War Trials – WWII – part one

Gen. Yamshita at defense table

Gen. Yamshita at defense table

Just as the Japanese surrenders occurred in different places and on different dates, so were the trials. The regulations used differed and the criminal charges varied. Preparations for the war crimes started early in mid-1942 due to the heinous reports coming out of China during the Japanese invasion in 1937. The home front recollections of these proceedings might differ from the facts stated here because of the media slant at the time and sensationalism. Often, the stories were even inaccurate, such as in Time magazine, the writer ranted about Yamashita’s brutality during the Bataan Death March. The truth of the matter was – Yamashita was in Manchuria at the time. All in all, 5,600 Japanese were prosecuted during 2,200 trials. More than 4,400 men and women were convicted and about 1,000 were executed and approximately the same number of acquittals. Soviet trials are not included here as these were held merely as propaganda show pieces. The defendants mostly pleaded guilty, made a public apology and said something wonderful about communism and the “People’s Paradise” of Russia.

correspondents

correspondents

General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s case was the most famous of the American trials and was presided over by a military commission of 5 American general officers (none of which had any legal training) and held in the ballroom of the U.S. high commissioner’s residence. The charge was “responsibility for the death and murders tolerated – knowingly or not.” The general’s defense council, Col. Harry Clark, argued that no one would even suggest that the Commanding General of an American occupational force would become a criminal every time an American soldier committed a crime – but, Yamashita was just so accused.

Yamashita testifies

Yamashita testifies

MacArthur let it be known that Truman wanted the proceedings to be completed at the earliest possible date. It became obvious that the verdict was predetermined; even one correspondent at the scene reported, “In the opinion of probably every correspondent covering the trial, the military commission came into the courtroom the first day with the decision already in its collective pocket.” Many observers felt that Yamashita was not being accorded due process as MacArthur and the commission refused to provide copies of the transcript. Proof that the general had known of the atrocities was never given, but after closing arguments, it was announced that the verdict would be given in two days. Significantly, the guilty verdict was given on 7 December 1945. The general was hanged in Manila, Philippines on 23 February 1946 because the men he commanded had committed evil acts during the war.

Yamashita's military commission

Yamashita’s military commission

Yamashita hearing the verdict of guilty

Yamashita hearing the verdict of guilty

Hundreds of others were also prosecuted in the American trials, including Lt. General Matsaharu Homma, the man who actually did order the Bataan Death March and the bombing of the undefended “open city” of Manila. His headquarters had been 500 yards from the road the prisoners had marched and died on and he had admitted having driven down that road of blood many times. He was sentenced to hang.  His wife appealed to MacArthur to spare him – which he refused, but did execute Homma by the less disgraceful method of firing squad.

Gen. Homma with his lawyers

Gen. Homma with his lawyers

During these trials in the Philippines, 215 Japanese faced criminal charges and 20 were declared innocent and 92 were given the death sentence. In one case, Philippine President Manuel Roxas appealed to China’s Chiang Kai-shek to spare the life of one Japanese officer who had saved his life and that of several other Filipinos. The request was granted.

Manila Hotel Annex, Dec. 1945 during trials G. Mountz collection

Manila Hotel Annex, Dec. 1945 during trials
G. Mountz collection

American tribunals were held in Shanghai for those accused of executing American airmen under the “Enemy Airmen’s Act” due to the Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942, when many prisoners were murdered as an act of revenge for that mission of bombing Japan early in the war.

Abe Koso under guard

Abe Koso under guard

The U.S. Navy tried the Japanese accused of crimes on the islands. Three were held on Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands and 44 were put on trial on Guam. These were closely held in conjunction with British, Australian and Indonesian officials. Abe Koso, became the naval commander at Kwajalein and ordered the beheading of nine Marine Raiders that were left behind after the Makin Raid. Koso defended his acts by claiming the Marines were U.S. spies. The tribunal rejected his claim and 19 June 1947, he was hanged.

There were 19 cases brought up for medical experiments at Truk. (Most people have only heard of these abominable acts from the Nazis.) Another was held for the slaughter of 98 Pan American airline employees on Wake Island in 1943. And ten others were sentenced to death; 18 were convicted of murdering civilians in the Palaus.

Courtroom gallery of spectators, Manila, P.I.

Courtroom gallery of spectators, Manila, P.I.

