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The Yamashita War Crimes Tribunal Revisited
Waikato (Military History) ^ | September 1998 | Laurie Barber

Posted on 12/12/2001 6:49:58 PM PST by Hopalong


Article by Laurie Barber
The Yamashita War Crimes Trial Revisited.



The trial of the Imperial Japanese Army General Tomoyuki Yamashita was the first of the Far East war crimes trials to follow from World War II and arguably the most contentious. Inherent constitutional, judicial and legal infringements have been focused upon in most subsequent critique and these will be discussed inter alia in this paper. However, those procedural and natural justice concerns, important though they be, distract from the far reaching command responsibility implications of the guilty verdict in the Yamashita case. Whether or not the Military Commission that tried Yamashita held to a doctrine of absolute command responsibility for the military behaviour of subordinates is debatable. What is not debatable is the elastic expansion of command responsibility for malfeasance and misfeasance the Commission determined. In his appeal dissent Murphy J. of the United States Supreme Court frighteningly argued that:

No one in a position of command in an army, from sergeant to general, can escape those implications. Indeed, the fate of some future President of the United States and his chief of staff and military advisers may well have been sealed by this decision.1


It is this issue of command responsibility, with its concomitant post-war implications, that will be the focus of this paper's argument.

Let's begin with the accused. Who was Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885-1946)? This parvenu, son of a village physician from Japan's smallest island, Shikoku, was to become the Rommel of Emperor Hirohito's group of generals.2 His rivalry with General Hideki Tojo's involvement in the 1936 attempted military coup and leading role in the 1940 Japanese military mission to Germany, background his rise to military eminence.3 Yamashita's blitzkrieg (actually bikekrieg) 25th Army push down the Malayan peninsula in late 1941 took Singapore, Britain's much vaunted citadel of the Far East on 15 February 1942, in fifty-four days that covered 965 kilometres.4 His victory demonstrated successful tactical excellence and command determination over British Imperial numerical superiority. Seventy thousand British Imperial troops were defeated by a Japanese army of 35,000.5

Yamashita's tactical opportunism, German style mix of air, infantry and armour assault, albeit against an enemy oceanically isolated and inferior in air power, secured him the epithet of "the Tiger of Malaya. His triumph was cut short by his personal enemy, Prime Minister Tojo, who sidelined him to a garrison command in Manchukuo (Manchuria), and who issued him with travel orders that prevented a hero's welcome in Japan and disallowed an imperial audience.6 When Tojo was sacked as premier in July 1944 Yamashita was recalled from oblivion, granted a belated Imperial audience, and given command of the 14th Area Army in the Philippines.7

He arrived in the Philippines on 5 October 1944 to take command from General Shigenari Kuroda, a bureaucrat already showing incapability of leadership against MacArthur's expected invasion of Leyte, an invasion that began on 20 October 1944. Yamashita inherited a mare's nest. In preparation for his return to the Philippines General Douglas MacArthur had encouraged Filipino guerrilla activity increasingly since the surrender of 6 May 1942. Immediately before the invasion of Leyte, and thereafter, guerrilla activity exploded, with ambushes, assassinations, bombings and blockade of roads.8 The Kempeitai (security police) were hard pressed to maintain control, especially in Manila.9

To add to Yamashita's immediate problems his superior, Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, romantically and unrealistically believed that the United States invasion of the Philippines was "the providential moment" that would allow the destruction of America's land forces in an open battle.10 In addition, United States air dominance and continuous bombardment, Japanese loss of control of sea approaches, Japanese army - navy conflict over defence strategy, lack of an experienced general staff, insufficiency of troops in quantity and quality, food shortages, and command isolation from the front, posed grave difficulties for command and control.11 Yamashita of necessity decided upon a strategy of counter-attack and delay. He preferred attritional guerrilla warfare in the mountains to Terauchi's open battle in the plains.12

In December 1944 Yamashita gave up the defence of Leyte and concentrated his efforts on the defence of the main island of Luzon.13 He divided his army into three battle groups, each responsible for its own sector (and each sector soon to be isolated from the others by the effectiveness of the United States assault). Yamashita commanded the Shobu group (152,000 troops) in the mountains north of Manila; Lt.Gen. Shizuo Yokoyama commanded the Shimbu group (80,000 troops) in the mountains south and east of Manila. Maj.Gen. Rikichi Tsukada commanded the Kembu group (30,000) on the Bataan peninsula. Yokoyama's command included Manila.

