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Japanese Invasion of China and the Tokyo War Crimes Trial

(Photo from the National WWII Museum)

The Japanese Invasion of China, 1937-1945

       After the First Sino-Japanese War, when Japan gained control of Korea, Japan continued to grow militarily and technologically, eventually embarking on the invasion of China on July 7, 1937 (U.S. Department of State, 1943, pg. 1).  The invasion resulted from a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese soldiers outside Peking (Beijing), North China.  Japan never formally declared war against China, and the invasion forced opposing forces within that country—the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists—to band together against the Japanese (U.S. Department of State, 2021, pg. 1).

       “In 1935, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Hitler’s Germany, laying the foundation for the creation of the Axis (Fascist Italy would join the following year)” (Mankoff, 2015, pg. 1).  With the backing of Germany and Italy, Japan sought to conquer China.  Japanese forces had already seized Manchuria in 1931 and Jehol province in 1933.  The Japanese military “adopted a policy of deliberate savagery in the expectation that it would break the will of the Chinese to resist . . . [however], the Chinese Army . . . put up strong resistance to Japan’s armies, . . . [prompting the Japanese to engage in] an orgy of murder, rape, and looting that shocked the civilized world” (Pacific War, 2021, pg. 1).

       After taking Shanghai in late 1937, the Japanese moved on Nanking.  “Chiang Kai-Shek ordered the removal of nearly all official Chinese troops from the city, leaving it defended by untrained auxiliary troops.  Chiang also ordered the city held at any cost, and forbade the official evacuation of its citizens” (History, 2019, pg. 2).

       A neutral zone was established inside the city, managed by the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone.  Once the Chinese Army left Nanking, “all remaining citizens were ordered into the safety zone for their protection” (History, 2019, pg. 2).

       Japan’s Central China Front Army entered Nanking on December 13, 1937.  Rumors of their atrocities had already preceded them – including stories about “killing contests and pillaging” (History, 2019, pg. 2).  The Nanking Safety Zone was ignored.  Over six weeks, thousands of Chinese soldiers were murdered and buried in mass graves, families slaughtered—including infants and the elderly— and thousands of women raped.  At least one-third of the city was destroyed (History, 2019, pg. 2).

Tokyo War Crimes Trial

       On April 29, 1946, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) gathered “to put leaders from the Empire of Japan on trial for joint charges of conspiracy to start and wage war” (Burton, 2020, pg. 6).  The Allies were immediately accused of seeking a “victor’s justice” against Japan, so judges from non-Allied countries were recruited to partake in the trial.  The United States arrested 28 Japanese leaders, who stood trial between May 3, 1946 and December, 1948.  They were charged with “war crimes, crimes committed against prisoners of war, and crimes against humanity” (Burton, 2020, pg. 6).

       As a result of the Potsdam negotiations, Japanese Emperor Hirohito and his son, Prince Asaka, were protected from prosecution; no testimony was allowed that implicated them; and Japanese media censored all information that portrayed the emperor and General Douglas MacArthur in a negative light.  Furthermore, only limited evidence was allowed in court, and media coverage was restricted (Burton, 2020, pg. 6,7). 

       Twenty-five defendants were found guilty. Two had already died.  One was hospitalized for mental illness.  Eighteen were sentenced to prison.  Seven were executed by hanging, including the General of the Imperial Japanese Army, Hideki Tojo.  After the Tokyo trial concluded, 2,200 more trials were held, and approximately 5,600 additional war criminals were tried (Burton, 2020, pg. 8).

       The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials “created a new standard of international justice” (Burton, 2020, pg. 9) that holds political and military leaders accountable for their actions and helps the countries of the world to avoid another World War.

Pufendorf, Vattel, Accountability, and Punishment

       [Philosopher] Samuel Pufendorf believed that humans wanted to live in peaceful, organized societies and “that actors [must] refrain from harming each other while pursuing their own interests and provided a universal right to punish those who violate the law” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 146).  He further emphasized that states bound by treaties and friendly relations are perfectly capable of living together in peace.  In fact, he saw this as a necessity for survival.  Some theorists have extended this idea to mean “that Pufendorf’s law of nations ‘involves an obligation on the part of one social group not merely not to harm, but actively to promote the welfare of all others’” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 147).  Pufendorf, therefore, called for stricter rules when it came to waging war against sovereign states (Glanville, 2018, pg. 146, 147).

