By Will Dinneen

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Following the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1937, Chinese Nationalists executed a four-year program of brutal anti-Japanese assassinations within the city limits. Foreign inhabitants watched helplessly as the Japanese responded with ruthless puppet police forces and tightened their grip on the city. To protect the fragile neutrality of foreign powers in Shanghai, the Nationalists were labeled as “terrorists” rather than as soldiers participating in the Second Sino-Japan War. The Japanese wielded this terrorist terminology to legitimize their aggression. As a result, Shanghai devolved into a cesspool of disorganized crime rackets and political discord, yet it avoided becoming a war zone until Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The characterization of the Nationalists as “terrorists” contributed to this persistent neutrality as the term was used as a political tool by both Japanese and foreign powers. Modern academic understandings of terrorism agree with classifying these assassinations as terrorism. As the Shanghai case demonstrates, this classification has immediate political significance and can be used to prevent the outbreak of genuine war.

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