Monday, July 27, 2015

An Example of Injustice for an Imperial Army

Even today, the trial and conviction of Japanese war criminals remains a controversial topic. There are those in Japan who deny that any significant war crimes were committed by Japanese officials or military personnel as well as others who take the view that some war crimes may have been committed but that these were certainly no worse than those committed by the Allied powers and thus should be dismissed. On the other side, these efforts to deny or diminish to some degree the guilt of Japanese war criminals is the cause of anger and mistrust by people in other countries around the world, particularly victims advocacy groups and certain governments. Speaking for myself alone, I have never been very enthusiastic about the idea of “war criminals” in general. Accusations that the post-war Allied war crimes trials were examples of “victor’s justice” are hard to refute because each were a case of the winner passing judgment on the loser. It would seem very difficult to me for such justice to be truly blind and impartial. There is also the fact that such trials are held in the aftermath of a war when most people are far from being dispassionate and are eager to punish someone, even if the ones who are truly the most guilty are not around to bring to trial at all.

Second Philippine Republic
In dealing with the Empire of Japan, while I am not familiar with the details of every case, there certainly were numerous individuals who were convicted of war crimes unjustly. No doubt there were others who were truly guilty. Yet, there are also examples of men who were guilty of heinous war crimes who were never tried, convicted or punished alongside those innocent men who punished unjustly for the crimes of others. It demonstrates how, in the chaos of the aftermath of an immense conflict, how true justice, evenly applied, is extremely difficult to obtain. There were also those, in both Japan and Germany, who would have been convicted of war crimes were it not for the fact that they were deemed useful by one of the Allied powers (usually the Soviet Union or America) and thus were spared. Still others were unjustly accused but managed to escape punishment, thankfully, due to outside intervention. There are numerous examples of all of the cases mentioned above but, to keep this as brief as possible, we can focus on a single country, in this case, The Philippines. The paths of three men intersected in The Philippines, all of them soldiers of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan and all three of them were accused of war crimes. One was guilty, two were not but none of them were treated justly though one was ultimately treated mercifully.

When the Japanese invaded The Philippines on December 10, 1941 the man who led the ultimately successful invasion was General Masaharu Homma. He was an outstanding general in every way. The Philippines was, without question, the most difficult military operation Japan undertook in the opening offensive throughout Southeast Asia. While it was still caught unawares, The Philippines was much more prepared than Malaysia, Hong Kong or Singapore given that Britain’s focus was understandably on the German air attacks on their homeland and the Italo-German offensive aimed at the Suez Canal. Likewise, the Dutch East Indies had limited defenses to begin with and, at the time of the Japanese attack, the Netherlands had already been conquered and was under German occupation with the Queen’s government-in-exile operating out of London. The Philippines therefore represented the only Japanese target that was not already being pushed to the limit in a war for national survival on the other side of the world. It was the campaign that would take the longest and be the most hotly contested. Also, in overall command was General Douglas MacArthur, widely considered one of the greatest generals in American military history.

General Homma Masaharu
Against all of this, General Homma was victorious. Yet, beyond his leadership abilities, he was also a man of upstanding character who, in my view at least, embodied the most noble traditions of the samurai class. He was a cultured man, known by his peers as “the poet”, a man of honesty, integrity and compassion. He was a skillful general who was careful with the lives of his soldiers and who was adamant that the Japanese occupation of The Philippines be humane. He had his troops march in tight formation to keep down disorder and issued instructions that the Filipinos were to be treated as brothers. Eventually, he even ordered all Filipino prisoners of war to be released though, as it turned out, it was not as simple as giving an order. He had served in France alongside the British Expeditionary Force in World War I, had been an aide to the Emperor’s brother, was a man of impeccable character and a man who had won one of the greatest victories in Japanese history. For all of this, he was ultimately dismissed by his own superiors, sidelined in disgrace and, after the war, executed as a war criminal. Simply calling this an “injustice” is putting it too mildly.

Some in the Japanese high command complained that Homma’s conquest of The Philippines was taking too long and that this was proof that he “lacked aggressiveness”. Pure nonsense. General Homma, as stated, faced a more difficult task than any other Japanese commander at the time and was being cautious, trying to conserve the lives of his troops where possible for the long and arduous war against a much stronger adversary that stood before his country. He was being smart. Any American or Filipino who faced his forces could testify with first-hand experience that General Homma was certainly not lacking in “aggressiveness”. However, this was a mere excuse. The problem was that there were others in powerful positions in the Imperial Army who had a real problem with how General Homma treated the Americans and even the Filipinos. They would issue orders for executions and other atrocities in his name, which the general would revoke as soon as he found out about it and one of the most infamous culprits of this was a certain officer, very famous in his time and place but largely forgotten now, named Colonel Masanobu Tsuji. In the persons of General Homma and Colonel Tsuji you had examples of the opposite extremes that existed in the Imperial Japanese Army.

