Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Tokyo war crimes trial

"Wednesday marked the 60th anniversary of the verdicts handed down by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The Tokyo war crimes trial found 25 Japanese politicians and top military officers guilty. The convicted war criminals included wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and six others who were sentenced to death and hanged.

"Even though the trial was held long ago, it is still the subject of bitter controversy. In his controversial essay that justified Japan's past colonial rule and military aggression, Toshio Tamogami, who was ousted as Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff for going against the official government position on the issue, argued that the Tokyo trial's acknowledgment of Japan's war crimes still deludes Japanese people as if mind control is at work.

"How one views the Tokyo trial and its Nov. 12, 1948, verdicts has a direct bearing on the issue of whether a Japanese prime minister should refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto facility in Tokyo which honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with the nation's war dead. The controversy over the trial is inseparably linked to politics.

"Debate on the Tokyo trial tends to be charged with emotions. What we should understand first, though, is the indisputable fact that the Tokyo trial is an extremely complicated subject. Debate on the trial from the simple black-and-white viewpoint of whether it was "victors' justice" or "civilization's justice" never leads to an assessment that can convince everyone. Trying to settle the controversy on the complex topic by framing it as a simple question of right or wrong will resolve nothing.

"Let us clarify key issues. It is true that there were some serious problems with the Tokyo trial. Critics question the legitimacy of the trial by pointing out that the defendants were charged with crimes that didn't exist in international law in the period leading up to and including World War II, such as "crimes against peace" and "crimes against humanity." It was, the critics say, improper application of a retroactive law.

"The Tokyo war tribunal punished Japan's war crimes but didn't consider American acts of dubious legality, such as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bench was composed only of justices from the Allied powers. And the selection of the defendants was arbitrary and not based on clearly defined criteria.

"On the other hand, the important historical roles played by the trial should not be forgotten. It cast an illuminating light on how Japan embarked on the course of war and held Japanese leaders accountable for the national disaster. This helped the nation put its wartime past behind it and thus paved the way for postwar progress.

"By accepting the judgments of the tribunal as it regained sovereignty, Japan was able to return to the community of nations. Along with the Nuremberg Trials, which tried leaders of Nazi Germany for war crimes, the Tokyo trial contributed to the development of international law to address war crimes.

"It is necessary to acknowledge both the positive and negative aspects of the Tokyo war tribunal. The wise approach would be to try to derive the full benefit from the positive roles it played while paying attention to its flaws.

"Even if the trial process was imperfect, that doesn't negate the fact that Japan invaded its Asian neighbors and eventually plunged into a reckless war with the United States, causing immense human casualties. The trial's flaws do not diminish Japan's guilt or responsibility.

"There should be no more attempts to dredge up nationalistic sentiments by focusing only on elements of history that are favorable to nationalistic views. Globalization has made it impossible for Japanese to continue living in myths embraced only by a handful of their countrymen.

"How can Japan be respected by the international community if it keeps blaming others for its mistakes?"

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 2008/11/14), Link to article (last visited 2008/11/16)

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