       He recognized, however, the three traditional causes for just war: “to preserve ourselves and our possessions against injury; to claim from others the things that are rightfully ours if they refuse to provide them; and to obtain reparations for past injuries and guarantees that they will not be repeated” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 148).  Pufendorf insisted that “lust for fame, domination, and riches ought never to be considered just causes for war” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 148).

       By Pufendorf’s standards, Japan was wrong to invade China because Japan did not have an absolute right “to receive a benefit from others [China] in the form of trade, passage, hospitality, or settlement . . . and should not be considered subject to enforcement [by force]” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 149).  Japan’s motivation for invading China was domination, a reason that does not support Pufendorf’s guidelines for just war.

       At the same time, Pufendorf rejected the idea “of a universal right of punishment” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 150) unless punishment is rendered by the sovereign who has power over the guilty party.  That said, he would have made an exception in the case of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials because the Nazis and the Japanese committed atrocious acts and “all men had a right to punish those persons who placed themselves beyond the jurisdiction of any courts of justice and [behaved] as if they are the enemies of all others” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 150).

       The Chinese had not done anything to deserve the invasion of their country, and they had a legitimate right to defend themselves against the Japanese invaders.  Pufendorf fully supported the right of a state to defend itself from aggressors as a fundamental cause for just war (Glanville, 2018, pg. 148).  Not only were the Japanese waging an unjust war against China, but their atrocious jus in bello behavior was unjustified and unnecessarily cruel.  Their behavior justified the Tokyo War Crimes Trial conducted by the Allies later on since “belligerents [and] their savagery motivates present or future enemies to act in kind” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152).  It was absolutely unjust to protect the emperor and his son from punishment since they must have been aware of the tactics used by the Japanese military and its policy of total war.  They were certainly in charge of Japan’s imperialist ambitions in China.  And, even if military leaders ordered the butchery of the Chinese, individual soldiers were responsible for making a game out of it (killing contests) and carrying it out (History, 2019, pg. 2).

       [Philosopher] Emmerich Vattel developed the idea that sovereigns should be treated as “one treats others, whether a person or a state” (Christov, 2018, pg. 157).  He fully recognized that not all nations or people would follow this rule.  “If there were a people who made open profession on trampling justice under foot, — who despised and violated the rights of others whenever they found an opportunity, — the interest of human society would authorize all the other nations to form a confederacy in order to humble and chastise the delinquents . . . the safety of the human race requires that [such a nation] should be repressed” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

       The Japanese invasion of China would fall under this category of a rogue nation that has no respect for the rights of other nations and must be neutralized.  Since Japan did not officially declare war on China and refused to engage in peace negotiations with the United States, Japanese leadership violated the rights of China and the Chinese people.  They, therefore, became subject to punishment and international justice at the hands of other nations who wanted to rectify the situation and restore peace (U.S. Department of State, 1943, pg. 1).

       Japan had no claim to China except through the use of military force.  When they invaded China, they were sending a message that “we prosecute our right by force” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160) – which is a corruption of Vattel’s definition of war.  Vattel would have considered the invasion an “illegal war, which would include ‘conquest, or the desire of invading the property of others’” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

       The invasion of China also led ultimately to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, dragged the United States into World War II, and may have influenced President Truman to order the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final stage of the war (U.S. Department of State, 2021, pg. 2; Compton, 1946, pg. 1-3).  This chain of events illustrates the importance of addressing conflicts early in order “to provide for our future safety by punishing the aggressor or offender” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

       Vattel also insisted that “there are limits on what states can do in war” (Christov, 2018, pg. 162).  He rejected unnecessary brutality against people and destruction of property, calling these tactics of warfare “of an odious kind . . . unjustifiable in themselves . . . [and] prohibited by natural law” (Christov, 2018, pg. 163).  He regarded the individuals who engage in this kind of behavior “as savage barbarians” (Christov, 2018, pg. 163).

