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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.


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

       WWII Museum. Retrieved from


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


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

       Truman Library. Retrieved from     


—-. (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


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



Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 20, 2021; August 31, 2022

Copyright 2021-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


a pinko commie under every bush

Patty Hearst

Yes! I admit it!

When I was fifteen years old, I read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.

In an era when hordes of university students were toting around copies of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, this wasn’t anything unusual.

Who, after all, could ignore these glorious words?

“The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.

“They have a world to win.


Can’t you hear the fist-pounding and finger-pointing in those words? Can’t you hear the stampeding hordes and gunfire behind those phrases?


We already had the Women’s Liberation Movement, La Raza, the Black Panthers, the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay and Lesbian Movement, Earth Day, peace-loving Hippies, the Free Speech Movement, Timothy Leary, the Sexual Liberation Movement, and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. Tune out, drop out. Question authority. Don’t trust anyone over 30. If it feels good, do it!!

The anti-establishment revolution. Black is beautiful. All Power to the People!

“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles . . .”

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,

The government becomes a little bit bolder

And a little bit colder

And you know that we told her it would happen.

The Left of the Right began to struggle with all its might

And decided to declare a revolution.

It’s the only solution to the capitalist institution,

And you know we’ve got to do it for our own evolution.

written spring 1971

a pinko commie under every bush

ring out the old, bring in the new

the clash of two opposing ideas morphs into Hegel’s dialectic

Cold War, a flash of nuclear destruction

and death.

Copyright 2012 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


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