Yamashita had no wish to defend Manila. Its only military value was its harbour installations and with their destruction he was content to declare Manila an open city. Unbeknown to Yamashita, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, 31st Naval Special Base Force commander, interpreted the words in his orders 'operational control' to mean he would co-operate with the army while carrying out his own naval agenda. Iwabuchi began to build defences in Manila and when Yamashita discovered this and ordered him to retreat from the city Iwabuchi was unable to comply. By this time United States forces had cut off Manila and the admiral could not break out. In Iwabuchi's battle of desperation that followed his naval force engaged in an orgy of rape, torture and murder of a civilian population for which Yamashita would be held legally accountable. It is estimated that 8,000 civilians were killed and at least five hundred women raped during this period.14

MacArthur's superior forces increasingly isolated the Japanese defensive groups during early 1945. By July 1945 Yamashita and his headquarters staff were confined to 'hit and run' actions in the mountains. On 3 September 1945, on reception of orders implementing the 15 August surrender of Japan, Yamashita became a prisoner-of-war.15

Now, as the saying goes, 'the plot thickens'. To Yamashita's surprise and horror the general was served on 26 September 1945 with a generic charge of war crimes. General MacArthur, upon winning full control of the Philippines, had created a War Crimes Board to investigate allegations of military misconduct during the Japanese occupation and the allied counter invasion. Yamashita was to be tried before a Military Commission.16 Despite some argument to the contrary at Yamashita's trial it was agreed, later with the dissenting appeal judges (Murphy J. and Rutledge J.) in agreement, that an Act of Congress sanctioned the creation of military tribunals for the trial of offences against the laws of war committed by enemy combatants, although at issue during the trial and the consequential appeal was whether military justice should remain in place to allow a military trial after the cessation of hostilities.17

The charge facing General Yamashita was that

Between October 9 1944 and September 2 1945, in the Philippine Islands, while commander of armed forces of Japan at war with the United States of America and its allies, he unlawfully disregarded and failed to discharge his duty as commander to control the operations of the members of his command, permitting them to commit brutal atrocities and other high crimes against the people of the United States and of its allies and dependencies, particularly the Philippines; and thereby violated the law of war.18


Five officers of general rank formed the commission. The five were Maj. Gen. Russell B. Reynolds, Maj. Gen. Clarence Sturdevant, Maj. Gen. James Lester, Brig. Gen. William Walker and Brig. Gen. Egbert Bullene, none of these being of the same rank as Yamashita who was a full general. (It is customary for officers to be tried by their peers and in this case Yamashita was not). Arraignment followed on 8 October whereon the petitioner pleaded not guilty. Yamashita was served with a bill of particulars alleging sixty-four crimes by troops under his command. A supplementary bill alleging fifty-nine war additional crimes by his troops was filed on the first day of trial with no continuance being allowed to the army appointed legally qualified defending officers....

For the rest of the article, click here.

For education and discussion only.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Miscellaneous

1 posted on 12/12/2001 6:49:58 PM PST by Hopalong
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To: super175
At your service, sir.

Best regards. S&W R.I.P.

2 posted on 12/12/2001 6:50:53 PM PST by Hopalong
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To: Hopalong
Yamashita was executed for delaying McArthur's triumphal return to Manilla, for making McArthur look bad in his final battle of WWII, and for humiliating the British in Malaya and Singapore. Compared to his Japanese peers in command, Yamashita was practically a saint. At Singapore, after a massacre of British staff at a hospital, he went to the hospital and apoligized for the killings. When you consider that much of Japan still doesn't admit that massacres occurred in the war, his action was fairly amazing for the time.
3 posted on 12/12/2001 7:57:51 PM PST by LenS
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To: LenS
"Compared to his Japanese peers in command, Yamashita was practically a saint...."

