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National Archives. Via Wikipedia.org.
War crimes were violations of the laws and customs
war. These laws and customs derived from the Roman doctrine of
war, which was Christianized
by Augustine of Hippo, elaborated by Thomas Aquinas, and codified
Hague Conventions. This doctrine regarded lawful
the use of violence by one government against another as a remedy
claimed grave injustice. The laws and customs of war sought to
distinguish war from other forms of violence by defining lawful
combatants and noncombatants; by prohibiting the use of military
against lawful noncombatants; and by providing rules for
The laws and customs of war protected civilians by
forbidding looting, unjustified violence against the persons of
civilians, attacks on undefended cities,
and wanton destruction not
justified by military necessity; and by requiring occupation
try civilians accused of crimes before a duly constituted military
tribunal. Unlawful combatants, defined as persons who engaged in
warlike activities while not part of a lawful chain of command or while
not wearing a distinctive insignia visible from a distance, were
regarded as bandits and had little protection under the laws and
customs of war. Combatants could not be refused quarter (the
opportunity to surrender)
enjoyed certain protections as prisoners
of war. Perfidy (feigning negotiations under a flag of
feigning surrender, or feigning wounds
in order to take an enemy by
surprise) was also
The laws and customs of war did not address the question of whether the war itself was justified, and they were not generally considered applicable to the conduct of a government towards persons living within its own territorial boundaries. In the face of massive evidence of evils committed by the Axis that were not covered by the laws and customs of war, the Allies developed a legal doctrine of crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. Crimes against the peace were defined as the launching of wars of aggression or wars in violation of international agreements. Crimes against humanity were defined as the persecution of or the committing of atrocities against large groups of persons. The creation of these new categories of international crimes seemed justified in light of Axis conduct, but they were and are controversial, since they imposed new restrictions on national sovereignty and posed difficult definitional questions.
Although war crimes are still narrowly defined as
violations of the laws and customs of war, the term "war crimes"
come to be broadly applied to crimes against the peace and crimes
against humanity in time of war as well.
War is an inherently brutal activity, which is why
Western liberalism regards it as the last resort, acceptable only
response to the gravest threats. It should surprise no one that
atrocities were committed by soldiers and sailors of every
nationality that participated in the Pacific War. However, there
also no denying that atrocities committed by
the Japanese were frequent and
systematic, displaying a pattern of criminality that was condoned
the highest levels.
This pattern reflected what Drea (2009) has described as a "sea change" in the conduct of the Japanese military. During the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese high command imposed iron discipline to ensure proper conduct by their troops, in an effort to demonstrate to Western observers that Japan was a civilized, modern nation deserving of a place among the great powers. In spite of a high degree of antagonism between the Russians and Japanese, the Japanese committed few atrocities in the 1905 war, and they took considerable pains to treat their prisoners of war correctly.
However, the New York World reported that large numbers of Chinese had been massacred following the capture of Port Arthur. Though the original World estimate of 60,000 killed was a wild exaggeration, it is likely that some 2000 were killed in retaliation for Chinese mutilation of corpses. Rather than punish the perpetrators, the Japanese tried to conceal the incident. At the time, this seemed to be an aberration.
The Japanese Army continued to maintain a high
standard of conduct during the First World War, and even during
Incident of 1939 the conduct of Japanese troops was mostly
However, by that time the Japanese Army had shocked the West with
conduct in China, including the
Rape of Nanking.
This dramatic "moral collapse" (Weinberg 2005), taking place in a
span of years, continues to be a subject of study and debate among
Edgerton (1997) finds an explanation in the collision between the historical Japanese sense of cultural superiority and the obvious Western technological superiority manifest when Perry opened Japan. He theorizes that this produced a strong cognitive dissonance in the Japanese mind, driving the Japanese to prove their worthiness to join the ranks of the great powers through the fighting skill and correct conduct of their soldiers. When this failed to win the Japanese the respect they believed they deserved, and especially after the Western powers proved vulnerable against the initial onslaught of the European Axis, the Japanese sense of inferiority turned to contempt, driving a sharp increase in the brutality of the Japanese Army.
