JUDGMENT AT TOKYO - The Japanese War Crimes Trials.
Was justice served at the Tokyo trials? The answer depended on a variety of factors, most of them political….Standing in contrast to the concerns of its many critics, the Tokyo tribunal’s commitment to justice and fair play continued to its ending days. And so did the controversies." —from the book
“They are plain, ordinary murderers,” cried Chief Prosecutor Joseph B. Keenan, and the court at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials believed him. As a result, Japanese officers and soldiers who conducted beheading demonstrations, engaged in unethical medical experiments, or even practiced cannibalism on POWs, were found guilty of the more prosecutable charge of murder. In the years since the Japanese war crimes trials concluded, the proceedings have been colored by charges of racism, vengeance, and guilt.
Tim Maga contends that despite these charges, the trials encompassed some of the most fascinating criminal cases of the twentieth century. Judgment at Tokyo is a bold reassessment of the trials, in which defendants ranged from lowly Japanese Imperial Army privates to former prime ministers. Maga shows that these were cases in which good law was practiced and that they changed the ways war crimes trials are approached today.
In contrast to Nuremberg, the efforts in Tokyo, Guam, and other locations throughout the Pacific received little attention by the Western press. Once the Cold War began and America needed Pacific allies, the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers throughout the 1930s and early 1940s were rarely mentioned. The trials were dismissed as phony justice and “Japan Bashing.”
Since the defendants did not represent a government for which genocide was a policy pursuit, their cases were more difficult to prosecute than those of Nazi war criminals. Keenan and his compatriots adopted criminal court tactics and established precedents in the conduct of war crimes trials that still stand today. Maga reviews the context for the trials, recounts the proceedings, and concludes that they were, in fact, decent examples of American justice and fair play.
Tim Maga, Oglesby Professor of American Heritage at Bradley University and a former coordinator in the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, is the author of Hands Across the Sea? U.S.- Japan Relations, 1961-1981.
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