Pacific War Trials – part one

Yamashita at his trial.

One of the most monumental surrenders in the Pacific War was General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

General Tomoyuki Yamashita as he led his staff officers of the 14th Area Army to surrender, 2 Sept. 1945. He did not believe in hara-kiri.  He said, “If I kill myself, someone else will have to take the blame.”

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.

Trial correspondents

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.

Yamashita’s military commission

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 speaks at his trial.

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 upon hearing the verdict.

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 attorneys

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, 1945

CLCIK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Walter Morgan Bryant Jr. – Delray Beach, FL; USMC, Vietnam (2 tours), Sgt.

Sean Connery (Sir Thomas) – Edinburgh, SCOT; Royal Navy, Able Seaman, HMS Formidable,  /  Beloved Actor

Vincent De Magistris – Chester, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, RHQ/503rd RCT/11th Airborne Division

Jean (Love) Glass – Sokane, WA; Civilian, WWII, Boeing Aircraft

Vernon Hogsett – Lamar, NE; US Army, WWII, Bronze Star

Dave Knight – Skowhegan, ME; US Army, Vietnam, Sgt., 173rd Airborne

James Larson – Denver, CO; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Clarence Mantis – Dayton, OH; US Navy, WWII

Ronald Shurer – Puyallup, WA; US Army, Afghanistan, SSgt., Senior Medical Sgt., Silver Star, Medal of Honor

Billy D. Welch – Hendersonville, NC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, (Ret.)

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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 November 2, 2020, in Post WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 124 Comments.

  1. As always, GP, I am impressed and grateful for your continued coverage of what happened AFTER the shooting stopped in WWII. And for your explanation that what was reported during the trials wasn’t always accurate and in some cases the trials did not result in justice for the guilty as well as the innocent. It was a different time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have not really thought about what happens after the wars before reading this. I didn’t know about trials of the losing sides generals. Thinking about it I have heard about some of the Nazi generals still being brought to trial now but I didn’t think they could be put to death, is it just the ones who were working over the orders of people in charge and being murderous and mean to prisoners?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The press back then was just as awful as the press today. Great post, GP. Thank you for the facts and the real story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yamashita certainly wasn’t responsible for the Bataan Death March (Homma was as you mentioned) and probably not for the Sook Ching massacre. Instead it was a staff officer and tactical planner – Col. Masanobu Tsuji – who was the main culprit in both atrocities and had an arrogant and insubordinate attitude. This guy escaped prosecution for war crimes and was even used as a Cold War asset by the CIA (info from declassified CIA files). He was said to have been kidnapped by the Chinese Communist Party in Laos in 1961 and while there is evidence that he was still alive in 1962, he was never heard from again.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My interest in history is based specifically on meeting my uncle, a refugee Lithuanian Jew, who didnt just “survive” Majdanek death camp, he actually escaped from it! I met him at the age of 7 but became obsessed by the war in the Pacific because of two beloved uncles of mine who were US Marines, one on Guadalcanal, one on Iwo Jima. But Im not a lawyer or a philosopher, so I can not parse every detail of a legal argument about war crimes trials. But here is a little factoid that may play into the emotions of the times: American and Allied POW’s held by the Nazis suffered about 1% or so death rate while in prison camps. (Leave aside Nazi treatment of Russian POW’s who the Nazis were as committed to the total extermination of Russians as they were to the Jews.) Meanwhile, in the Pacific, around 17-20% of Allied POWs held by the Japanese, died or were murdered while in prison camps. The Japanese treated Allied POW’s similarly to the way the Nazis treated Jews or Russians. Japanese culture and its Bushido code had complete contempt for prisoners who surrendered. This contributed a little something to war crimes trials against the Japanese.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. A price to pay by being in authority–taking responsibility for the mistakes (in this case atrocities) committed by those under them. A fair trial would have been an excellent example to the world, but regardless, someone has to take responsibility–and that would be the person in command.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The trial of Yamashita reminds me of what happening today – nearly everything is politics and power-driven, mixed in with hatred. He was basically found guilty of being unable to control his troops.