I agree. Some say Stilwell also had a hand in it, for reasons similar to what you posit in regard to MacArthur.

Best regards. S&W R.I.P.

4 posted on 12/12/2001 8:04:23 PM PST by Hopalong
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To: LenS; super175
From the The Bataan Prjoect:

On March 4 troops entered Manila. But the war was not over yet. World War II did not end until September 2, 1945, after the Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.

The atrocities committed by the Japanese were not ignored. Justice had to be served, though nothing could ever be true justice for the victims, survivors, and their families. There were three classifications for war criminals. A Class was the top officials. The International Military Tribunal of the Far East, (IMTFE), tried them. B and C Class criminals were tried by the Allied nations in the areas where the crimes occurred.

The top Japanese war criminal was Tojo Hideki, Japan's war minister and Prime Minister. It was under his orders and with his blessing that the atrocities were committed against the POWs. He made an unsuccessful suicide attempt after Japan surrendered. On December 8, 1945, he was sent to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo as an A Class war criminal. He was executed on December 23, 1948.

Yamashita Tomoyuki also received a death sentence. He was the Japanese Army commander who faced MacArthur as the war ended. His death is significant because, "he was the first ever high level officer of a defeated army to be tried by the victors for command responsibility, specifically for atrocities committed by his troops in the Philippines." (57)

Homma Masaharu, the Japanese general before Bataan fell, was charged with "bombing Manila after it was declared an open city, refusing quarter to the American troops on Corregidor, and - specifically concerning POWs - allowing the massive atrocities of the death march out of Bataan, and the disgusting atrocities at O'Donnell and Cabanatuan that followed." (58) In April 1946 he was executed by a firing squad and not allowed to wear his military uniform.

While hundreds were accused of war crimes, a little over two dozen were tried and sentenced. Over 300,000 Japanese were charged as B and C Class criminals, but all were not tried due to their vast numbers. Over 5,700 were brought to trial. Trials lasted anywhere from days to months. Sentences ranged from prison terms to executions. Only seven A Class criminals were put to death, four due to their treatment of POWs.

Twenty-five A Class criminals were convicted and sentenced, seven of them to death, sixteen to life. Five thousand seven hundred-plus B and C Class criminals were brought to trials, about 3,000 were convicted and sentenced, 920 were executed. (59)

This is roughly equal to one Japanese sentence for every fifty POWs held for three-and-one-half years (over 150,000) and one executed for every 250-plus who died due to atrocities (almost 232,000). The Japanese did not believe their sentences were just, saying it was only Allied revenge. (60)

Japan's emperor, Hirohito, remained in power.

The treatment accorded to the American and Filipino soldiers in the Philippines was unnecessary and uncalled for. However, the events on Bataan cannot be blamed on one person or one event. As has been shown, many factors contributed to the thousands of deaths. These range from the Japanese treatment of the POWs to the fact that Europe had priority over the Pacific according to officials in Washington. Hopefully, these types of events will never be repeated again.

Best regards. S&W R.I.P.
5 posted on 12/13/2001 6:06:43 AM PST by Hopalong
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To: Black Jade, super175
"Evidently, there was more involved than simply the release of Japanese war criminals in exchange for data on human experiments...."

"Evidently" but not "evidentially", Black Jade?

The CIA was established by President Truman in 1947, was it?

Hmm, do you admit in your scattergun "evidently's", any distinctions among, say, "suspected war criminals," "alleged war criminals", "charged war criminals", "convicted war criminals", and so forth?

I await the expansion of the implied moral equivalence in your "evidently" with detailed research into the precise events and the context, which is outlined in some of the posts above.

Regards to all. S&W R.I.P.

6 posted on 12/15/2001 10:14:59 AM PST by Hopalong
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To: Black Jade, super175
And here as well—Colonel Tsuji of Malaya

Merely by the war, what's's "take" on the Colonel, if you please?

Regards to all. S&W R.I.P.

7 posted on 12/15/2001 10:29:48 AM PST by Hopalong
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