Click on images to enlarge.
######################################################################################

Farewell Salutes –

Sherman Wagenseller – San Diego, CA; Petty Officer 3d Class, U.S. Navy, WWII

Dr. Sidney Franklin – Philadelphia, PA & Los Lunas, NM; U.S. Army Medical Corps, 3d Army, WWII ETO

Fred T. Epson – Chicago, Ill. & Boynton Bch., FL; Illinois National Guard, WWII, ferried aircraft for the military

Joseph Phillips Morton – Long Beach, CA; Eighth Army Air Corps, 44th Bomb Group, bombardier, WWII

Harold Westmoreland – Dallas, TX; U.S. Navy, Korea

Itsuo Zoriki – Los Angeles, CA; 442d Antitank Company, WWII

Herbert Shapiro – Old Bethpage, NY & Lake Worth, FL; U.S. Navy, WWII

Jack Thomas – W. Palm Beach, FL; U.S. Merchant Marines, WWII

#####################################################################################

Resources: history.net; WWII magazine; Wikipedia; George Mountz Collection of photos at genealogycenter.ifo/military; dastardlybastards.com

#####################################################################################

Advertisements

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 17, 2013, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 70 Comments.

  1. Homma was NOT hung as the article says. His sentence was changed by MacArthur to execution by firing squad. Homma’s wife personally requested the change. He was executed on April 3, 1946

    Like

    • The editing has been taken care of, I don’t know how I could have made such a mistake (and it had gone so long undetected), but thank you for sharing with your knowledge and eagle eye! I appreciate you taking the time to comment, Lars.

      Like

  2. There’s two kinds of war criminals in such trials, military and civilian. Civilians of course, are a pretty obvious procedure, such as Slobodon Milosevic of Serbia. But, when it comes to military and para-military personnel, especially officers that changes the entire legal landscape because there often are no civil laws or legal precedent which apply to what they may be charged with. Gen. Yamashita’s case is one such situation.

    Let’s say for a moment, the Bataan Death March occurred on the instructions of a Japanese civilian official. That person probably would not have even been charged at all. Because they would not be expected to have the foggiest idea on handling POW’s. Military personnel however, are expected to know, particularly officers.

    Yamashita’s judges were fellow generals without legal training for that reason. The case was not a ‘murder trial’, it was a military war crimes trial. Some war crimes are such that you literally have to be trained military to even be charged with that war crime. If Yamashita had been charged and tried by civilians the trial would have been unfair before the gavel hit the wood because he would have been being judged by less than his peers.

    Yamashita’s charges were based on his experience, responsibility and authority as a General on a field of war. Civilian judges, no matter how much legal training they have are not qualified to judge his actions. Generals, are.

    Now, all of that said, the simple fact of the matter is that Japanese commanders were not prepared for the number of troops that surrendered in the Philippines. That had as much to do with the Bataan Death March as the given order itself. For the American side, Yamashita was going to be the scape goat no matter what because of Roosevelt’s decision early in the war to sacrifice the Philippines in order to build up for the war in Europe first. That’s why Yamashita had to hang and it’s also why Gen. MacArthur is the only field commander in U.S. history to lose his entire army to the enemy and remain a field commander.

    Like

    • Excellent points made. I appreciate the time you took to comment. Possibly one more question; if we had lost – would it have been right to put MacArthur on trial, under the rules you mentioned, as Yamashita had? Yamashita was not top general and he wasn’t even close to the Bataan Death March.

      Like

      • Well, I think if we had lost there wouldn’t have been any trials. Only executions. Japan would not have stopped at the West Coast. At some point, there would have been a joint invasion of the USA by the Axis. But, under those rules… MacArthur was ordered out by FDR. He had no intention of leaving the PI. So, he likely would have ended up standing next to Wainwright on the deck of the Missouri while some other general administered the surrender, or perhaps Nimitz.

        Like

      • Oh, and on Yamashita… he didn’t need to be physically present. Under International Rules of War, if he left any standing orders that contributed to a war crime, then he can be liable. But, just my personal opinion I still think he was made the bogey-man by Truman/MacArthur and I think that was the plan even before FDR died. FDR probably would have brought him to DC and made big show out of it.

        Like

        • Yamashita wasn’t in the P.I. at all for Bataan and had not been there to leave orders. He went from Japan to Manchuria and years later to the Philippines.

