Which of the following best describes your opinion of Imperial Japan in World War 2?

Inspired by the Confederate posting but decided to do a question that will have some actual variation in responses.

For forums like ours, it’s pretty easy to get somebody’s opinion on Nazi Germany. One of the most evil country in history or THE MOST EVIL is probably the most common response. However Imperial Japan is where it gets tricky, in part due to a lot of weird post-war rationalizations you’ll find modern understand of Imperial Japan all over the map. It’s gotten to the point you can’t really discuss Imperial Japan without jumping into various defenses of it people bring up which you will almost never see about Nazi Germany on a “serious” board. So I’ll post the five most common (at least from what I seen) interpretations of Imperial Japan in World War 2 (along with their reasonings) and you decide which of these you most agree with, from strongest anti-Japanese to most pro-Japanese opinions.

  1. Imperial Japan was worse than Nazi Germany
    In overall numbers Nazi Germany directly killed more people in World War 2 than Japan or any other country in World War 2. However if you include the various indirect or far-reaching deaths caused by Imperial Japan (mainly involving it’s total war against China) including famines, forced relocations, lost lasting biological warfare, and deliberate floodings, Imperial Japan has far more blood on its hands. In addition it mastered a brutality against the Chinese populace even Nazi Germany rarely practiced.

  2. Imperial Japan was just as bad as Nazi Germany
    Just as it says in the description, Japan and Germany during World War 2 were guilty of the same sins. Genocide on a scale never before or seen since on the populations it controlled. For both they practiced wars of annihilation against most of the peoples it fought, and it is hard to determine who was actually more brutal.

  3. Imperial Japan wasn’t as bad as Nazi Germany, more along the lines of Fascist Italy or Soviet Russia.
    The most common (and safest) response I normally see, the horrors of the Holocaust outweigh everything Japan ever did. While Japan massacred millions it did so in a way that most other totalitarian or colonial governments of the time practiced just on a larger scale, unlike the slow bureaucratic horror of the Holocaust. They were an evil country but not the most evil of the war which is solely reserved for Nazi Germany.

  4. Imperial Japan was simply doing what other Colonial Powers were doing
    Much like Britain in India, France in its African colonies, and the United States in the Philippines, Imperial Japan just did what everybody else did with its colonies and is unfairly signaled out for its behavior. It is no more evil than the United States was, which is still plenty evil but not something to be especially horrified of. Japan doesn’t even make the Top 5 of the most evil countries in World War 2, as the atomic bombings against Japan were far more heinous than any war crimes it actually committed.

  5. Imperial Japan was innocent of the crimes accused of it
    Japan was unfairly railroaded into war by the United States and Nationalist China and simply tried to defend itself against foreign invaders. All war crimes Imperial Japan has been accused of have also been greatly exaggerated by the imperialist powers that be.

For me personally I gravitate towards 1 and 2, mainly 2 but sometimes I’ll feel more towards 1 depending on what I’m reading.

I can’t really describe them as “evil” because I think basically all people everywhere are capable of doing the kind of things they did, under a certain kind of leadership and when sufficiently influenced by strong psychological group-think propaganda. This is doubly true of a place like Japan which was sequestered from the rest of the world for a long time. That kind of scenario is capable of producing very good results under the right leadership, as we saw in the Japanese industrial innovation after the war. It’s also capable of producing very bad results under the wrong leadership.

In short I think their war crimes were the result of people responding predictably to authoritarian leadership that pushed the notion of them being superior to their opponents, the stars of a grand epic story of Japan’s collective national destiny.

I’m not sure it would have been much different if it had been China waging war against Japan.

So basically a 4 then?

not really because I don’t believe there are “levels of evil” when it comes to large scale collective human behavior.

I went with more evil, mostly because they’re still in denial about there role in the evil perpetrated by them during the war.

There is a lot they would rather ignore than acknowledge even now, decades later.

In my mind that’s a form of ongoing evil, especially for the victims.

There are, as elbows said, a couple of things to consider.

During the war, the atrocities committed by the Japanese were every bit as vile as those committed by the Germans, but at a lesser scale. I doubt that the reduction in scale was because of Japan’s moral code being higher than Germany’s, though. More likely it just has to do with Germany being a more industrialized nation with more manufacturing capacity.

A second factor, though, is Japan’s culture at the time. Japan was isolated from the West for a long time, and the nations of the Far East have not, up to this point, shared the Western values of individual freedoms. Collectivism was much more powerful in a place like Japan. I don’t think this justifies their actions, but it does explain them to an extent. I think part of what makes Nazi Germany so unsettling is the fact that Germany was a hotbed of Western Liberal (in the old sense of the word) thinking right up until the Nazis took power. Again, this doesn’t excuse Japan’s behavior or make it less evil. But it explains why we aren’t as shocked.

A third factor is the behavior of both nations since the war. For all their faults, the German people firmly rejected Nazism (after a strict occupation by both us and the Soviets, to remind them what the alternative is). The Japanese as a nation have never done so, not to nearly the same extent. That’s why the Rape of Nanjing is still officially denied by many higher ups in the Japanese military. It doesn’t change how evil WW2 Japan was, but it makes me more worried about a resurgence of nationalism in Japan than in Germany, especially if pushed by China.

All in all, I think Imperial Japan falls squarely into the same category as Nazi Germany.