British observers during the Russo-Japanese War remarked on the way Japanese officers were instantly obeyed in spite of maintaining a close social intimacy with their men. However, by the 1930s the service academies were systematically obliterating the social bond that had previously existed between officers and enlisted men. Officers were expected to treat their men with "calculated brutality" (Edgerton 1997), including frequent beatings, so that the soldiers would fear and hate them. The intent was to turn the men into vicious fighters who would vent their pent-up rage against the enemy. "Having been subjected to cruel and irrational punishments we were trained to act without thinking in response to orders" (Edgerton 1997). At the same time, Japanese fighting men were taught that surrender was unthinkable and that they should regard themselves as already being as good as dead. This led to a sense of fatalism that made it easier for the Japanese soldier to kill.
This hardening in attitude was reflected in the Imperial Rescript issued at the start of the Pacific War. The Imperial Rescripts issued for the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War admonished commanders to strictly observe international law. This admonishment was notably missing from the Imperial Rescript issued for the Pacific War.
The catalog of war crimes committed by the Japanese
cannot be adequately covered in a single article, and the
reader is referred to the list of links to specific incidents
However, some aspects of this pattern that were manifest during
the Pacific War are as
Crimes against the
peace. Japan had engaged in a pattern of expansion since
least 1895, when China was forced to
cede Formosa to the Japanese.
was followed by the seizure of Karafuto,
the Kwantung Peninsula,
and key points in Manchuria
following the Russo-Japanese
1905, and the annexation of Korea
1910. However, international pressure, together with increasingly
liberal domestic politics, put a halt to Japanese expansion
following the First World War.
With the start of the Great Depression and the rise of Japanese militarism and ultranationalism, Japanese expansion resumed, beginning with the seizure of Manchuria in 1931 and the China Incident in 1937. These actions, together with Japan's surprise attacks on the United States and Britain on 7-8 December 1941, were judged to be crimes against the peace by the postwar Allied tribunals, for which a number of Japanese statesmen and military leaders were sentenced to long prison terms. However, no defendant was sentenced to death solely for crimes against the peace, suggesting some ambivalence about these charges among the Allied judges.
Crimes against prisoners of war. These are described more fully in the article on prisoners of war. Particularly notorious episodes include the Bataan Death March and the construction of the Burma-Siam railway. The Japanese also put intense pressure on Indian prisoners of war to join the Indian National Army, a collaborationist force. Those who refused were told that they were no longer prisoners of war and would be treated as heihos, auxiliaries, subject to Japanese military law. This policy of coerced recruitment largely backfired, as large numbers of troops from the INA deserted back to the British at the first opportunity.
A number of war crimes were committed against
Allied airmen under
pretext of the Enemy Airmen's Act of 13 August
1942. This was formulated and applied ex
post facto to the Doolittle
raiders, eight of whom had been captured by the Japanese. Sugiyama had three of the
executed, over the objections both of Tojo and the Emperor, but commuted the
of five others to life in prison in the Emperor's name.
Allied airmen continued to be murdered under this regulation
Though uncommon, there were well-documented instances of Japanese troops eating the flesh of executed Allied airmen. One such incident occurred in Burma and was the responsibility of the sinister Tsuji Masanobu. Other incidents occurred in New Britain and at Chichi Jima. None of these incidents involved starving Japanese troops, whose cannibalism of their own casualties in New Guinea was a result of desperation. Tsuji encouraged his fellow officers to engage in cannibalism as a way to increase their hatred of the enemy.
Related to crimes against prisoners of war were
crimes against persons who were hors de combat. There were
numerous incidents of Japanese troops killing both patients and doctors in Allied hospitals
they had overrun, of which the worst incident was possibly the
Alexandra Hospital massacre at Singapore.
Japanese fighter pilots routinely attacked Allied pilots who had
parachuted from their aircraft over Allied territory, machine
gunning them or flying through their parachute cords, on the basis
that if the pilots survived they would soon return to combat.
