Book Review: Nanjing 1937 by Peter Harmsen

Nanjing 1937

In Nanjing 1937, Peter Harmsen follows up his spectacular book about the Battle of Shanghai by describing Nationalist China’s subsequent retreat west and effort to defend their capital. In this new book, Harmsen demonstrates the campaign leading up to the capture of Nanjing as featuring prominently in Chiang Kai-shek’s plans to gain international sympathy for the Chinese cause and to buy time to retreat to the interior and wear down the Japanese in preparation for a long war. He contextualizes the brutality of the Rape of Nanjing (unforgettably described by Iris Chang) by recounting the absolutely horrific and merciless battle that preceded the Japanese takeover of the city. Throughout, he weaves in the personal stories of Chinese and Japanese soldiers, as well as foreign observers who heroically tried to protect human life. He includes many maps demonstrating the maneuvers of the opposing armies and many photographs from both sides of the encounter. This was the Pacific War four years before American involvement and understanding it is key to understanding the ultimate outcome in 1945. The Japanese clearly thought their pitiless victory at Nanjing would decisively end the war. In fact, it dragged on for eight more years. Hopefully, Harmsen will follow up this astonishing book with accounts of Taierzhuang, Wuhan, and Changsha to further bring this topic into the historical consciousness of the English-reading public.

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