Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries about the events which occurred at Nanking is the uniformity with which the soldiers acted. Three Japanese officers marched three large units of Japanese individuals into a city where they simultaneously came together to form a single horrible beast. The acts that they committed were neither spontaneous nor repented. In fact, they stretched some six to eight weeks, and have been increasingly denied throughout the ensuing years. Most of the accounts that we now have of the events come from the soldiers themselves. The murders, rapes and tortures can all be read about in journals of Japanese fighting men. The level of conformity was present in China’s fallen capital in the mid ‘30’s allowed for the passage of events which historians are still trying to understand.
The psychological phenomenon of conformity can be broken into three categories. Although there are likely instances of conformity which are caused by some factor not mentioned here, the factors that influence us can generally said to be either Informational, Normative, or Interpersonal. The first type occurs when the conformist feels that he or she is not the most qualified person to make a decision. Therefore, the conformist yields his or her will to the more informed party. In normative influence, there is a pressure from without or within to align with the prevailing mentality. Social standards are a good example of this. People fall into line merely because other people fall into line. The last factor is that of the interpersonal influence. Especially in a scenario with strong leadership like the military, the nature of a relationship between two parties can cause the conformist to act with no regard for his or her own convictions. This occurs when the conformist defines his or her role in a relationship (or has their role defined for them) as subservient.
The events which occurred at Nanking actually show evidence of all three types of conformity, though some more than others. The least of the three is informational. The main place where this can be seen is in the indirect conflict between General Matsui Iwane and Prince Asaka Yasuhiko. The two men gave totally different reports to the soldiers with respect to expected conduct. Matsui sent word from his bed that disorderly conduct would be strictly punished. After burning his way into the city, Masui’s replacement, Yasuhiko, ordered all prisoners of war to be killed separately. In most cases, it might be fair to say that the soldiers would have trusted their reservations about the executions if the order to do so came from a replacement commander and directly opposed previous orders, but this is not what happened. The soldiers not only carried out the execution orders, but became more and more creative in carrying them out over the span of two months. The best explanation for this lies in the perception of the source from which the soldiers received their information. Matsui was not seen, at the time, as a strong leader. He had left the battlefield shortly after arriving not wounded, but sick. Yasuhiko, on the other hand, had come to the unit strait from the Emperor. As a member of the royal family, he was related to divinity.
Normative influence and interpersonal influence are tools of the trade in
military organizations. From top to
bottom, the chain is delicately constructed such that each link is unquestioned
from beneath, and unquestioning of above. The
normative influence is also more powerful here than in most circumstances.
Units are trained to act as just that, a single component acting towards
a greater task. An interesting
dilemma here is that the influences are so strong that they become difficult to
study. The journals of the
soldiers, for example, will often go into great detail as to the monstrosities
displayed by the writer or other soldiers, but will very seldom question the
act. It is as if the soldiers who
dragged thousands of women off to be “Comfort Women” did so with the full
justification of their own consciences. In
fact, they were only reinforced for their decisions.
The Japanese Government had a tight control
over the news media during the War . Regardless
of the actions that a soldier engaged in on the battlefield, he was always
presented as a hero to his fellow countrymen.
Having assessed what factors outside the individual can cause him or her to act without identity, we turn to the logistics of the process within the individual. The first step in conformity is Compliance. In compliance, the individual resolves to act in spite of, or counter to their prevailing notions. The main principle is that the soldier in our situation is somehow convinced overlook any objections he may have for the sake of his surroundings. The second process which takes place in the conformation is the Identification. In the process of conforming to a position, there must be some verbal or non verbal declaration of intent. In a situation like Nanking, the soldiers were able to identify themselves with the ideology that ordered the executions merely by not questioning the actions themselves. Not every soldier had to fire a gun or rape a woman. The mere presence of an armed and trained killer will go a long way in convincing captives to obey orders. Thus, whether the soldiers actually pulled the trigger or merely stood by, they were identified and responsible for the tragedy. But once they have become part of the majority, there is still the matter of Internalization. This phenomenon involves the ability of the actor to convince him or herself that compliance does not really represent a compromise. That is, a soldier must be able to mold the new ideology of raping and killing a prisoner in with the old ideology of merely killing enemy soldiers. Internalization does not always occur in a direct manner, but to some extent the actor must make the actions a part of his or her own psyche.
These are the processes which normally effect and play out in conformity. Many of their aspects can be clearly seen in the disaster at Nanking. Another way to examine the conformity which occurred under those circumstances, however, is to look at how it might have been avoided. If there were no examples of courageous soldiers who protested, was there anyone else who did? If so, what made that person’s situation different than the soldier?
As it turns out, there were indeed a few brave voices. The most notable were the American Embassy and John Rabe, head of the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, and about 20 other noble individuals representing Germany, Russia, and China. All groups were primarily concerned with the allocation of provisions and location that would be safe from the madness. Though most were not particularly vocal, this can be well taken as the result of concern for those who were already benefiting from the safe zones. John Rabe was recognized years later for saving thousands of Chinese.
The looming question, then is how were men like Rabes and the average soldier fundamentally different? Why was a military man so much more likely to conform? From our previous understanding of the factors of conformity, it can be safely said that the military is a place where conformity is more likely. We can also assume that the sheer numbers created by the convergence of three units caused an increaes in the normative pressures felt by any one soldier. In addition, we know that the Japanese media was very careful to represent all actions in the best of lights, and soldiers were nearly always thought of as heroes. The culture of Japan was behind its warriors. Japan has a long history of their superiority over the Chinese as a people, and the war came at a time when this factor was particuluarly escalated. The truth is that Japanese society at the time acted- in a passive way- like the soldiers at Nanking. There was a dedication to teamwork and an emphasis on obedience. From the first years of schooling, the arts of war were glorified, and the sovereignty of the emperor affirmed. The Japanese military was an extension of a rigorous and uniform society that was used to conforming to its leaders' demands.