          Like

          • Yeah, he was sent there in 1944. I did some research and can only find that Gen. Homma was prosecuted for the Bataan Death March. Yamashita was tried for the Manila Massacre during the second PI Campaign, 1944-45. He was also tried for the Sook Ching Massacre in Singapore. Yamashita was in command of the 1941/42 Malaya/Singapore invasions and took the surrender of the British under Percival.

            Like

  3. As always, history is written by the victors, and “to the victor, the spoils”.

    Justice doesn’t come into it … as an atheist I can sincerely say “If I were God, all war criminals would get their just desserts. Ain’t gonna happen, though. As Stalin(?) said “God is on the side of the big battalions”.

    Like

    • Every country writes their version of what happened. That’s why I try to find first hand accounts and info from both sides. I also do my utmost to keep my personal opinions out of the story – unless I can’t keep my mouth shut – then I’ll let the readers know – it is my opinion.:)

      Like

      • Wish all historians were like you.

        But then the mainstream/official ones would be out of a job pretty quick. Professionals know better than to bite the hand …

        Like

  4. My family suffered during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Singapore. In fact, my father was beaten up, my grandpa was bundled off to work the Siam Death Railway and one of my uncles was beheaded (he was 17 at the time) for providing Australian stragglers with whatever meagre food the family could spare – the Aussies would creep out to the villages at night to scavenge. If you wish, check out my post > http://ericalagan.net/2012/01/23/1312/

    In my opinion the Allies could not stomach that with less men and resources, Yamashita beat the shit out of the British and overran Malaya and ‘fortress’ Singapore. The attacking Japanese force had 1/3 the manpower of the defending British/Australian/NZ and Indian forces. This flew in the face of all military doctrine back then that attackers must enjoy a 3-to-1 advantage in numbers.

    The trial and execution of Yamashita is a crying shame and a blemish on the Allied victory.

    I agree with you that if we applied the same principles applied to Yamashita at his trial – many WW2 Allied commanders would have gone to the gallows – and probably every single Soviet commander from Zhukov down!

    Like

  5. SUPERB research and report once again, gpcox! Truly excellent. You approached sensitive facts objectively and professionally.

    Where did you find these photos? The JAVA may appreciate a couple of them. My father didn’t arrive in Tokyo/Yokohama until late in ’47 but he said he translated for maybe 40 to 50 trials. The ones he participated in involved rape, brutality or murder allegations, he said, but wouldn’t say more. There is one picture of him taken in front of a quonset hut he said his guys waited in there until they were called. Quite a few, he said, were conducted in said quonset huts.

    Wonderful report once again. Keep these coming!

    Like

    • Thank you very much, I try to keep my own opinion to myself – I wasn’t there, so I can only report. Your father must have heard some truly horrendous details in his work; the mental images must have lingered. ( It’s almost as if the crime injured again.) Resources for the photos are at the end of the post, easily accessed with AOL Images.

      Like

  6. Interesting post. It is so important to get these things right, as soon as you respond irrationally and unfairly, you lose the moral high ground (Guantanamo, Abu Graib etc)
    During my father’s (ex FEPOW on the Thailand/Burma railway) life, my brother made contact with a Japanese researcher of the period. I have here the copy of Building the Burma-Thailand Railway 1942-43: An Epic of World War II by Kazuo Tamayama sent to my father. This is full of the tales by different engineers and guards of their experience of building the railway. This includes men who were convicted of war crimes and ends with the note written before execution by the commander of one camp. He talks about his thankless situation (the jungle and the orders to complete the railway), he goes on:
    “Under these most adverse conditions, I proceeded to perform my duty with selfless devotion to my country, as well as doing my best to improve and rationalise the situation in the branch. It was not in my power to prevent many precious lives being lost during the construction work because of such adverse conditions. It was in no way due to maltreatment on my part.”
    While I think it is true that many people were carrying out impossible orders, it does not excuse the sadism so often involved in the treatment of POWs. One commander under whom my father worked, was a vengeful and sadistic man. As my father said in his memoirs, it was of some comfort that Noguchi was hanged after the war.

    Like

    • A wonderful addition of information, Hillary, thank you. In situations such as your father went thru brings out the darkest side of that human nature has to offer. Thank God he survived.