    On top of that, vengeance was apparent in the five presiding judges (none who had legal backgrounds as you reported) and President Truman and MacArthur wanted him dispensed in quick fashion. I believe their minds were already made up due to hatred and not facts. Interestingly, there was one Caucasian officer there who did the translating (With my old age and medical issues, I have forgotten who it was.). Although I recall his Japanese was very good, they should have had someone there like my father to give the defendant a fair shake.

    Factually, Yamashita landed in the Philippines ten days before MacArthur’s invasion commenced. As you and I both know, Yamashita’s communications with IJA regiments and companies in battle quickly ceased with the effective destruction executed by the US Army and Navy in the first couple of days. My uncle (Dad’s youngest brother) was indeed there under Yamashita’s eventual command and was KIA a few days after the invasion started.

    This is not to say horrific atrocities did not occur. Atrocities will always occur in war.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I had to read this twice, slowly. So much was unfamiliar, and there certainly was a lot to think about. I will say that, even if there were predetermined verdicts, I can understand the desire to move things along, and get the trials over with. I was struck, too, by the mention of death by firing squad being less disgraceful than hanging. Was that related to the Japanese way of understanding things: codes of honor and such?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pacific trials are much less known than the Nuremberg one, and that’s justified, I think. With all the atrocities committed by the Japanese, they were not running extermination camps and gas chambers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. These trials were overshadowed by Nuremberg

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi – good post and sad this happened – enjoyed the first couple of comments too-
    But what really stiff out was the closing comment about coming home and being a threat ;(

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing can be as bad for our military as the reaction to them during Vietnam. That era was a disgrace in so many ways. My heart went out to the veterans.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In the late 1980s – we had a manager who was Vietnam Vet and he lost it a couple times (got really Mad at something) and everyone said it was related to PTS – it was the first time I was exposed to that term and the healing of Vets.
        Side note
        I watched a show earlier this year (and always think of your blog when I watch WWII shows)
        This show was about the spies they arrested – and I guess some of the spies from
        WWII were leaking information during the Korean War and Vietnam – and it broke my heart because those leaks also added to the disaster of that war! Yuck

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for sharing him with us!
    Thank you for always teaching me! I had some pretty good history teachers in my schooling years…but you are my fav!
    HUGS and hope you and your family are safe and well today, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Despite the appalling treatment of prisoners (including my own uncle) by many Japanese, it doesn’t seem fair to convict an overall commander because of the actions of men under his command. Not unless he issued direct orders for them to behave in that way.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s what his defense said as well, but the Allied governments and people who lost loved ones in the war felt otherwise. If we had the hindsight we have now, I doubt this all would have happened, but all we can do is guess.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. A thousand executions. By Americans. After what appear from this description to be kangaroo courts. How awful. I never knew this. Am I right in saying that we didn’t do anything on this scale to the Nazis despite their horrendous crimes against humanity?

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Dale Wilson, B-25 copilot, certainly lost his life because of the Japanese. Do I hope they all perished when their plane crashed in the sea just north of Wewak? Dale and the navigator were later named over Tokyo Radio as POWs, but were they? Do I hope Dale Wilson was a POW for a time? After reading about how airmen were treated, and reading transcripts of the war crimes trials, I hope they weren’t POWs. Only God knows where their remains lie today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If Dale was a POW, we should hope he was sent to Japan. They are still searching for remains, which is how they discover other items in the jungles. Maybe one day, Joy!!!

      Like

  16. Another interesting post

    Liked by 1 person

  17. An excellent and very fair account. There is a certain irony here, though. You quite rightly point out that General Yamashita seems to have been convicted on flawed evidence, yet, sadly, the “Devil Doctors” I did some blog posts about would be welcomed with open arms to the USA after the war. I suppose that their knowledge of germ warfare was considered “useful” whereas Yamashita had nothing to offer except the date of his death.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You stated it exactly right, John. I know the doctors were released after giving their data, but I’ve never heard if anything good ever came out of that God-awful research.