       Since the Japanese behaved like “savage barbarians,” they deserved to be prosecuted and punished during the Tokyo War Crimes Trial.  Vattel explained this in his book, Law of Nations, when he wrote, “when we are at war with a savage nation, who observe no rules, and never give quarter, we may punish them in the persons of any of their people whom we take . . . and endeavor . . . to force them to respect the laws of humanity” (Christov, 2018, pg. 164).

       Therefore, Emperor Hirohito and his son, Prince Asaka, and all of the military leaders and soldiers involved, should have been punished – even executed – to the full extent of the law, as determined by the Tokyo War Crimes Trial.

References

Burton, K.D. (2020). War crimes on trial: The nuremberg and tokyo trials. National

       WWII Museum. Retrieved from

       http://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/nuremberg-and-tokyo-war-crimes-trials

Christov, T. (2018). Emer de vattel (1714-1767). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (156-167). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Compton, K. (1946). If the atomic bomb had not been used. Manchuria Document Set. Truman

       Library. Retrieved from http://www.trumanlibrary.gov/public/Manchuria_DocumentSet.pdf

Glanville, L. (2018). Samuel pufendorf (1632-1694). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (145-155). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

History, The Editors. (2019). Nanking massacre. History. Retrieved from

       http://www.history.com/topics/japan/nanjing-massacre

Mankoff, J. (2015). The legacy of the soviet offensives of august 1945. Manchuria Document Set.

       Truman Library. Retrieved from     

       http://www.trumanlibrary.gov/public/Manchuria_DocumentSet.pdf

—-. (2021). The rape of nanking or nanjing massacre (1937). Pacific War. Retrieved

       from http://www.pacificwar.org.au/JapWarCrimes/TenWarCrimes/Rape_Nanking.html

U.S. Department of State. (1943). Peace and war: United states foreign policy, 1931-1941.

       (DOS Publication No. 1983). Retrieved from

       http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/WorldWar2/china.htm

U.S. Department of State. Office of the Historian. (2021). Japan, china, the united states and the

       road to pearl harbor, 1937-41. Retrieved from

       http://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/pearl-harbor

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Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 20, 2021; August 31, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

24 Comments »

Allied Bombing of Dresden, 1945

(Destruction of Dresden, 1945)

[NOTE: A week ago, my father’s ashes were interred with full military honors in a military cemetery in California. The ceremony included a three gun salute, a bugler playing “Taps,” and the flag-folding ritual. Although my father served during the Korean War, he never saw live action. Instead, he was sent to Cuba on a reconnaissance mission. My brother is also buried in a military cemetery and died of cancer at the age of forty. He was an Army medic and became a paramedic and German teacher after leaving the military. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer here in the United States. We honor all of our dead this weekend, but especially, those who have served, fought, and died protecting our country. War is hell, as any soldier will tell you, but sometimes, it is a necessary evil. Just ask the people of Ukraine, who are fighting for their lives, their country, their freedom, and their sovereignty as a nation. Please take a moment to remember all the soldiers who have given their lives to protect YOUR country.]

Allied Bombing of Dresden

The British RAF began dropping bombs on Dresden, Germany on February 13, 1945. Over the next few days, British and American Allies dropped approximately 4,000 tons of bombs onto the city, killing 25,000 people, and destroying the center of the city (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 2).

Prime Minister Winston Churchill questioned the attack, saying, “The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 2).

But, was the bombing justified?

Summary of Theories and Concepts of Pufendorf and Vattel

Pufendorf claimed that the enemy’s aggression “allows me to use force against him to any degree, or so far as I may think desirable” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). He explained that the people fighting a defensive war may use any force to put an end to the threat against them, receive reparations, or “secure guarantees for [their] future security” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). It was not, he explained, a priority to gauge proportionality but to ensure “the defense and assertion of [their] safety, [their] property, and [their] rights” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). The people on the defensive, therefore, may use whatever means necessary to defeat the enemy.