Crimes against civilians. One of the first instances of Japanese brutality against Chinese civilians occurred in September 1937 at Tungchow in north China. In reprisal for the massacre by a Chinese mob of about 223 Japanese civilians, the Japanese Army went on the rampage for several days. This became the pattern for Japanese behavior in China thereafter.
In addition to crimes against the persons of
civilians, the Japanese destroyed their property. During the
advance on Nanking in 1937, Japanese troops began burning
buildings and homes. This initially might be justified as a way to
deny the Chinese the use of these buildings for ambush, but the destruction
soon exceeded anything that could be tactically justified. Peattie
et al. (2011) report that one newly arrived regimental
commander tried to restrain his troops, one of his battalion
commanders asked him if he was aware that they had orders to
destroy everything in central China. 10 Army finally
issued orders to the troops to refrain from destroying shelter
that would be needed during the approaching winter.
Conditions in Japanese internment camps were often
marginally better than in prisoner of war camps. In addition, the
Japanese committed a number of massacres of Asians,
particularly in China. These included the single worst atrocity of
war, the Rape of Nanking,
perhaps as many as 200,000 were killed. The Japanese later
nationals in southeast Asia, particularly at Singapore, where at
(and possibly many more) Chinese were killed for alleged
The entire white population of Balikpapan was driven into
and shot in retribution for torching the oil
fields. This was deliberate policy, as the Japanese Foreign
had issued a secret memorandum on 4 October 1941 ordering that
destroying important natural resources in the Netherlands East
was to be "severely punished". A similar incident occurred at
Blora, Java, following the
demolition of the
nearby Tjepu oil field. In this case only the male Europeans were
killed, the women being
raped instead before being interned. The Allies eventually
24 similar incidents between December 1941 and April 1942.
After putting down a revolt at Jesselton on 19 October 1943,
Japanese massacred most of the inhabitants of Suluk Islands, a few
whose leaders had been implicated in the revolt.
During the battle of Manila, some 100,000 Filipino civilians died, most of whom were deliberately killed by the Japanese. This reflected a pattern of deliberate brutality towards Filipinos. A captured Japanese diary had this entry for 19 December 1944 (Gilbert 1989):
Taking advantage of
darkness, we went out to kill the natives. It was hard
me to kill
them because they seemed to be good people. The frightful cries of
the women and children were horrible. I
myself killed several persons.
Crimes on the high seas. From the very beginning of the war, the Japanese routinely machine gunned survivors of merchant ships, such as Richard Hovey, sunk by submarines or other warships. This was a deliberate policy discussed with the Germans even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Both the Germans and the Japanese recognized the vast shipbuilding capacity of the United States and believed that the key to destroying the Allied merchant marines was the slaughter of the merchant mariners themselves, who were not as easily replaced as ships.
This policy was promulgated in the Navy General
Directive 107, also known as the First Submarine Force Order (Kehn
2008). Issued on 1 March 1943 and in written form on 20 March
read: "Do not stop with the sinking of enemy ships and cargoes; at
same time that you carry out the complete destruction of the crews
the enemy ships, if possible, seize part of the crew and endeavor
A particular notorious incident involved the MV Behar, sunk in February 1944 during a Japanese raid into the Indian Ocean. The cruiser Tone picked up 104 survivors, of whom 69 were massacred on the orders of the Southwest Area Fleet commander, Vice-Admiral Sakonju Naomasa. Sakonju was hanged, while the captain of Tone, who had protested the order before carrying it out, was given a relatively light sentence of seven years imprisonment. Other merchant ships whose crews were systematically slaughtered included Tjisalak, Langkoeas, and Jean Nicolet.
The Allies regarded themselves, with considerable
cause, as occupying the moral high ground in the Second World War.
Although all the major Allied powers had a history of armed
expansion, they had turned away from further imperial adventures
in the aftermath of the First World War. The United States had
already begun the liquidation of its small overseas empire with
the promise of independence to the Philippine Islands.