Col. Tsuji Masanobu
Colonel Tsuji was known as the “God of Operations” for his military planning, though from what I have seen his “brilliant” plans did not have much of a record of success to back them up. He was a radical who behaved erratically, believed himself morally superior to everyone else and who was unscrupulous and ruthless in pursuit of his goals. He mostly came to fame for his part in planning the invasion of Malaysia and he arrived in The Philippines determined to thwart the good intentions of General Homma. He immediately began to influence other staff officers and subordinates toward the exact opposite of the benevolent occupation that General Homma had ordered and to do their best to wreck the career of one of Japan’s most successful generals. Later, Colonel Tsuji would go on to cause considerable needless death and suffering for the Japanese army in the Battle of Guadalcanal, by deceiving and betraying his fellow officers, to the extent that even he had to admit his guilt on that one. He also later became most infamous for killing a wounded American airman and eating his liver. Also known for berating his superiors, he was constantly being transferred and in any other army in the world would have been punished severely for such a long record of gross insubordination. In The Philippines, he tried to have all American prisoners massacred.

General Homma had forbid his troops to rape or pillage, ordered them to respect the customs and traditions of the Filipinos and when others bristled at this, pointed out that he was simply following the instructions of the Emperor, which no one could openly argue with. He made an enemy in his superior, Field Marshal Terauchi, for refusing to distribute a propaganda pamphlet that spoke of the Americans as being terrible oppressors and exploiters of The Philippines on the simple grounds that this was absolutely untrue. General Homma disputed this with Terauchi in person, arguing in regards to the Americans that, “They administered a very benevolent supervision over the Philippines. Japan should establish an even better and more enlightened supervision.” Colonel Tsuji, on the other hand, viewed the Filipinos as race-traitors and deserving of the most cruel punishment and he was able to influence others to his way of thinking. An example of this presented itself in the order to execute the Filipino Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. Two days after the surrender of U.S. and Filipino forces, Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi stormed into General Homma’s office and demanded to know why he had ordered the execution.

Gen. Kawaguchi Kiyotake
Kawaguchi regarded this as a violation of the bushido code, the spirit of the Emperor’s instructions and a senseless barbarity as Santos had not been anti-Japanese at all. Yet, various officers he contacted insisted that the order be carried out so that finally Kawaguchi sought out General Homma. The noble general was shocked and informed his subordinate that he had never given such an order but had, rather, ordered another officer to see that Santos was given a place in the new pro-Japanese government being established under President Jose Laurel. When questioned, that officer, Major General Yoshihide Hayashi, finally replied that the order to execute Santos had actually come from Colonel Tsuji. General Homma reprimanded those involved but it could not un-do the damage that Tsuji was doing. A few weeks later the former Speaker of the House, General Manuel Roxas, was captured and the local Japanese commander, General Torao Ikuta, was given an order to execute him in the name of General Homma. Again, General Ikuta did not wish to carry out such an order and put it off on a subordinate officer named Colonel Nobuhiko Jimbo. As it happened, Colonel Jimbo was another example of an upright officer. He was also a Catholic, the same as Roxas, and was disgusted by the very idea of murdering him.

Roxas and a local governor were both taken by Colonel Jimbo to be executed but the governor pleaded for his life and Colonel Jimbo determined that he could not and would not execute the two men. He went personally to General Ikuta to urge him to spare the two men, order or no order as to execute them would be barbaric. General Ikuta agreed and had the prisoners hidden away. However, an officer soon arrived from Manila demanding that the executions be carried out and that Colonel Jimbo be court-martialed for his efforts to save their lives. Colonel Jimbo was still not prepared to give up and traveled to Manila himself to confront General Homma directly. He was not in his office when Jimbo arrived but spoke to Homma’s chief of staff who could not believe that the general would give such an order. Jimbo handed him the document which the Chief of Staff suspended and immediately confronted General Hayashi, assuming he was responsible after the Santos affair.

