Rejection, Acceptance, and Critique of the Tokyo Trial

Domestically, Yoshida’s government rejected the Tokyo Judgment and used the rejection as the basis for justifying the release of war criminals. As Minister of Justice Ohashi Takeo stated, “The Military Tribunal for the Far East and other tribunals by the Allied Powers were not carried out according to Japan’s domestic law. Therefore, those acts that were judged war crimes according to the tribunals and international law can no way be regarded as crimes as far as Japanese law is concerned.”17 The release of war criminals was widely supported by Japanese citizens. Former war crime suspects created the Aid Association for War Criminals (Senso Jukeisha Sewakai) in May 1952 to lobby the government to recommend the prompt release of war criminals. The Japanese Red Cross, religious organizations, and other NGOs also supported the release of war criminals. When the National Rally for the Release of All War Criminals in Sugamo was held in November 1953, approximately thirty million signatures had been collected in support of war criminals.18

With independence regained, Yoshida’s government first ended the purge of war criminals, militarists, and collaborators from public office, allowing Hatoyama Ichiro, Kishi Nobusuke, and Shigemitsu Mamoru, among many others, to return to influential positions in politics. The Diet also adopted three resolutions between June 1952 and August 1953 that recommended clemency, reduced sentences, and parole for war criminals.19 Conservative politicians supported these resolutions most actively. For example, Tago Kazuomi, a member of the ruling Liberal Party (Jiyuto), advocated the release of war criminals by arguing that the Tokyo Judgment was “persuasively objected by Justice Pal of India. All the defense attorneys also argued that the tribunal was unfair . . . and destined to add more wrongs to the wrongs of the war.”20 Hitotsumatsu Sadayoshi, a member of the Progressive Reform Party (Kaishinto) led by Shigemitsu Mamoru, also argued that war criminals were in effect “patriots” (aikokusha), and that the government should save “those who had sacrificed their lives and fought for our country but were given the bad name of war criminal because Japan lost the war.”21

The conservative attacks on the Tokyo Trial intensified when Hatoyama Ichiro became prime minister in December 1954. Hatoyama not only wanted to change the postwar constitution that he thought had been imposed by the Allied powers but also appointed as ministers several former war criminals and purgees, such as Shigemitsu Mamoru (minister of foreign affairs and vice prime minister) and Shoriki Matsutaro (chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission). To be sure, these politicians had been critical of the military leaders during the Asia-Pacific War, but they nonetheless rejected the Tokyo Trial.22 Shigemitsu, in particular, publicly criticized the Tokyo Trial over and again because he was “firmly convinced that those who are called ‘war criminals’ are, in fact, victims of the war.”23 A war criminal was “something that the victors made up one-sidedly,” and it was yet to be determined “whether the Greater East Asia War was really a war of aggression according to the international law.”24 Moreover, Shigemitsu thought that the war was justifiable not only because it had been an act of self-defense, but also because it had benefited Asian countries: “I feel very happy that Asian countries attained the right of self-determination and gained independence after World War II. Japan should be satisfied with this outcome of the war that it participated in.”25 Thus, even though the Japanese government accepted the Tokyo Judgment to regain independence, it was politicians in government that most openly denounced it. This contradiction, which historian Yoshida Yutaka called the “double standard” in addressing international and domestic audiences, was going to define the government’s commemorative position for the following decades.26

In contrast, members of the Japan Communist Party (JCP) commemorated foreign victims actively. Since communists had opposed Japan’s imperialist expansion prior to the Asia-Pacific War, many of them had been tortured to death or imprisoned. JCP members therefore felt that it was crucial to vigorously criticize Japan’s war crimes to prevent postwar Japan from regressing into its prewar state. JCP members were also the most internationally oriented among Japanese politicians at the time because they maintained solidarity with other communist countries, including the People’s Republic of China, which had suffered greatly from Japan’s past aggression. During the Diet session in April 1952, for example, JCP member Kato Mitsuru expressed his objection to the release of war criminals by citing graphic details of Japan’s war crimes from the Tokyo Trial:

In Nanjing in December 1937, even after the battle ended, the Japanese army killed about 95,000 Chinese citizens, women, and children by committing every conceivable atrocity under the command of Matsui

Iwane: execution, decapitation, cutting out a tongue, burning to death, hollowing out eyes, beating and kicking to death, raping as an individual and as a group, raping a dead body, and so on. . . . The Japanese imperialists killed ten million Chinese, more than one million Filipinos, and committed all sorts of atrocities in Vietnam, Malay, Indonesia, Burma, New Guinea, and elsewhere.27

From the JCP’s perspective, the release of war criminals would amount to forgetting Japan’s war crimes and evading its war responsibility.

The JCP was also opposed to signing the San Francisco Peace Treaty because the treaty excluded the People’s Republic of China from its signatories. JCP member Hayashi Hyakuro argued that a “peace treaty” without China would not bring peace in the real sense: “If we want to rebuild Japan as a peace-loving and democratic nation in Asia, we should offer atonement and apologies for China, the country that we victimized most severely, and build friendly relations with the Chinese people. I believe this is the most urgent task for the government in its attempt to settle legacies of the Asia- Pacific War.”28 Thus, JCP members, who completely accepted the Tokyo Judgment, strongly protested against the conservative government.

The JSP, the largest opposition party in the postwar period, took a somewhat different position than the JCP on both the release of war criminals and the Tokyo Trial. Representing the JSP, Taman Hirofumi supported the release of war criminals “by considering the plight of families of war criminals . . . and especially the fact that many of the Class B and C war criminals have turned out to be wrongly convicted.”29 Taman did not endorse the release because he rejected the Tokyo Trial, as his conservative counterparts did, but because he felt sympathy for the wrongly convicted Japanese soldiers and their families. From the JSP’s perspective, clemency, reduced sentences, or parole for the wrongly convicted was not meant to absolve Japan of its war crimes. As another JSP member, Ono Koichi, put it, “We must express our remorse (kaigo) and repentance (kaihsun) for the mistakes, the atrocities that we committed against people in Asia,” and such remorse and repentance was the precondition for the release of war criminals.30

At the same time, the JSP took a critical stance toward the Tokyo Trial. JSP member Furuya Sadao argued that he could never accept the act of prosecuting only Japan’s war crimes, especially when he considered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “the most atrocious acts in human history. Since these atrocities have not been prosecuted, we the Japanese people cannot accept the fact that Class B and C war criminals, prosecuted for far less atrocious acts, are still imprisoned.”31 Another JSP member, Aono Takeichi, went so far as to suggest that the US generals, officers, and pilots should be prosecuted by an international war tribunal for their “inhumane act of atomic-bombing.”32 In this regard, the JSP was different from the JCP, which uncritically accepted the Tokyo Judgment. The JSP accepted the judgment but explicitly argued that the trial had serious flaws, including the failure to subject the Allied powers to the same standards of criminal justice.

But the position of JSP members also differed from that of conservative politicians. Although members criticized the unfairness of the Tokyo Trial, they did not deny Japan’s war crimes as the conservatives did. Instead of entirely discrediting the trial for failing to prosecute war crimes committed by the Allied powers, JSP members called for a fairer international tribunal that would prosecute war crimes on both sides. The JSP thus occupied a middle ground between conservative politicians and the JCP.33

In summary, after Japan regained independence in 1952, roughly two different commemorative positions on the Asia-Pacific War emerged through the debates surrounding the Tokyo Trial. The first, dominant position was taken by conservative politicians who embraced the nationalist logic of commemoration and refused to remember the suffering of foreign victims of Japan’s past aggression. In contrast, the opposition parties, such as the JCP and the JSP, commemorated foreign victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings by adopting the cosmopolitan logic, though they adopted different positions on the Tokyo Trial. These proponents of cosmopolitan commemoration, however, were outnumbered by the conservatives. The latter seized the political opportunities after SCAP’s reverse course, gained access to the government, and promoted nationalist commemoration by rejecting the Tokyo Trial as invalid and justifying Japan’s past aggression as an act of self-defense.

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