The United Kingdom had granted Dominion status (amounting to
sovereignty) to those of its overseas territories dominated by
Anglo populations, such as Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand, and there was
considerable popular support for granting independence to India as
well. France and the Netherlands were far from
ready to liquidate their overseas empires, but even in these
nations, there was support for increased self-government in the
colonies. The adherence of the Western powers to the
Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, renouncing war as an instrument of
state policy, was more or less sincere, and the reluctance of
these powers to take up arms against the Axis was so pronounced
that it may actually have contributed to the outbreak of the
Second World War.
thus characterized the Allies as the peaceful, freedom-loving
nations of the world, compelled reluctantly to take up arms
against the criminal governments of the Axis. That this was more
than mere propaganda was evident, not only from the initial Allied
reluctance to carry out offensive operations, but also from their
scrupulousness about adhering to the laws and customs of war. This
scrupulousness was never entirely abandoned, even after years of
desperate fighting against a ruthless enemy, but it was probably
inevitable that Allied attitudes and behavior would harden during
the course of the war. This was particularly true in the Pacific,
where racism and the awareness of Japanese brutality combined to
produce genuine hatred for the Japanese among their Allied
Allied conduct towards prisoners of war remained
notably correct throughout the war. More than one historian has
observed that the healthiest place for a young man from an Axis
nation to be in 1941-1945 was in an American prisoner of war camp.
Straus (2003) has described Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, the principal
camp for Japanese POWs on the American mainland, as a model POW
camp. However, front-line troops were not always correct in their
treatment of Japanese who attempted to surrender or were otherwise
hors de combat. Captain John Burden, a
former physician working with Japanese immigrants in Hawaii who
first Japanese language officer on Guadalcanal, reported that on
"several occasions word was telephoned in from the front line that
prisoner had been taken, only to find after hours of waiting that
prisoner had 'died' en route to the rear. In more than one
there was strong evidence that the prisoner had been shot and
because it was too much bother to take him in" (quoted in Straus
2003). A number of Allied ground formations refused quarter to
troops, in response to a pattern of Japanese perfidy going back at
least to the Guadalcanal
campaign. In particular, 41 Division
were called "the butchers" by the Japanese because of their
to give quarter. Alexander (2009) claims that Lieutenant Colonel
Mangold, who commanded a battalion
Division during the second Luzon
campaign, ordered his men to refuse quarter on pain of
court-martial until he was personally reprimanded by Krueger.
Likewise, a small number of Allied submarine and PT boat commanders machine gunned survivors of sunken Japanese troop transports, claiming that because these military personnel refused rescue and would, if they were rescued by their own side, return to combat against the Allies, they were legitimate military targets. The most serious such incident occurred during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Although Allied senior commanders took no formal disciplinary action against the perpetrators, there is no evidence that such actions were systematically encouraged.
The slaughter of Japanese troops in the water in the
Bismarck Sea illustrates the observation that atrocity begets
Earlier in the battle, the crew of one of the Allied aircraft shot
over the convoy took to their parachutes, only to be machine
Japanese fighters. This was witnessed by several Allied air crew,
the story rapidly spread among the units participating in the
Another relatively common form of Allied misconduct was the
treatment of enemy dead. Numerous first-person accounts of the war
Japan (e.g. Allen 1984, Bergerud 1996, Leckie 1962, Sledge 1981)
that Japanese troops mutilated Allied corpses, often by cutting
corpse's penis and placing in the corpse's mouth. Allied soldiers
responded in kind, by removing gold
teeth from Japanese corpses or by taking Japanese skulls or other
body parts as souvenirs. Chindit
commanders noticed that Nigerian troops under their command were
of decorating their entrenchments with severed Japanese heads. The
Kachins of northern Burma took the ears of each Japanese soldier
their killed as proof of his death, a practice the Japanese found
particularly terrifying due to a folk
belief in Japan that the souls of the dead were drawn to
heaven by their ears. It proved difficult to persuade the Kachins
to cease the practice.
particularly notorious incident, Life magazine
published a picture of a young woman whose Navy officer boyfriend
sent her the skull of a Japanese soldier. This provoked outrage in
Japan and was exploited by the Japanese government for propaganda purposes. It also
provoked outrage in the United States, and senior commanders,
demanded that local commanders
enforce field regulations against mistreatment of enemy dead.
