The Tokyo Trials – How America Sabotaged Justice in the Far East, 1945-58
Posted on July 30th, 2022

Senaka Weeraratna

A critical comment

Japanese leaders have unfortunately paid the supreme penalty for their defiance of the West. They were brought before Tribunals which in the words of their own American judges were nothing but ‘ high grade lynch mobs’. In a sense, these Tribunals were nothing but ‘ Kangaroo Courts’.

A survey of Courts set up by colonial authorities all over the world in European colonies to try freedom fighters, whether they be black, brown, yellow, or even white, shows a remarkable consistency in the manipulation of justice to serve the political ends of colonial rulers.

Victor’s Justice was what was served to those who had fought for the freedom of their people and were unfortunate to be defeated and then be brought before courts accused of committing crimes against peace, humanity, and war crimes.

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (also known as the Tokyo Trials) was a larger and more sophisticated manifestation of Kangaroo Court-type trials held in European colonies during the last 500 years.

In Sri Lanka, the rebels who fought in freedom struggles in 1818 and 1848 were executed and the entire communities in rebel-controlled territories were subject to vicious reprisals e.g. Uva- Wellassa (1818) and Matale (1848) that were not very different from what happened to the innocent civilians in Lidice in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1942.

The Nuremberg Trials for major Nazi War Criminals (1946) and the Tokyo Trials for Japanese wartime leaders were not conducted on the same footing though there were some similarities in respect to the procedure adopted. There were critical differences in the alleged war crimes. Racial prejudice against the accused of the Tokyo Trials stood out prominently. This was not surprising as the Japanese proposal for Racial Equality was rejected by several western countries in the League of Nations in 1919.  The Jewish Holocaust was the highlight of war crimes in the European theater of war. It had no parallel in the history of any country though antisemitism has religious roots. There were no such similar crimes in the Greater East Asian War. The Judges in the Nuremberg Trials were all Europeans. The majority of Judges in the Tokyo Trials were European though the theater of war was exclusively Asian.

In excluding Asians from the panel of Judges bar three out of the eleven judges the authorities displayed a crass colonial attitude of contempt and insensitivity to Asian claims for equality and like treatment.

Only one Judge had the spine and moral backbone to challenge the legitimacy of the Trial. He was the legal luminary Justice Radhabinod Pal (India). In his 1, 235-page landmark dissent he condemned the trial as unjust and unreasonable, contributing nothing to lasting peace. He saw the exclusion of western colonialism and US use of nuclear (Atom Bomb) weapons, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the list of war crimes and the sidelining of Japanese judges (of the vanquished nation) from the bench of the IMTFE, as signifying the failure of the Tribunal to provide anything other than the opportunity for the victors to retaliate ” Justice Pal referred to the US dropping of Atomic Bombs on Japanese cities and innocent Japanese civilians as the worst atrocities of the war comparable to Nazi crimes. Weren’t Western countries morally guilty as well in practicing colonialism? If the acts of aggression of Western countries were not indictable as war crimes why should only Japan be singled out for war crimes, was Justice Pal’s line of thinking. In every aspect of the Tokyo Trials, there was unfairness and perversion of justice to achieve both political and unlawful objectives. Basically, the trials were one-sided and lacked even the trappings of Justice. The conviction of the Japanese leaders was based on grounds that were not criminal at the time of the commission of such conduct. Retroactive trials are bad in law and unsustainable in societies that respect the Rule of War.  In applying the method of selectivity and singling out the Japanese and in turn excluding the victors i.e. British (India), Dutch (Indonesia), French (Vietnam), Russia (Poland), and America (Philippines) from any form of investigation for war crimes in their colonies the controllers of the Trials showed extreme bias and prejudice, and lack of impartiality.

Japan is a part of the proud Asian civilization. Asia’s liberation after centuries of evil colonialism of the West was largely due to Japan’s daring effort to rid Asia of Western dominance.

Should Asia not be grateful to Japan for having come to our rescue when we were down and out? How shall we repay our debt to Japan for contributing to our liberation from the stranglehold of western colonialism? We must try to wipe out the ignominy of the Japanese being judged and convicted as war criminals and wrongdoers in show trials that did not have even the slightest attribute or pretense of fairness and impartiality.

Enlightened leaders of Asia drawn from various professional and academic backgrounds must convene a Tribunal of Judges (like the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal which works as a court of conscience rather than as an UN-Backed body that has powers to enforce its determinations) to re-examine the verdicts of these so-called ‘Tokyo Trials’ and set aside the flawed judgments as unacceptable as they constitute a travesty of justice.   ‘Asia for Asians’ is not a slogan of the past. It has power and relevance in this ‘ Asian Century. It is Asia’s turn to ensure Justice for its fellow Asians. There is no greater feat of Justice in Asia than to have a Re – Trial for the wrongfully convicted Japanese leaders by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Even the dead are entitled to be exonerated from false charges and wrongful convictions. Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara made the following observation in 1995 Many Westerners act as if Human Rights are their moral ace in the hole, until their abysmal record in Asia is cited, and their position collapses like a pack of cards. Pointing out their hypocrisy does not deter the Americans, however. They blunder on badgering Asian Governments …. ”

” Heramba Lal Gupta, one of the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement, gave the following speech in 1946: “I think that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East will surely be re-evaluated by the nations of Asia by the time we enter the twenty-first century, and then, a second Tokyo Trial will be held where Asia and all the world will regain its good sense and will judge all deeds in a fair, equal, and truthful manner. At that time, all the war heroes of the United States and of the great powers of Europe, who have been committing acts of aggression against Asia for many years, will receive stern punishments. Conversely, the Japanese who were accused of serious crimes by the IMTFE, especially the seven killed as Class A war criminals, will be rehabilitated, and the day may come when they shall be worshipped like gods as the saviors of Asia. That is what should rightfully happen.

Kase Toshikaz   

Mr. Kase Toshikaz participated in the surrender ceremony accompanying plenipotentiary Shigemitsu Mamoru. He was standing right beside Foreign Minister Shigemitsu on USS Missouri as he held back his tears and signed the Instrument of Surrender at the table placed directly in front of General MacArthur. When Hideaki Kase was in middle school, he had asked his father what was going through his mind while he was on board the USS Missouri. His father`s reply was as follows: “Although Japan had been defeated in battle, we had liberated the people of Asia from hundreds of years of oppression and enslavement. As I stood on the deck of the USS Missouri, I knew in my heart with pride that Japan had actually won the war, insofar as we had led Asia into a great new era of history. Shigemitsu felt the same way.” Mr. Kase says: ” As I grew up, I felt the same pride and sorrow that my father did the day that he stood on the deck of the USS Missouri. These feelings have still not left me. The impact of Asia’s liberation, which Japan had won at such a high price, was soon felt on the African continent as well. The peoples of Africa, who had been oppressed by Western powers, achieved their independence, one after another. Japan played a monumental role in human history. Today’s world of racial equality was forged through battles fought by Japan.”

Senaka Weeraratna

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