Bibliography A recent
overview of the trials can be found in Tim Maga's book, Judgment at
Japanese War Crimes Trials (University of Kentucky Press, © 2001,
U.S. and its allies established an International Military Tribunal for
the Far East (IMFTE) to prosecute Japanese military and government leaders.
Twenty-eight high-ranking Japanese political and military leaders, often
referred to as the "Big Fish", along with others were indicted
on 55 counts in the most publicized Tokyo trial. The accused group included
former prime ministers, foreign ministers, economic and financial leaders,
ambassadors, war ministers, navy ministers, and senior military officers.
General Douglas MacArthur decided, with President Truman's concurrence,
not to place Emporer Hirohito on trial. He was seen by the victors as
a much needed leader and symbol for the new, peaceful and democratic
Japan to arise from the ashes of WW II. The U.S. was entering a new
Cold War era and needed a militarily purged, newly reborn Japan as any
ally with Hirohito as its unifying symbol.
Tokyo trials began on May 3, 1946 and lasted two and a half years. Three
broad categories of war crimes were established. Class A charges, alleging
"crimes against peace", were brought against Japan's top leaders
who had planned and directed the war. Class B and C charges, which were
leveled at Japanese of any rank, covered "conventional war crimes"
and "crimes against humanity". Former U.S. assistant attorney
general, Joseph Keenan, served as the chief prosecutor. He was a Roosevelt
New Dealer and had once personally prosecuted such infamous American
gangsters as "Machine Gun Kelley".
Sir William Webb
of Australia served as the tribunal's president. Eleven judges representing
various countries presided. On November 4, 1948 Webb announced that
all defendants had been found guilty. Seven were sentenced to death
(including the most infamous, former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo); sixteen
received life terms (though many of these were paroled in the 1950's),
and two were given lesser terms. Two had died during the trials and
one was found insane. Hundreds of subsequent war crimes trials were
held in other countries in Asia into the 1950's. These Tokyo trials,
while important, have often remained in the shadow of the more publicized
Nuremberg war crimes trials in Europe.
Douglas MacArthur was pleased with the Tokyo trials and stated, "No
human decision is infallible but I can conceive of no judicial process
where greater safeguard was made to evolve justice.
no mortal agency
in the present imperfect evolution of civilized society seems more entitled
to confidence in the integrity of its solemn pronouncements. If we cannot
trust such processes and such men we can trust nothing."
You will read and analyze sections from one of the key primary sources
related to the trials - the 45 page formal indictment presented at the
PART I - Analyzing
1) Read the opening
paragraphs of this
document contained on page one and the upper half of page 2 to address
A) List the eleven
nations bringing these war crimes charges.
B) List the many
examples of damages inflicted by this Japanese "criminal
militaristic clique" on other nations and on the Japanese people
C) Explain the
"conspiracy between the defendants
and the rulers of other
aggressive nations". Which other nations are mentioned and what
attempting to do?
D) List the many crimes allegedly committed by the defendants
2) You will need
to read pages 2-13 of the document to answer these:
A) Group One: Crimes
Against Peace (pages 2-9, Counts 1-36)
4) Look at the last
page of the indictment. Who is Joseph Keenan?
Part II - General discussion or writing assignments
You could use the following general topics for an all-class discussion,
a debate, a post WW II hearings simulation, or as a writing assignment.
If you want your students to read more in-depth descriptive explanations
of the types of crimes committed by the Japanese, the various treaties
and other international covenants violated, and the general conspiracy
by Japan to wage aggressive war against innocent neighboring countries
have them read Appendices A,B, and D.
A) Hiro Nishikawa,
a Japanese historian and legal expert, has stated his belief that these
were more about Westerners passing negative judgment on the Japanese
"alien race" and its culture than it was about bringing justice
against individual criminals. He concluded that these trials had a more
racist tone than that of the Nuremberg trials in Germany. In the early
1970's author Richard Minear saw the Tokyo trials as "sham trials"
based on the Allied victors' desire for vengeance against the defeated.
One of the war trial judges, Justice Radhabinod from India, stated that
the trial was a show trial based on revenge and racism and that Japan
had shown a "long fuse" in dealing with the aggressive policies
of the victorious nations. The Vatican in 1948 supported the notion
that "Japan was on trial" and that the Americans and that
the Allies were too eager to convict and punish the defeated. Other
Tokyo judges disagreed and many historians since have felt the trials
were necessary and had been conducted with regard to the rights of the
Give your analysis
of such an argument. Compare the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials - the charges,
the defendants, and the sentences. Is "victor's justice" an
oxymoron? Is there an alternative to war crimes trials?
B) Many of the Japanese
military leaders on trial did not personally murder, torture and plunder.
These atrocities were committed by soldiers in the field. Should a superior
officer be held accountable as a war criminal for failing to know about
or control the actions of his foot soldiers in their interaction with
enemy soldiers, prisoners of war and innocent civilians? If so, how
do you prove the accused's complicity in approving heinous actions?
Should a civilian leader such as a prime minister or other advisor to
the Emperor be held accountable for brutality committed by soldiers?
C) Former Prime
Minister Hideki Tojo, viewed as the personification of the "evil
of Japan" by many, was the most famous of the 28 indicted leaders.
Some believed that he became the scapegoat for all Japanese aggression
since they couldn't try Emporer Hirohito. Tojo's legal counsel, Ichiro
Kiyose, claimed that it would be impossible for him to receive a fair
trail. He argued that the charge against Tojo of being part of the group
that waged "aggressive war" was too simplistic and unsubstantiated
by international law. He told the judges that in a war both sides are
the aggressors. In short, Japan was only in a defensive mode for its
own survival during the 1930's and 1940's. It was only reacting to the
imperialistic actions and racist policies of the U.S. and other western
powers. Keenan and the prosecution team felt they had brought forth
plenty of evidence and testimony to prove Tojo's sadistic side, his
years of complicity in planning out Japan's militarism, and his knowledge
and encouragement of atrocities committed by those under his command.
Tojo himself did not help his image when he sent his condolences to
infamous Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering upon hearing of his death
sentence handed down at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. Tojo, like Goering,
was sentenced to death by hanging. They both attempted suicide but only
Do you accept Tojo's argument that Japan was forced to act defensively
against racist, expansionist policies from other powers? To adequately
answer this question you must study the U.S., British and Japanese interactions
in the prewar years in regards to foreign policy, immigration restrictions,
arms buildups, treaty violations, economic trade policies and embargos,
and military incidents, incursions and occupation of Asian and Pacific