However, enforcement remained spotty and penalties were rarely
The Navy officer who sent the Japanese skull to his girlfriend
received no more than a letter of reprimand.
In a speech to the Diet on 18 December 1941, Tojo claimed that the Americans had tortured 10 Japanese to death and shot 38 others at Davao. However, Tojo himself began to doubt the truth of the allegations by 23 December, suspecting that they had been manufactured by jingoistic newspaper reporters.
The most credible charge of a systematic and
officially condoned pattern of war
crimes by the Allies is in connection with the strategic bombing
against Japan. It has been argued that this campaign constituted
destruction beyond the necessity of war and involved the
targeting of civilians. Defenders of the strategic bombing
have replied that the bombardment of defended cities was not
by the laws and customs of war of the time; that Axis "terror
predated the Allied campaign and demonstrated that there was no
prohibition on strategic bombing as a matter of customary
law; that the dispersal of Japanese industry
made entire cities legitimate targets; and that other means of
compelling the Japanese to capitulate, such as blockade, would
entailed even greater loss of life. The morality and legitimacy of
strategic bombing campaign continues to be hotly debated into the
century, suggesting how intractable the issue is. It is this
opinion that the debate reflects one of the most awful aspects of
namely, that it causes good men to feel compelled to do terrible
things because the alternatives all appear worse.
announced as early as 13 January 1942 that Axis war criminals
punished after the war, a warning that was repeated by Roosevelt in
August 1942. The victorious powers convened war crimes tribunals
in both the European and Pacific theaters
Axis leaders and soldiers. The jurisdiction of these military
depended on the nature and scope of the crimes alleged. Those
of being responsible for general policies of a criminal nature
(generally the highest government leaders) were designated as
defendants and were tried by international military tribunals,
either in Tokyo
or Nuremberg. Those accused of local crimes were tried by military
tribunals at the location where the alleged crimes took place.
Twenty-eight leaders were charged as Class A defendants and 5,700
Japanese as Class B or C war criminals. Of these, some 4,403 were
convicted, with 984 sentenced to death and 475 others
sentenced to life imprisonment.
The war crimes trials were controversial
from the start, since
they appeared to some observers to be an exercise in "victor’s
justice." The tribunals consisted of officers of the
aggrieved nations, which created an appearance of partiality.
numerous legal and procedural objections to the proceedings.
few of those put on trial had broken any law of their own nations,
the trials violated national sovereignty. Trial for crimes against
peace and crimes against humanity appeared to violate the
post facto law.
However, the Nuremberg trials brought to light massive evidence of the awful nature of the Nazi regime in Germany. That three of the accused in the trial of major war criminals were nonetheless acquitted, and others sentenced to imprisonment for as little as ten years, suggests that the trials were not “kangaroo courts” but were an honest attempt at justice. Perhaps the Nuremberg proceedings are best regarded as an exercise in natural law. Murder is not a crime because the law makes it so; it is a crime because it shocks the conscience. The same could be said, millions of times over, of the acts of those convicted in Nuremberg.
The Tokyo war crimes trials have been compared unfavorably with the Nuremberg proceedings. Whereas the Nuremberg convictions were supported by numerous eyewitnesses and masses of documentary evidence, the Japanese had time to destroy most of their incriminating records after the Emperor's surrender broadcast and before the occupation of Japan. The greater distance of Tokyo from the western powers meant that it was more difficult to bring in western eyewitnesses, such as repatriated prisoners of war. As a result, the Far Eastern tribunals accepted affidavits which were difficult for the defendants to challenge and which would likely not have been accepted into evidence in a regular British or American criminal court. The Nuremberg prosecutors included in their ranks some of the most brilliant legal minds of their generation, who were careful to establish the individual responsibility of each defendant for the acts with which he was charged. The Tokyo chief prosecutor has been characterized, perhaps unfairly, as a political appointee largely unqualified for the responsibility given him who showed up in court drunk on more than one occasion. Many of the major Japanese war criminals appear to have been convicted for the acts of subordinates, such as Tsuji Masanobu — or for the decisions of the Emperor.