Vattel, on the other hand, believed that “now the laws of nature being no less obligatory on nations than on individuals, whatever duties each man owes to other men, the same does each nation, in its way, owe to other nations. Such is the foundation of those common duties – of those offices of humanity – to which nations are reciprocally bound towards each other” (Christov, 2018, pg. 159). But he also allowed for the possibility of nations that would violate the law of nations and violate all the civilized rules of warfare: “If there were a people who made open profession of trampling justice under foot, — who despised and violated the rights of others whenever they found an opportunity, — the interest of human society would authorize all the other nations to form a confederacy in order to humble and chastise the delinquents . . .the safety of the human race requires that [such a nation] should be repressed” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

Was the Allied Bombing of Dresden Justified?

At the time of the bombing, the Eastern Front – “where Nazi Germany was defending [itself] against the advancing armies of the Soviet Union” – was only 155 miles from Dresden. According to Luckhurst (2020), Dresden “factories provided munitions, aircraft parts and other supplies for the Nazi war effort” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3). It was a major city through which German “troops, tanks and artillery traveled through . . . by train and by road” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3). The attack was intended to bolster Soviet efforts on the Eastern Front (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3).

RAF planes were equipped with both “high explosive and incendiary bombs: the explosives would blast buildings apart, while the incendiaries would set the remains on fire, causing further destruction” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 4). The United States Air Force completed the attack with daylight bombings which were directed at the city’s railway yards” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 4).

The Nazis denied that Dresden had any military function and exaggerated the death toll at 200,000 civilians. They claimed that Dresden “was only a city of culture” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 7).

Worldwide, Dresden was considered a tourist attraction. British Members of Parliament questioned the attack, and the Associated Press accused the Allies of using terrorism against the people of Dresden (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 7).

Allied military leaders defended the attack as necessary to further cripple Nazi Germany and end the war. A 1953 report done in the U.S. determined that “Dresden was a legitimate military target” (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 9), and the attack was no different from previous attacks on other German cities.

The debate continues, with some people viewing the bombing as immoral – possibly a war crime – and others defending it as necessary to help end the war with Germany (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 9).

My own view is that Pufendorf’s and Vattel’s theories both justify the bombing of Dresden. Pufendorf is correct when he says that the side waging a just war (in this case, the Allies) may use any means necessary to secure the peace and “secure guarantees for . . . future security” (Glanville, 2018, pg. 152). Nazi Germany was a rogue nation that had invaded other countries, murdered millions of people, and imposed authoritarian rule against the will of the people. They were guilty of “trampling justice under foot . . . [and] despised and violated the rights of others” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160), in Vattel’s own words. So, Vattel is also correct when he says that “the interest of human society [should] authorize all the other nations to form a confederacy [in this case, the Allies] in order to humble and chastise the delinquents . . . the safety of the human race requires that [such a nation – the Germans] should be repressed” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

Is Preservation of Cultural or Artistic Enemy Cities Relevant in War – Or are they Secondary?

My personal view is that preserving cultural and artistic enemy cities is secondary because defending the safety of Allied nations, property, and human rights takes precedence and aligns with both Pufendorf’s and Vattel’s theories of just war and the right of self-defense. Germany was the aggressor. It was not the duty or priority of Allied forces to save their cultural and artistic centers (Christov, 2018, pg. 160; Glanville, 2018, pg. 152).

Is it Justifiable to Bomb a City to Weaken the Enemy Civilian Morale – Even if the City has Marginal Industrial Significance?

Although the Nazis claimed that Dresden was only a cultural center, the Allies considered it an important transportation center for the Nazis and sought to help Soviet forces on the Eastern Front by destroying it (Luckhurst, 2020, pg. 3). The bombing weakened civilian morale but also undermined the Nazi’s efforts on the Eastern Front. Since civilians in Dresden supported the Nazi cause, they were also enemies of the Allied forces and subject to punishment by Allied war efforts. In my opinion, Vattel would have seen the bombing of Dresden as necessary “in order to humble and chastise the delinquents” (Christov, 2018, pg. 160).

Works Cited

Christov, T. (2018). Emer de vattel (1714-1767). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (156-167). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Glanville, L. (2018). Samuel pufendorf (1632-1694). In D.R. Brunstetter & C. O’Driscoll (Eds.),

       Just war thinkers: From cicero to the 21st century (144-155). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Luckhurst, T. (2020, February). Dresden: The world war two bombing 75 years on. BBC.com.

       Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51448486

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 10, 2021; May 27, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

29 Comments »

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