On today’s date, May 3 in 1946 in Tokyo, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East began hearing the cases against 28 Japanese military and government officials who had been of committing or ordering war crimes and crimes against against both military and civilian personnel during World War Two.
These Trials Differed from Nuremberg,
The way in which these trials were conducted was different from those which were being held in Nuremberg, Germany against the Nazi war criminals in 1946. At the Nuremberg proceedings there were four countries running the trial, with chief prosecutors from the four main powers, the United States, Britain, France, and the U.S.S.R. . In these Tokyo Trials there was only one chief prosecutor – Joseph B. Keenan an American, in fact the former U.S. Attorney General. But Australian William Flood Webb was the presiding judge. And other Allied nations on the prosecution team included China, the Philippines, New Zealand, the Netherlands, France, Canada, and India.
But the Rouge’s Gallery of Criminals Was Almost the Same
At the Nuremberg Trials William Shirer remarked how the men who had once wielded such enormous power, “they no longer resembled the arrogant leaders of old. They seemed to be a drab assortment of mediocrities.” Well the Japanese war criminals certainly had been lowered by several pegs by the time they entered the courtroom of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) in Tokyo. According to Arnold C. Brackman, a U.P. correspondent who covered the trial:
“Former Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoke entered the dock at a painfully slow gait, his face pallid, his cheeks sunken. Ex- Premier Kiichiro Kiranuma’s equine face looked longer and more melancholy than ever. Admiral Osami Nagano, another aged militarist, wore his naval dress blues stripped of all emblems and badges. The figure
most familiar to both Japanese and everyone in the courtroom, Hideki Tojo (above), strode in wearing a dapper khaki bush jacket. Tojo appeared bemused and dispirited, but looked remarkably healthy for a man who had shot himself inn a failed suicide attempt just months before…. General Suzuki maintained his scowl.Thought by many to be the number one power broker in Tokyo, he was accustomed to arriving at Ichigaya in circumstances very different from those of the trial.”
Shorn of all of their military regalia, and their titles of state, Joseph Keenan left them no quarter: “war and treaty-breakers should be stripped of the glamour of national heroes and exposed as what they really are — plain, ordinary murderers.”
The Trial and the Evidence
The trial, which lasted from today’s date in 1946 until November, 1948 included official state documents, depositions and affidavits from over 700 people as well as harrowing eyewitness testimony from more than 400 victims. According to Brackman, the defendants showed varying degrees of interest. While hearing the charges against them read: “All of the defendants, including those who were fluent in English, listened to the Japanese translation over their headphones. Hideki Tojo sat with his hands behind his back; (Shigenori) Tōgō, and Shigemitsu, the two foreign ministers stared blankly ahead….”
Throughout the trial, the defendants displayed various degrees of odd and nervous behavior. While evidence of mass atrocities were read “Shigemitsu leaned forward and cupped his head in his hands. Toshio Shiratori’s long face grew longer; he often bit his lip. Admiral Shimada, who sat behind Okinori Kaya frequently leaned over the dock and ran his fingers nervously along the back of Kaya’s seat…. Hideki Tojo continued his habit of taking copious notes and occasionally picking his nose; one suspected after watching him for months, that the note taking was a theatrical device designed to impress the silent gallery while keeping himself occupied.”
The Verdict on the Main Defendants
But the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. The six main defendants were sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace. These included General Kenji Doihara, chief of the intelligence services, General Seishirō Itagaki, war minister, Kōki Hirota, prime minister (later foreign minister), Lieutenant General Akira Mutō, chief of staff, and General Heitarō Kimura, commander, Burma Area Army. And most important of all General Hideki Tōjō, who as Army leader, and later as Prime Minister became the very face of Japanese military and political aggression ascended to the gallows along with the others at Sugamo Prison in Ikebukuro on December 23, 1948. In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed.
“The Other Nuremburg – the Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials” by Arnold C, Brackman,
William Morrow & Company, Inc., New York, 1987.