Less evil then the colonial powers of the time. But, imperial nonetheless, so evil.
There needs to be a choice between 4/5. The OP seems to think that the colonial powers were just dandy.

Trying to weight these things is not a productive exercise, and tends to cloud our understanding more than illuminate it.

Seems to me the Nazis made Evil into a Science. The Japanese turned it into a Sport.

More evil. My understanding is that in Germany it was a small % of people who did a lot of the evil (the SS and gestapo mostly) but the average German citizen or soldier wasn’t that evil.

In Japan, the average soldier reveled in being evil. Plus they enjoyed sadism. I don’t think the Germans enjoyed being sadistic, they were just barbaric. The Japanese seemed to take pleasure in causing pain and suffering in ways the Germans did not (the Germans were more industrial and methodical about their evil and viewed it as a means to an end, whereas the Japanese seemed to enjoy it more. ie, the Germans used evil to achieve their goals, for the Japanese being evil was the goal).

Had Japan had Germany’s level of wealth and technology, they would’ve been evil on a scale that dwarfed the Nazis. Plus they never admitted they did bad things like the Germans did.

Are we talking about the evils done by the entire citizenship, or evils propagated by the leadership? They are not the same thing.

So here’s my view of the differences between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

In Germany, the hugest evils were organized and orchestrated by the leadership, once their power was entrenched. Some people went along willingly, some cooperated out of fear or ignorance, some resisted, and some took grave risks to materially help the victims. Some of the death camps were on home soil, some were in conquered countries, it didn’t seem to make much difference. The real armed forces (not the SS or Gestapo) were largely divorced from these actions, and the worst things they did were to try to maintain control of areas they had conquered, during which they committed some atrocities against the people there. The fine distinction I would draw here is that the army was not trying to wipe out any group, they were trying to maintain control, often through terror. POWs were generally treated according to the Geneva conventions.

In contrast: Japan’s leadership was mainly interested in military and economic conquest, and they didn’t care much what happened to the people in conquered countries. They didn’t have any particular ethnic hatreds, except perhaps towards Koreans for some reason, so there was no organized extermination program. This means that most of the atrocities that were committed were organized or at least sanctioned at lower levels - generals, lower officers, even individual solders. There is a peculiar cultural trait in Japan, such that things that happen “away from home” don’t count. So people who were perfectly civilized on the home islands often felt free to act out their worst instincts when they were in conquered countries, among those whom they considered lesser or even barely human people. Also, Japan was so homogeneous and culturally unified, and never exposed to other ways, that any people who did things differently or ate different food or didn’t bathe as often and so on were held in contempt. Civilians were only considered of any value for what could be gotten out of them (labor, loot). POWs were even worse, in Japanese eyes, since surrender rather than death was considered dishonorable. So they felt no particular call to treat POWs decently and gave little heed to the Geneva conventions.

The consequence for Japanese people is that they simultaneously feel no responsibility for things that were done away from the home islands, and have (in their eyes) more plausible deniability that such things were ever done at all. Japanese dramas usually depict citizens at home as victims, of the allied bombings and especially the A-bombs, and of the post-war period of privation and hunger. They never seem to depict (at least NHK dramas don’t) any homecoming soldiers with guilt or 2nd thoughts about anything they did while at war.

So it’s a different kind of evil from Nazi Germany. One could describe the Nazi era as a sort of national insanity led from the top. The Japanese insanity went all the way through the ranks, was more organic to their culture, and was never purged in the way that it was in Germany. The culture is more open to the outside world now, and attitudes are slowly changing, but (for one example) hatred and prejudice against Koreans is still going strong.

I would call it as evil in the poll, but different in a way that isn’t an option in the poll.

By the way, I believe that Stalin killed more innocent civilians than any other regime at the time (or maybe ever), and they were all his own people. Making Soviet Russia somehow more benign or less evil than Nazi Germany is a serious flaw in your poll.

I realize nobody’s picked this option but who were the foreign invaders Japan was theoretically defending itself against?

Mao killed more of his own citizens than Stalin did.

And the Cambodians and the Rwandans didn’t kill more in terms to total numbers but they killed a higher percentage of their own population.

Those filthy Korean whores, I’m guessing.

I put it as the same evil. I realise that Japanese ethics of the time were different to Western ethics, particularly with respect to prisoners, but the experiments on prisoners were outright evil, as was the treatment of captured women, as were the massacres, and so on.

I will, however, object to and question the poll in one part: how was Italy as bad as the Soviet Union? Mussolini wasn’t nice but Stalin was in another league.

I went just as bad. Now if my Dad was still alive and on the Dope he may have gone one lighter despite the fact that he served in China during WW II. He was a little less forgiving of the Germans for some reason than he was the Japanese.

I really need one change, my evil scale would lower Italy.


  • gap -
    Japan, Austria, USSR & Mao
    Colonial Powers including US
  • gap -

Italy benefits from not having a pogrom against its own people. Being fairly incompetent at the whole colonial game and war itself. Never should have sided with Hitler, so worse than the Colonial Powers. I could be persuaded the US was a more benevolent colonial power than the European ones but our treatment of African Americans, Natives and the Japanese Americans bring us up at least to the old Colonial Powers.

Canada has little to answer for my comparison. So they come in as least evil. Aussie might to, I plead ignorance and can’t really judge.

The Colonial powers who wanted to usurp power from within the country prewar.

Oh, I thought it was the “evil” embargo ignoring the fact there war in China was already many years old before the embargo went into effect.