Unlike Germany, which was being overrun at the time of her surrender, and whose surrender was truly unconditional, Japan was not occupied until some time after the cease-fire, and the surrender was arguably not unconditional. The guarantees given by the Allies regarding the Emperor were an expediency without which the Japanese military might never have been persuaded to submit, but they also led to a situation in which the Tokyo war crimes trials seemed fatally flawed from the start. It was impossible to conduct a thorough examination of Japanese leaders as long as the Imperial Family was off-limits.
These criticisms of the Tokyo trials should not be mistaken for arguments that the Japanese were less guilty of war crimes than the Germans. There is clear and convincing evidence of a shocking pattern of atrocities by the Japanese military throughout the Pacific War, as well as during the Sino-Japanese War that preceded it. The concern here is with the carelessness with which guilt was assigned and punishment inflicted.
The mechanics of the war crimes trials did not begin
worked out until early 1944, when victory was finally in sight.
Chinese, who in 1944 declared the Japanese "an evil race" (in Maga
2001), were especially anxious to carry out sweeping and extensive
trials of thousands of suspects. The Western Allies rejected this
approach in favor of a legal apparatus that emphasized justice
A crucial role was played by Sir William Webb, chief justice of
Queensland, Australia, who
investigated Japanese atrocities in the
Southwest Pacific as the war was winding down. Webb was close to MacArthur and
Herbert Pell, Roosevelt's representative on the United Nations
Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes.
Webb worried that the atrocities in Europe would overshadow those
the Far East, and wrote that war criminals "must not go free"
2001). The chief prosecutor was Joseph B. Keenan, director
Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department. "Joe the Key"
early New Dealer
who had prosecuted such infamous gangsters as "Machine Gun" Kelly
had successfully lobbied for anti-racketeering legislation in
Keenan was known for his courtroom theatrics and ample ego and was
admirer of MacArthur. Keenan developed a seventeen-part definition
what constituted a Class A war criminal, limiting the definition
acts after 18 September 1931, and calling for "fair play" and for
authority of the court to "be properly recognized and emphasized,
particularly in dealings with the Japanese people". The
most controversial point was #17, which explicitly stated that the
Emperor was not to be placed on any list of war criminals.
The U.S. Army conducted military tribunals for Class
and C war criminals that were subject to much the same criticisms
the International Military Tribunal. Because the first of the Army
trials actually preceded the trials of the Class A defendants, it
attracted considerable attention at the time, and the issues it
up and the legal strategies used by both prosecution and defense
foreshadowed those of the International Military Tribunal. The
defendant was Tsuchiya Tatsuo, a prison camp guard at Mitsushima
was known to the Allied prisoners as "Little Glass Eye." Tsuchiya
charged with eight specifications of torture and cruelty to
of war. Tsuchiya's lawyers, led by John Dickinson, argued that
was an ordinary soldier, a "cog in the wheel" (Maga 2001) caught
a militaristic culture over which he had no control and who should
answer for the sins of Japanese policy makers. Many Japanese
commentators picked up this line, adding that the tribunals failed
give due allowance for major differences in culture; for example,
Tsuchiya's physical abuse of prisoners allegedly reflected a
physical abuse within the Japanese Army itself.