      Like

  18. I think it is wonderful that you are leaving this information for future generations online where it will probably be forever. So much has been hidden, especially from the younger generation.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This was so fascinating to me. These photographs you have are also amazing. I have never read or knew exactly how these people went to trial or what happened to them. Such an excellent and well written piece of history. Thank you my dear friend. Love and hugs to you. 🤗💕Joni

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you for the information about a part of post-WWII history I knew nothing about.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Hij was een eerlijk man die niet wilde ontsnappen. Hij wilde verantwoordelijkheid tonen wat van veel anderen niet kon gezegd worden..

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Very interesting GP, at least he took the right way by accepting responsibility, a shame others didn’t follow his lead.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. We didn’t exactly cover ourselves in Glory with the way we conducted those “trials”. I’m not defending the Japanese for the atrocities they committed but to our shame we let political expediency inhibit the proper conduct of those trials. It was an extension of the thinking that led FDR, who full-well knew the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming, threw Admiral Kimmel and General Short under the bus, in effect blaming them for an attack FDR knew was coming but hid the intelligence of it from the Admiral and the General. Truman exhibited the same mentality in the conduct of the war trials and MacArthur, of course, played right along.

    Homma richly deserved to be executed. Yamashita – I’m not so sure he deserved execution. At the least, he deserved a fair trial. Instead he was railroaded to a preordained death.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree with your comments. I’m not so sure about MacArthur, he was a military man thrown into a very high and powerful government job. He proved he was no politician by refusing the nomination to run President, which is why they asked Eisenhower.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Clark’s argument is spot on. But when legal proceedings are controlled by politics and other considerations we might as well be in the Soviet Union.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Reblogged this on Janet's Thread 2 and commented:
    We think we live in terrible times what with Covid etc but actually World War II and its aftermath were not easy by any means.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. This post touched a chord in me because my family lost quite a few members because of the Japanese atrocities.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. Refreshing to learn about him

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Not quite the speed that war crimes trials move these days!

    Liked by 3 people

  29. As always, I am grateful for the history lesson, GP. That cruel streak seems to be inherent in our species – past, present, and most likely, on into the future. We seem to be able to keep a lid on it for the most part, but it doesn’t take much to let it escape again.

    On a bright note, a sunny day is shaping up out there today. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  30. I guess wars have consequences. Who knew?

    Liked by 3 people

  31. Another great post with excellent cartoons. As ironic as this sounds, wish we had a leader who was willing to take responsibility for his actions like Yamashita did.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. The defence had an excellent point that a general cannot be held responsible for every evil act that soldiers under his command have been doing, as long as he has not been aware of such wrongdoings. I am wondering if the transcripts you mentioned are now available to prove posthumously the innocence of General Yamashita.

    Liked by 3 people

  33. Great report, GP. I think it was a foregone conclusion that Yamashita was going to be declared guilty. He was a symbol of the leadership that caused so much pain in the world.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. Definitely a great man, and soldier. We can talk a lot about cruelities during war times. At least the war itself is cruel. Thank you for sharing, GP Enjoy your week. I have heard about a big party, starting tomorrow. 😉 Michael

    Liked by 4 people

  35. You have to admire his willingness to remain alive to stand trial.

    Liked by 4 people

  36. Being a Filipino, I still get teary-eyed hearing about the stories of war in the Philippines & being under the Japanese occupation. How babies were killed, women raped… and how my great grandfather never returned while trying to find food.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. Would you agree that Manchuria also suffered atrocities, massacres, torture, etc during the occupation by Japan?

    Liked by 3 people

  38. At least Yamashita did not deny responsibility for his part in the evil war crimes.

    Liked by 6 people

  39. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

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