are just the type that could be placed in the future Memorial Hall for Victims of the Darfur Genocide (there are plenty of similar photos from Darfur from which to choose) in order to burn into visitors, in a way that no Spielberg film ever could, how savage humans can be. And the words on several of those plaques, under and above the photos, could simply be replicated, or slightly edited, and placed in the Memorial Hall for Victims of the Darfur Genocide.

For example:

“History must not be forgotten.”

“People continue to deny irrefutable historical facts.”

“Some (Japanese) still deny, but the proof is beyond denial.”

“(Japanese troops) delivered deceitful propaganda and called it ‘Peaceful (Nanjing).’”

“People, including the (Japanese) school children, need to be aware so as not to let history be repeated.”

“Past experience, if not forgotten, is a guide to the future. People can create a better future by looking back to the past.”

“History is a mirror and lessons learned from history must not be forgotten. Let’s work together to prevent war and build a peaceful and harmonious world.”

“The (Nanjing) Massacre was committed by the (Japanese) invaders in (China) who openly violated international treaties and the basic principles of humanity.”

When you leave the hall, there’s an exit that puts you on a side street. Walk down that street and turn right and you’ll find yourself back in front of the Memorial, at the start of a string of metal statues. They’re all darkly beautiful, and tragic. If the mold isn’t broken, two of them could simply be replicated for the Memorial Hall to the Victims of the Darfur Genocide.

The first depicts a mother with her head thrown back, the wind blowing her hair, holding her dead baby. Below, it reads:

Family Ruined

Never returns the son killed

Never returns the husband buried alive

Sorrow drowns the wife raped

Heavens…

The other shows a man and his wife, running, lurching forward, as though being chased. Below, it reads:

My dear poor wife

The Devil raped you, killed you…

I’m right after you.

–The Helpless Struggles of a Dying Intellectual

Even by replicating these same statues and some of the plaques, the creation of the Memorial Hall for Victims of the Darfur Genocide will be a costly endeavor. The Sudanese government may not have the money to pay for Chinese expertise. However, the Chinese economy is booming, with an Olympic windfall just days away, and money may not be their biggest concern. Perhaps the Sudanese government could pay in resources essential to China’s growth. The framework for the deal is already in place.

–Michael Archer (crossposted on the Huffington Post)

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