The Tokyo Trial and the Reverse Course

The Tokyo Trial seated eleven judges from eleven Allied powers: Britain, British India, the United States, the Republic of China, France, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Philippines, and the Soviet Union. The same eleven countries also sent eleven prosecutors with support teams. Twenty-eight Class A war crime suspects were tried, including Tojo Hideki, the former prime minister who had made the decision to enter war with the United States in December 1941; Itagaki Seishiro, an army general who was involved in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in July 1937; and Matsui Iwane, another army general who had directed the attack on Nanjing in December 1937. These and the other twenty-five Class A suspects were defended by a team of Japanese and American attorneys.7

A focal point of the Tokyo Trial was the category of crimes against peace, or Class A war crimes, defined as acts of planning, conspiring, and executing an aggressive war. Whereas the Nuremberg Trials determined that a war of aggression was a punishable crime under international law, the eleven judges of the Tokyo Trial were still divided over the issue.8 Toward the end of the trial, however, the judges from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the Philippines, and the United States formed a majority accepting the Nuremberg Trials’ position; three judges, from British India, France, and the Netherlands, dissented.9

The Japanese defendants pleaded not guilty to all charges. Kiyose Ichiro, a chief defense attorney for Tojo Hideki, justified the Asia-Pacific War as an act of self-defense. Kiyose argued that the Chinese military had been responsible for the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, and that Japan had begun the war with the Allied powers because “Japan had no other choice but [to] exercise its right to self-defense, simply to survive the impossible situation.”10 Tojo, too, justified the war as an act of self-defense and stated that he had made the right decision, both legally and morally.11

Along with crimes against peace, the Tokyo Trial prosecuted violations of war conventions (e.g., abuse of prisoners of war) and crimes against humanity (e.g., killing of civilians). The prosecutors submitted a number of testimonies about Japan’s wartime atrocities against civilians across Asia, such as Japanese troops executing people in Singapore, and forcing local women to serve as military “comfort women” in the Dutch East Indies.12 Among these atrocities against civilians in Asia, the Nanjing Massacre was the most extensively investigated at the trial because the prosecutor from the Republic of China brought a large amount of evidence and many testimonies. Although people in Japan had not been informed of the massacre during the war because of government censorship, the evidence and testimonies were so overwhelming that the defendants and defense lawyers managed to make only brief counterarguments.13

On November 4, 1948, ChiefJustice William Webb of Australia handed out the 1,445-page judgment. The Tokyo Judgment accepted that the leaders of the Japanese government had conspired for aggression, rejecting the argument that Japan had only exercised its right to self-defense. The judgment also accepted Japan’s conventional war crimes against the Allied powers.14 Seven defendants, including Tojo, were sentenced to death. Sixteen were sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, including Kaya Okinori, who would later become a minister of justice. Two defendants, including Shi- gemitsu Mamoru, a future minister of foreign affairs, were sentenced to imprisonment for multiple years. Two other defendants died during the trial, and a third was taken out of the trial because he became mentally ill. In addition to the majority opinion, Delfin Jaranilla of the Philippines filed a separate opinion criticizing the sentences as too lenient. William Webb also hinted at the emperor’s war responsibility in his separate opinion, though he agreed with the majority about the l egal basis for prosecuting crimes against peace. Radhabinod Pal of India, Henri Bernard of France, and B. V. A. Roling of the Netherlands filed dissenting opinions. While Pal rejected the legal basis to prosecute crimes against peace, Bernard and Roling accepted it but disagreed with the majority about its justification. Bernard also questioned the tribunal’s decision not to indict Emperor Hirohito.15

Although the Tokyo Trial exposed Japan’s war crimes, it did not prosecute all Class A war crime suspects. Originally, SCAP had planned multiple rounds of international military tribunals. But the trial exposed significant logistical problems and disagreements among the Allied powers.16 By the late 1940s, the Cold War had also intensified between the United States and its Western allies, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, on the other. SCAP therefore shifted its policy focus from thorough demilitarization and democratization to swift reconstruction and remilitarization of Japan as an ally in the fight against communism. As part of this “reverse course,” SCAP released nineteen Class A war crime suspects—i ncluding Kishi Nobusuke, who 1 ater became a prime minister—from Sugamo Prison on December 24, 1948, one day after seven

Class A war criminals were executed. Moreover, SCAP made only microfilms of the trial records available, and only at select places, such as the Library of Congress—a stark contrast to the proceedings and judgment of the Nuremberg Trials, which were published in forty-two volumes in Germany.

This reverse course in SCAP’s policy accelerated after the Korean War broke out in June 1950. SCAP pressed the Japanese government to establish the National Police Reserve (Keisatsu Yobitai) in August 1950, so that Japan could defend itself while US troops moved out to the Korean Peninsula. During the buildup to the Korean War, SCAP also purged communists from public office, newspaper companies, and corporations, as well as suspended the communist newspaper Akahata. Moreover, SCAP began to allow former war crime suspects, militarists, and collaborators to return to public office in June 1951. Against the backdrop of the reverse course, Yo- shida Shigeru’s government signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty on September 8, 1951, by officially accepting the Tokyo Judgment as a condition for regaining Japan’s independence.

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