FEATURED: BLOGGER: Pacific War Trials – part one #AceHistoryDesk report

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

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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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Source: Pacific War Trials – part one