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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

John J. Michalczyk and SJ Raymond G. Helmick

While the ashes of the Holocaust were still fresh, Polish Jewish attorney Raphael Lemkin put a name to the tragedy that had decimated his family – genocide. The twentieth century was brutally scarred by the massive scale of genocide and its manifest forms of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and atrocities. We ask how these horrors can be visually translated to the screen while both maintaining their authenticity and serving as commercial «entertainment». Through an analysis of a series of poignant films on the plight of the Native Americans, the controversial Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and its legacy, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the Hutu-sponsored massacres in Rwanda, the reader can grasp the driving mechanisms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The oft-repeated, «Never again» rings hollow to our ears in the wake of these tragedies in a post-Holocaust era. The films discussed here, both features and documentaries, are set in an historical context that sheds light on the dark side of humanity and are then discussed with the hope of better understanding our frailty. In the end, however, we ask can the «unrepresentable» ever be represented?
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The Rape of Nanking from a Chinese Perspective: You Guo (Joseph) Jiang, SJ


You Guo (Joseph) Jiang, SJ

The Japanese ambition to invade and conquer China can be traced back to the post-Meiji Restoration Era, when Japan elevated its international status with the industrialization, modernization, and westernization of its production output, economic structure, and political system.1 In 1874, Japanese forces invaded Taiwan. Two decades later, from 1894 to 1895, the First Sino-Japanese War took place in Fengdao and Huanghai where China was defeated and was forced to cede Taiwan. During the 18 September 1931 Incident, the Japanese Guandong Army seized control of Manchuria in the name of the emperor. The outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War was associated with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident on 7 July 1937. This quickly expanded into a major war because Japan intended to attack and control the entirety of China.

Within six weeks after 13 December 1937, hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers died due to the Japanese invasion of Nanking.2 Although different sources offer diverse accounts of the death toll, the intensity of the cruelty and destruction is indisputable. Although seven decades have passed, the memories and the intensity of atrocities did not dissipate in the minds of the victims and those closely related to the Nanjing Massacre; the victims and survivors never received proper recognition from the Japanese government.3

With the westernization of its political system, industrialization and the modernization of its economic structure—known as the Meiji Restoration—after the Shogun Revolution in 1868, the abolition...

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