However, the chief prosecutor in the case, Louis
Geffen, emphasized the individual responsibility of Tsuchiya in
violating clear and specific rights of prisoners of war. Geffen
took pains to ensure that the trial was not rushed and had the
appearance of fairness, to the point of refraining from objecting
some defense tactics and arguments that he thought he might have
successfully challenged. Dickinson successfully moved to have one
trial judges removed on the grounds that he was a former prisoner
war, and got two of the charges dismissed for lack of evidence.
by focusing his case on the torture and death of American prisoner
Robert Gorden Teas, producing nine sworn affidavits by American
witnesses that Teas had discovered that Tsuchiya had stolen the
prisoners' Red Cross parcels, and Tsuchiya had responded by
Teas and leaving him in the camp courtyard in the middle of
Over the next five days, Tsuchiya gradually beat Teas to death,
sometimes reviving him after he was beaten unconscious in order to
him some more. The accounts shocked the court, but were challenged
Dickinson as hearsay and as the product of a conspiracy by
"get back" at their guards. One defense witness suggested that the
prisoners conspired "just like Roosevelt conspired to get us in
War II", an argument that likely seriously backfired with the
judges. On 28 December 1945 Tsuchiya was found guilty and
life at hard labor.
The most controversial Army trials were the trials
of Yamashita Tomoyuki
and Homma Masaharu,
were tried not for any personal offense, but for failing to
atrocities by troops under their command. This doctrine of command
responsibility established a new precedent that continues to be
The U.S. Navy conducted military tribunals for Class
B and C war criminals at Guam
under the direction of Admiral John D. Murphy. Murphy was a former
enlisted sailor who had risen through the ranks and obtained a law
degree from George Washington University in 1929. A civil
who would later oppose McCarthyism, he insisted that the Navy
pay considerable attention to correct procedure
and rules of evidence. The Navy tribunals were reluctant to accept
hearsay evidence or affidavits and avoided going beyond settled
whenever possible. Thus, the most sensational of the Navy trials,
"Cannibal Trials" of Tachibana
Yoshio and other Japanese officers accused of killing and
Allied prisoners on Chichi Jima, were supported by careful
work and testimony that established individual guilt. The
avoided the issue of command responsibility by presenting evidence
personal responsibility of accused Japanese officers for the
Allied prisoners, and the Navy arraigned the officers on
straightforward charges of murder.
Outside of China, there was never as much support for the Far East tribunals as for the Nuremberg trials. The Holocaust and other crimes against humanity by the Nazis caught the public's attention in a way that the crimes against humanity in the Far East, such as the Rape of Nanking, never did. However, the trials received a surprising amount of support in Japan itself, where many Japanese viewed the trials as an exercise in leaving the old, militarist Japan behind to make a new Japan possible. The tribunal received over a thousand letters by Japanese nationals denouncing other Japanese as war criminals, and most were judged as genuine rather than as attempts to settle old scores between neighbors. Asahi Shumbun published an abridgement of Keenan's history of the International Military Tribunal, and Nippon Times editorialized on 16 September 1947 (Maga 2001):
Japanese observers, at first skeptical, have been convinced of the genuine character of allied justice. The eminently reasonable and fair though strict sentence [sic] passed for charges which were proved, have convinced us of the fairness and judicious objectivity of the trial procedure.
However, this view was hardly universal at the time,
nor has it characterized the Japanese attitude in the decades
trials. Keenan's warning that "if [the war crimes trials] are not
the people in impatience and disgust, will have their own
blood purgings"(in Maga 2001) is not likely to be taken seriously
by modern historians.
Another objection to both the European and Far East war crimes trials was that, even if the punishments handed out were just, punishment was handed out exclusively to Axis defendants. It has been argued, for example, that Curtis LeMay should have stood trial for the fire bombing of Japanese cities. Politically, this was impossible, but it was equally impossible not to act against Axis leaders. The situation was further muddied by the argument that the Allies engaged in area bombing of cities and unrestricted submarine warfare in retaliation for similar practices by the Axis. When a legal or moral barrier was breached by the Axis in a way that appeared to give a military advantage, the Allies often adopted an "if that's how you want to play the game ..." attitude.
Perhaps the bottom line is this:
The Axis began an unprovoked and
brutal war of aggression, leading to untold horrors for a
human race, against an Allied coalition that had clearly
demonstrated a great reluctance to take up
arms. That may be the ultimate best justification for the war
Bataan Death March
Tol Plantation (New Britain)
Peattie et al. (2011)
Weingartner (1992; accessed 2011-10-8)
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