      Like

  7. Thanks again for such an enlightening post. It makes me wonder about why we don’t ‘come clean’ about our own misdeeds as much as we do when we shine the light on what Japan and Germany did when we speak of ‘atrocities.’
    I had no idea that we were basically allowing court trials to be held by officials who had no legal training. Could you imagine yourself in a similar situation in a foreign country, being tried by people like that? Gives ‘rush to judgment’ a whole new angle for me.
    I think the U.S. finally saw how powerful vengeance could be when we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I believe the U.S. had it’s own conscience to grapple with once we saw the extent of the incredible devastation and civilian casualties we were responsible for with those bombings. Thank you again gp for another very thought-provoking post.

    Like

  8. What an incredible exercise to undertake so many trials and relatively quickly. Now we have the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague with trials taking years, it seems. Fascinating post.

    Like

  9. Good research, interesting historical facts. I never heard about the Wake Island slaughter of Panam personnel. The information we usually get is very general about the mistreatment of POWs.

    Like

  10. Great post as always. So sad to see that war crimes still go on and on…and such a lot of effort is used to bring people to justice and bring them to trial.

    Like

  11. My book group read Unbroken and I believe most of us were unaware of the extent of the harsh treatment (to say the least) in the prisoner of war camps in Japan.
    Your post has also shown me that I knew so little about the trials and predetermined outcomes.

    Like

    • That’s great. If anyone wants to continue with that interest, they might want to try, “Surviving the Sword” by Brian MacArthur. The predetermined trial was Yamashita, they remainder appeared to be well within due process.

      Like

  12. This is not really on topic but did you ever play world of tanks? It is a game where you play as tanks from ww1 to Korea. The tanks are extremely realistic and you can learn a lot from it. You should check it out.

    Like

  13. Another thoughtful piece. I admire these so much. It’s hard to confront that the tendency is for the “winners” of war to justify immoral response to atrocities — that we can feel that our enemies don’t deserve due process. I don’t know what I would be pushed to do in a war scenario. But I doubt I would do any better than most. Such important history, to help us see the choices that were made.

    Like

    • I must say, I had my doubts about fairness in the Yamashita trial – that was like hanging MacArthur because a soldier somewhere committed a crime; but as a whole, the trials did appear to be within due process.

      Like

  14. Amazing post again

    Like

  15. Thanks for continuing with the aftermath of the war in the Pacific. I note one error in this post however, General Homma was not hanged. Shortly after the death sentence was confirmed, he was awakened late one night, driven by jeep to a field. Jeeps that had brought selected witnesses were aligned so that their headlights shone on the General who was shot by a firing squad at midnight.

    Like

    • I would like to notify World War II magazine and history.net of their inaccurate information – where does your data come from so they can correct it in their files?

      Like

      • I had a friend in Palo Alto, Col. Rhodes Arnold, who had been a commandant of the POW camp near Manila where Lt. Gen Homma was held. He related this these events to me personally in the 1970’s. .He said that his staff regarded Gen. Homma as a decent and proper military leader. His mein, even as a prisoner, commanded these American officers’ respect. Homma, he said, had taken real measures to protect Filipino civilians. He had ordered decent treatment of the POWs he’d tatken at the fall of Corregador, however he had anticipated only about one third of the the 75,000+ American and Filipino POWs he ended up with at the surrender and was unable to adequately cope with the onslaught of 75,000 many of whom were sick and woun ded. The troops that were assigned to move these poor wretches from Corregedor were not regularly trained Imperial Army professionals. Among Homma’s taff were more than a few junior officers loyal to general officers of the Imperial Army senior to Homma. These officers plotted against Gen. Homma with false reports secretly transmitted to their benefactors is Tokyo and Saipan. The Americans used these calumnies against Homma at his trial. Rancor over the Bataan Death March and the specious evidence against Homma sealed his fate. After MacArthur denied any relief from the death sentence, which ordered hanging, Arnold and his staff documented (in writing) a search among his troops for any man with pre-war experience as an executioner, specifically a hangman, knowing full well such a find to be highly unlikely. With this as his caveat, he decided to risk it and honor Gen. Homma with the more dignified death by fireing squad. Homma was awakened, driven to a field, and executed by an Army firing squad at midnight, and according to Col. Arnold, sadly and unjustly executed. On a personal level, allow me to add that my Uncle, Roy Tipton, an employee of the United States Treasury in Manila, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, severely tortured, and held for four years in Santo Tomas College with 5000 other civilan prisoners. I know that the Japanese effected many inhumane and cruel actions. As a young sailor in the Pacific in the 60’s and 70’s I heard many, many accounts of the abuses Japanese Occupation. But I also came to know war through my own experiences later in Viet Nam. Believe me, our troops, as all conquering forces, not infrequently acted with shame. Your blog presents events of the war as factually and acurately as any I’ve read, and I do so appreciate your ablility to lend the personal touch. The method of execution of Gen. Homma is a minor point, please do not think I’m nitpicking or criticising your reportace. You do a fine job, and I thank you. – Gary Ives, YNCS, USN, Ret.

