|Second Philippine Republic
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
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
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
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
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
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.