Read one of the first Western news reports on the Nanjing Massacre

World Today

Image of the New York Times front page from Dec. 18, 1937.

Dec. 13 marks the 77th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, where Japanese soldiers slaughtered Chinese troops and civilians by the hundreds of thousands over a six week period.

At this point in World War II — 1937 — the U.S. was not yet involved. But longtime foreign correspondent for the New York Times, F. Tillman Durdin, was in China covering the Second Sino-Japanese War along with a handful of other Western reporters. His news article, “All Captives Slain, Civilians Also Killed as the Japanese Spread Terror in Nanking,” was one of the first in western media about the massacre, and likely the first in a paper with that large of a circulation. It appeared on the front page of the Dec. 18 edition of the New York Times, where Durdin sterilely detailed the often very gruesome details.

“The killings of civilians was widespread. Foreigners who traveled widely through the city Wednesday found civilian dead on every street. Some of the the victims were aged men, women and children,” Durdin wrote. “Policeman and firemen were special objects of attack. Many victims were bayonetted and some of the wounds were barbarously cruel.”

Suping Lu, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wrote about the reporting by U.S. journalists, and what they had to do in order to get the news about what was happening in Nanjing out.

During the siege and fall of Nanjing, as well as the ensuing massacre, 27 Westerners, including five American and British journalists, chose to stay inside the city walls. The journalists stayed to cover the Nanjing battle and the city’s expected fall. When the Nanjing carnage unfolded in front of them, they immediately took to their pens, though they tried in vain to find a way to send out the reports from the fallen city. On Dec. 15, Archibald Trojan Steele of the Chicago Daily News, Frank Tillman Durdin of the New York Times, Arthur von Briesen Menken of the Paramount Newsreel, and Leslie C. Smith of Reuters managed to leave for Shanghai by USS Oahu and HMS Ladybird, while Charles Yates McDaniel of the Associated Press went to Shanghai by Japanese destroyer Tsuga the following day. It was the five American and British correspondents who first broke the news of the Nanjing carnage while it was still in progress, hoping to expose the atrocities to the outside world.

Lu noted that Durdin’s report was one of the more detailed. You can read Durdin’s Dec. 18 report here.