Gen. Manuel Roxas & Colonel Jimbo Nobuhiko
Hayashi blamed Jimbo for making them all look bad but General Homma, when he returned and learned of the whole mess, immediately countermanded the execution of Roxas and personally thanked Colonel Jimbo for his brave stand in the cause of justice and humanity. He told the colonel that he would be sure to mention his actions when he returned home and gave his report to the Emperor. Roxas would go on to be the first President of The Philippines after the war. General Homma, however, was not allowed to make his report to the Emperor as his enemies within the army succeeded in having him relieved of command and sent home. Not being allowed to report to the Emperor, as was customary, was done as a sign of his semi-disgrace. Once he was gone, life became much worse for the people of The Philippines and the cruelties inflicted on that country are numerous and horrific. After the war, General Homma was returned to The Philippines where he was convicted and executed as a war criminal; a case so blatantly unjust that even a number of very prominent Americans spoke out against it and harshly condemned their own countrymen for participating in such a disgraceful act.

The upright Colonel Nobuhiko Jimbo almost suffered a similar fate. He had been transferred to China (a common sort of subtle punishment) and was himself arrested at the end of the conflict as a potential war criminal. In 1946, Filipino President Roxas, however, learned that Colonel Jimbo was being held in prison in northern China awaiting trial and he acted to return the favor the colonel had done in saving his life. Roxas wrote personally to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, explaining the situation and asking that Colonel Jimbo be given amnesty. The Chinese leader agreed and the following year Colonel Jimbo was released and returned to Japan. He had survived but only because of the timely intervention of the man whose life he had saved. If Roxas had not found out about Jimbo in time, he mostly likely would have been executed in the wave of anti-Japanese hysteria in China in the aftermath of the war.

General Homma Masaharu
And what came of Colonel Tsuji, the man who was the cause of so much shame, deception and cruelty? He survived the war, hiding in Thailand while the Tokyo War Crimes Trials were underway and completely escaped punishment. He went to China, spent some time in Vietnam and finally returned home where he made money writing books about his wartime exploits and was elected to the Diet in 1952. In 1961 he disappeared while on a visit to Laos and, though later rumored to be working for the communist North Vietnamese, was never seen or heard from again and was declared dead in 1968. He escaped conviction as a war criminal, had and still has numerous admirers, some of whom erected a statue of him in Kaga City, Ishikawa, Japan. Compare this fate to General Kawaguchi who was declared a war criminal and executed by the Allied forces after the war, including the execution of Santos which Colonel Tsuji had actually ordered.

Colonel Jimbo had received mercy but for General Homma and Colonel Tsuji, both are examples of the many injustices that followed the Second World War; General Homma an example of the injustice by the punishment given to an innocent man and Colonel Tsuji an example of the injustice of a guilty man escaping retribution and being praised by many after it was over. And, make no mistake about it, it was Tsuji and those influenced by him who committed the crimes for which the noble and upright General Homma and the honorable General Kawaguchi were declared “war criminals” and executed and for which Colonel Jimbo almost suffered a similar fate for trying to stop. They are the men that deserve to be honored and remembered. They are also names that should be remembered in the controversy over the names enrolled at Yasakuni Shrine. Not all of those convicted of war crimes were actually war criminals, some were actually the exact opposite of that, while others who were guilty of heinous acts are not included on that list at all.


  1. "I have never been very enthusiastic about the idea of 'war criminals' in general."

    Shall I take this as agreeing, that though Franco was right in the War 36-39, his exaction of punishment on war criminals was excessive?

    1. Not familiar enough with the cases or the legal system in use there to comment. That, however, is a different issue as it involves a single country and a single legal code. Whether it was fairly applied, I don't know but it's not the same as having a legal system devised by one group of countries to be used to judge another group of countries that never submitted to it.

  2. "There were also those, in both Japan and Germany, who would have been convicted of war crimes were it not for the fact that they were deemed useful by one of the Allied powers (usually the Soviet Union or America) and thus were spared."

    Shall I take this as an agreement "psychiatry" has profited from Nazi Doctor Camp Criminals?

    Perhaps the twenty tried in Doctors' Trial were just those who had a conscience and refused to collaborate, plus Mengele tried and found guilty in contumaciam?

