Tokyo War Crime Trials essay example

1,486 words
John Dower's "Embracing Defeat" truly conveys the Japanese experience of American occupation from within by focusing on the social, cultural, and philosophical aspects of a country devastated by World War II. His capturing of the Japanese peoples' voice let us, as readers, empathize with those who had to start over in a "new nation". The initial terms of surrender were laid out in the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, in which the United States, Great Britain, and China all participated. But unlike post World War II Germany, which was split into four quadrants among the Allies, the occupation of Japan was solely and American endeavor. This document was by no means tame. Military occupation would see to it that its measure would be properly carried out.

Justice would be served to those "who deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest", Disarmament of the military, reparations as the Allies saw fit, and the "remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people" were also to be enacted. At the head of this revolution, as spelled out in Potsdam, was Douglas MacArthur. General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Power (otherwise known as SCAP), from day one became, except in name, dictator of Japan. No aspect of the Japanese nation was untouched, with special attention directed to the areas military, government, and the economy.

While most revolutions throughout history have emanated from below, starting from the people, the social and political changes forthcoming was truly a "revolution from above". Within a month of landing numerous measures were enacted, either to dissolve existing laws or to create new ones. The "thought police" of the Home Ministry was done away with, as was the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, in which thousands of government critics were imprisoned. Purges o militaristic, high ranking officials occurred, as was the ban on restriction of assembly and speech.

Yet, while political change happened with lightning like swiftness, social change was much slower. Upon arriving to the mainland of Japan, many of the American occupation were stunned at the utter devastation that the Japanese had endured. It was a testament to both the bravery and spirit of their armies, as well as the foolishness of their leaders, that they were able to endure the war as long as they had. Having put most of their economic resources to the war movement, much of the civilian population was left in near famine. With the armies throughout the Pacific being repatriated on a daily basis (although many wouldn't return for year) the conditions became even worse. Despair and hunger set into the populace that was described as the "kyodatsu condition".

With their colonies in Asia no longer in direct control, much of their food supply imports were cut off. Japan had relied heavily upon the importation of rice, sugar, and salt, but access was now severely restricted. To make matters worse, the United States decided to take a hands-off approach to rebuild the economy, a natural decision to punish a nation that caused so much devastation to others. Malnutrition was a leading cause of preventable death in many major cities, and the rapid rise of inflation throughout Japan left the yen almost worthless. While black markets flourished, many civilians who depended upon them arrested for buying from them. The following four years after Japan's surrender each saw an excess of over 1 million people imprisoned for black market transactions.

Crime ran rampant, and many of these conditions wouldn't return to pre-war levels until 1949. Maybe the most controversial topic regarding punishment to those responsible for the Pacific War was the decision to maintain the role of emperor, along with Hirohito, who had occupied the position since 1926. The status of emperor is truly unique to Western thought, for Hirohito laid claim to being a direct descendent of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Much of the fanatical behavior of Japanese soldiers lay in the fact that "the way of the subject is to be loyal to the Emperor in disregard of self, thereby supporting the Imperial Throne coextensive with the Heavens and with the Earth".

With his support, much like Ayatollah Khoemeni, the Pacific War was raised to the level of the Islamic jihad, or "holy war". While many within the states called for his indictment on war crimes, General MacArthur saw to it that his role in Japan's aggression was never really questioned. While it's certain that MacArthur exaggerated the difficulty that would encompass the removal of the emperor, his logic in keeping Hirohito in place was sound: with a familiar figurehead in place, Hirohito would be used as a new symbol of democracy and peace by the U.S. Separating from the state the Shinto religion, and ridding Japan of the imperial government, MacArthur would use Hirohito as a measure of control. One of the demands required of him, though, was the infamous "Declaration of Humanity" that occurred on New Years Day, 1946. In the final revision Hirohito, while claiming to not have been a "god" in a sense, never denied that he was a descendent of the sun goddess as set forth by the Meiji constitution of 1868.

While Hirohito was being exonerated of war crimes, guilt was place on a relatively small group of Japanese leaders. With the Nuremberg Trials as its only precedent, the Tokyo war-crime trials expanded the rules of what was and wasn't acceptable in war. As put forth by the Potsdam Declaration, "stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners". What was so disturbing about these proceedings was the precedent it set forth for future figures of authority. Countries that may way war in the future, whether of defensive nature or acts of aggression, could face dire consequences if on the losing side. Victors could make up the rules as they went, and the defendants could be tried for crimes that may never have been previously established by international law.

At the same time, racism seemed to play a large part in the proceedings. Much of this had to do with the facts that over 25 percent of American and British soldiers were estimated to have died while captives of the Japanese, compared to 4 percent in Germany. In very un-American fashion, the tribunal required only a majority vote to find the defendants guilty, and the rules of evidence were relaxed a great deal, allowing for the admission of hearsay. With such a stacked deck, very few stood a chance of acquittal, but to the end almost all shielded Hirohito from blame.

Another serious aspect of the "winner takes all" mentality that occurred during the Tokyo trial was the obvious double standard of justice that the Allies exuded. Nothing ever became of the hundreds of thousand Japanese soldiers who remained under Soviet control, as well as the questionable use of force the Americans displayed during the last months of the war. Were the Tokyo fire bombings, as well as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not "crimes against humanity" If "namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed before or during war" is the definition, as stated by Article 5 of the Tokyo charter, than surely the U.S. involvement in the deaths of half a million civilians would fit under this bill. War, though, is never fair, and "to the victors go the spoils" was never so true with regards to the Tokyo war crime trial. In the end, the American occupation provided much insight into how Japan would be run in the future. Having learned from their counterpart the importance of science and technology, it was obvious where Japan had to go to be competitive in the future.

While one of the initial goals of SCAP was to dissolve many of the large zaibatsu conglomerates that dominated the Japanese economy prior to and during war, most were left standing. This allowed for a more rapid reconstruction process after occupation had ended. One ironic twist to all this is that Japan embraced the ideas of management as espoused by an American, Edward Deming, or order to help rebuild the economy. Consequently, the occupation, officially terminated in April of 1952, served to firmly plant a substantial capital of good will that was previously unknown, on which both the United States and Japan would draw from in the years to come. Purges of militaristic, high ranking officials occurred, as was the ban on restriction of assembly and speech.