Remembering Iris Chang
Ianthe Brautigan reviews a book written by her mother — 'The Woman Who Could Not Forget'. Like the reviewer, "when the news reached me in 2004 that Iris Chang had committed suicide, at age 36, I felt terribly saddened," as I, too, "had read Chang's powerful and commanding book, 'The Rape of Nanking,' which described the atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China, in 1937."
Concluded Ying-Ying Chang, Iris's research-scientist mother, "I believe Iris's suicide was caused by her [prescribed] medications." In his two-and-a-half-year-old review of an earlier book, Finding Iris Chang: Friendship, Ambition, and the Loss of an Extraordinary Mind, Eamonn Fingleton notes that "some Bataan survivors have speculated that Chang's death was not a suicide" — Whatever Happened to Iris Chang? His conclusion:
- All the evidence, however, seems to suggest that this goes too far. The real question is whether new forms of coercion were instigated against Chang in her final months. What is clear is that the pressures in the field are enormous and few Westerners stay long without being relieved of their truth ethic. Either that or they voluntarily sideline themselves in bland peripheral aspects of the subject. Chang retained her Western truth ethic to the end -- and kept her gaze unflinchingly on the center of the target.
Chang seems to have believed that her real enemies resided in Washington not Tokyo. As she pointed out, the Bush administration was desperate to ingratiate itself with Tokyo in its efforts to retain at least nominal Japanese support for the Iraq war. Was the U.S. government watching Chang at the end? In truth, because of a legal ban on spying on U.S. citizens, Washington tends to "outsource" such work to other nations. So the real question comes back to what Tokyo was doing. Given the size of the stakes and the fact that the Bush administration would almost certainly turn a blind eye, it is hard to see how the Japanese government would not have spied on her. That said, though Chang's allegations of strange vans parked across the street and strange people following her around may have been true, it is surely a stretch to imagine they were real in the sense that their true purpose was surely not surveillance: rather they may have been theatrical gimmicks intended to increase her paranoia and undermine her credibility. After all serious surveillance these days is done so unobtrusively that even experts find it difficult to spot.
The conclusion on Iris Chang is that she may have ventured out of her depth.