  3. Were the holocaust and the Bhutan death march made up? The mercy of the allies after WWII is unparalleled in human history: the Western Allies (not the U.S.S.R) helped build up the nations they defeated rather than imposing territorial (pre-agression) indemnities or fiscal ones. The essential truth is that the Nazi Regime of Germany and the Empire of Japan commited genoicidal atrocities against the peoples they conquered, were clearly the aggressors, and broke the Geneva conventions of warfare in hideous ways. France, the U.K., and the U.S. did not. The war crime trials at Nuremberg and in Japan were justice tempered with exceeding mercy. The entire S.S. (excluding secretaries et cetera) might justly have been executed along with every Japanese officer who served his emperor in a concentration camp or permitted the rape of Nanking or the extreme excesses of the occupation of Manchuko. Monarchy is the best form of government, but which monarchical family has the moral track record of the U.S. presidential first families? So too the soldiers of the Emperor behaved worse on the battlefield according to the Geneva conventions and the Western way of war (adherants of which claim it to be objectively "good" even if not accepted by enemies) than the republican citizens of the U.S. What is so distasteful about giving dead republicans their due for personal morality, a serious attempt at justice, a torrent of mercy, and courage?

    1. No one said the Holocaust or *Bataan* death march were made up, but your hysteria does rather make my point that a dispassionate look at the evidence is rarely possible under wartime or immediate post-wartime conditions. As for the trials themselves, they were just in some cases but blatantly unjust in others. General Yamashita, for example, was executed for crimes committed by forces that were not under his command, doing things he did not order them to do and which he did not even know had occurred. That is *not* justice. Nor have any of the victorious countries ever submitted to such a standard of judgment themselves.

      That is one of the main problems, that justice is not "just" unless it is evenly applied. Was any Soviet commander punished for the mass murders and the rape of 9 million German women at the end of the war? No. That doesn't mean Axis forces were not guilty of crimes but it is hardly justice to punish them for something that someone else is allowed to do without facing the same punishment.

      To an extent the Allies even recognized this which is why they did not punish any Axis naval commanders for waging unrestricted submarine warfare or any air force officers for bombing civilians. It wasn't because no one wanted to punish them but because the Allies had done exactly the same and as far as bombing civilians they did even worse (which is not to say the Axis wouldn't have done if they had had the ability to). Was the Soviet Union punished for invading Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or invading Poland along with the Germans? Was Britain or Russia punished for invading neutral Iran? No.

      To say the trials were in many (not all) cases unjust is NOT to say that those on trial were not guilty. You're reading into it what you want to see. The fact of the matter is that there *were* innocent men who were unjustly put to death and there were guilty men who were able to escape unscathed. That is not how justice works.

  4. I always find it ridiculous when people voice their distrust of what an absolute monarch, such as Hirohito, might do with his power, as if absolute monarchs had more power than the worst of tyrants and dictators, such as Mao Zedong or Joseph Stalin. Some republicans argue that if Japan had been democratic in the 1930s, it would not have invaded China and attacked the United States. Fair enough, a democratic Japan might have made different decisions, but would this certainly have prevented war or significantly reduced the possibility of war? After all, democratic nations have done their share of bad things, and absolute monarchy can, by no means, be blamed for all evil or be distrusted as a source of absolute evil. Democracies are no guarantee for peace. Even if all nations of the world became democratic, there would be enough reasons, be they justified or not, for nations to go to war with one another, as they have done throughout history. A democratic world does not necessarily mean world peace, which is, in and of itself, a quite preposterously idealistic and grand, Utopian republican idea.

    1. It's certainly true when you consider that Japan was democratic before and during World War II. They still had elections for the lower house, it was not how most countries operate today of course but it had multi-party democracy when Germany and Italy were both having none of it. Early in the Showa era the right to vote in local assemblies was extended to Taiwan. Even after the Imperial Rule Assistance Association gained its height of power, leaders of opposition parties still remained in the Diet so that democracy, such as it was, never went away. And, of course, none of it stopped anyone from making bad decisions. There is no such thing as a system that can make governments impervious to the poor choices of either leaders or an electorate.

  5. Could you please sign and share this petition to keep the United Kingdom United?

  6. Hello, M.M.,

    Here is something I believe might be of interest to you, with regards to a petition circulating to create a national holiday in honor of The United Kingdom. While there is currently only royal commemoration and saints days celebrating the diversity of the different nations within the UK, I believe it would be most fitting and timely to have a day in honor of Britain as a whole, to inspire patriotism and a deeper understanding of history. Even though I know you cannot sign it personally, since it is reserved for British citizens, if you could please advertise it among your many followers on this blog, and your other projects, you would be doing a great service to Queen and Country, as I know many Brits follow your blog and would be most keen on taking your lead if you were to lend us your support for the petition. Here is the link for it:

    Thank you and God bless!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...