        Like

  16. My great uncle was in the British merchant marine and his whole crew was captured early on and held as a Japanese prisoner of war – I believe in the Philippines. Not many survived – he did but as a broken man for the rest of his life. Man’s inhumanity to man though, knows no borders its sad to say. Interesting post as always

    Like

    • It’s just a shame the man’s inhumanity to man stuff doesn’t roll onto the politicians end were it started in the first place. And I mean both sides, it DOES take two to have an argument. Thanks for commenting and sincerely sorry to hear the aftereffects of your uncle.

      Like

  17. Great post like always, very interesting… What is your thoughts on the comparison between the Japanese war trials you described and the Nuremberg for example? Btw…side note, I am a fan of Joli, did you see her movie on the Bosnia, I believe, land of milk and honey, if I got it right? My memory isn’t always 100% 🙂

    Like

  18. gpcox – Again, a post filled with interesting information I knew nothing about. I just love your researched details. Thanks for a great post.

    Like

  19. I learn a little something new with every one of your posts and appreciate the research and effort you put into them. My father-in-law was stationed in the Philippines and in all these years has never talked about the war. I often wonder why, but have never had the courage to ask.

    Like

    • I’ve found you have to be specific with your questions, not a general – “What did you do in the war, daddy.” kind of inquiry. Is the gentleman still living?

      Like

      • He is still living, but has made it very clear that topic is off limits. He’ll talk about everything but the war. He’s an interesting guy with a lot of life experience – some of which he chooses not to share.

        Like

        • He obviously saw way too much. Maybe one day he would be up for the idea of writing it down and leaving it in a safety deposit box or with a lawyer for after his passing. He must remember what happened to be so dead set against talking about it. It’s a shame for him to suffer alone.

          Like

  20. This is a good counterpoint to the volumes published about the Nuremberg Trials. Good research here.

    Like

  21. Crash MacDuff

    Reblogged this on rxmacduff.

    Like

  22. Pierre Lagacé

    There is always two sides to a medal, and we will never know the full story behind who did what.

    People back then wanted to punish those who were responsible for atrocities committed during WWII. Atrocities were committed on both sides during all wars. The Vietnam War is a good example with the My Lai massacre. High Command cannot control and never will what goes on the battlefield.

    Great post as always.

    Like

  23. Only one man from my area died in German hands as a POW, however a third of those in Japanese hands died of inhuman treatment.

    Like

  24. Thanks for a great post. I had not read much about the Japanese war crimes until I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s soon to be a movie directed by Angelia Joli. I hope the movie stays true to the story but I will be on the edge of my seat ready with a full box of tissues. I know there will be parts I’ll need to look away too as I did in the Vietnam story Platoon.

    Like

    • I’m not a fan of Joli, but I am glad to see other parts of the war’s history shown, that is, as you say, done according to the truth and not Hollywood sensationalism.

      Like

  25. I don’t know what that means.

    Like

  26. I’m not all that “up” on computer stuff – what exactly do you mean by this?

    Like

  1. Pingback: What Happened on May 3rd – Japanese War Crime Trials Begin | IF I ONLY HAD A TIME MACHINE

  2. Pingback: Forbidden News » How Rothschild Media Played It Against The British & American Citizens During WWII: “Americans Are Loosing The Victory In Europe” January 7, 1946

  3. Pingback: How Rothschild Media Played It Against The British & American Citizens During WWII: “Americans Are Loosing The Victory In Europe” January 7, 1946

  4. Pingback: How Rothschild Media Played It Against The British & American Citizens During WWII: “Americans Are Loosing The Victory In Europe” January 7, 1946 | Political Vel Craft

  5. Pingback: How The Socialists & British Monarchy Played It Against The British & American Governments During WWII: “Americans Are Loosing The Victory In Europe” January 7, 1946 | Political Vel Craft

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: