Home History The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
Postwar Debates on the Tokyo Trial and War Responsibility
During the Occupation, the majority of Japanese citizens already had mixed feelings toward the Tokyo Trial. Take, for example, Peace Declaration Chapter One: Reflections on the Tokyo Trial (Heiwa sengen dai 1-sho: Tokyo Saiban oboegaki) published in April 1949 by Nomura Masao, an Asahi shinbun reporter who had covered the trial. Nomura praised the trial for “proving that . . . a war of aggression is the biggest crime in the world and, therefore, leaders who plan and start it shall be sentenced to death by hanging.”3 At the same time, he recognized many difficulties of the trial, for “even the eleven judges could not reach consensus. . . . In fact, these difficulties in the Tokyo Trial are indicative of those facing the entire world today. The trial deals with all sorts of questions about war and peace. What exactly is a war of aggression (shinryaku senso)? Can we really attain universal justice when only the vanquished are prosecuted?”4 Similarly, Takigawa Seijiro, a former defense attorney at the trial, acknowledged Japan’s wartime atrocities and urged Japanese citizens, especially critics of the trial, not to turn back to prewar nationalism, though he thought of the trial as a “farce” whose storyline had been decided by the Allied powers.5 As political scientist Onuma Yas- uaki pointed out, neither complete acceptance nor complete rejection of the Tokyo Trial was widespread in the immediate postwar period.6
Concurrently, Japanese intellectuals debated war responsibility (senso sekinin) more generally—how to distribute responsibility among Emperor Hirohito, politicians, intellectuals, and citizens—in conjunction with the Tokyo Trial.7 Their debates often used as their reference point Karl Jaspers’s The Question of German Guilt, which delineated four types of war guilt: criminal guilt of those who actually committed war crimes; political guilt of leaders and citizens who supported the war; moral guilt that individuals could only voluntarily feel by critically reflecting on their wartime behaviors; and metaphysical guilt in the eyes of God.8 Perhaps Tsurumi Shun- suke, a professor of philosophy at Tokyo Institute of Technology, was the best-known intellectual who drew on Jaspers to examine Japan’s war responsibility. Soon after the Occupation ended, Tsurumi observed, “Precisely because an examination of war responsibility as a legal issue is now concluded, I think that every one of us should examine our own war responsibility and give new directions to our morality (rinri). I doubt that the issue [of war responsibility] can be terminated simply by making Mr. Tojo a scapegoat.”9 In January 1959, Tsurumi also published “The Problem of War Responsibility” (Senso sekinin no mondai) to criticize the tendency among Japanese intellectuals and citizens to discuss war responsibility either in the l egal-criminal or religious-metaphysical sense without adequately examining their political and moral guilt as individual members of prewar Japan.10
While Tsurumi emphasized the moral perspective on war responsibility as a participant in the Asia-Pacific War, Maruyama Masao, one of the most prominent political theorists in the postwar era, discussed war responsibility mostly in the pol itical sense. Given his theory of ultranationalism, which explained Japan’s past aggression in terms of the emperor-centered polity that dominated individual psychological processes,11 Maruyama attributed war responsibility mostly to government leaders who had been closely associated with the emperor and practically absolved the majority of Japanese citizens of war responsibility.12 By contrast, Maruyama’s younger critic, celebrated writer Yoshimoto Takaaki, thought that older generations, including Maruyama, bore war responsibility in the sense of having failed to resist the emperor-centered polity.13 Nevertheless, Yoshimoto also failed to critically reflect on his own generation’s war responsibility because he ultimately attributed the Japanese military’s cruelty, and even the origin of the emperor-centered polity itself, to the impersonal “folk customs” of the Japanese people.14 Whether focusing on the emperor or the folk, much of the postwar debate on Japan’s past aggression did not adopt the moral perspective to probe into war responsibility of individual citizens, as Tsurumi tried to do by following Jaspers.
Tsurumi also brought another new perspective on Japan’s past aggression. In January 1956, he published “Intellectuals’ War Responsibility” (Chi- shikijin no senso sekinin) and proposed the concept of the “Fifteen-Year War” that designated the 1931 Mukden Incident as the beginning of the war that had ended in August 1945.15 This was a significant departure from the concept of the “Pacific War,” popularized during the Occupation, that focused on Japan’s war with the United States, for the “Fifteen-Year War” foregrounded Japan’s victimization of China. Tsurumi further reinforced Japan’s identity as a perpetrator in the Asia-Pacific War by organi zing the Citizen’s League for Peace in Vietnam with his colleagues, including the activist and writer Oda Makoto, and criticizing Japan’s complicity in the Vietnam War.16
Ienaga Saburo, too, endorsed the concept of the Fifteen-Year War both in his history textbooks and through his textbook lawsuits in the 1960s. Two of Ienaga’s essays, “The Fifteen-Year War and Pal’s Dissenting Opinion” (15- nen Senso to Pal Hanketsusho) in November 1967 and “A Tentative Argument on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East” (Kyokuto Saiban ni tsuiteno shiron) in August 1968, emphasized the continuity between Japan’s aggression against China and Japan’s war with the United States.17 Ienaga, however, also expressed ambivalence toward the Tokyo Trial: “Since the victors judged the vanquished, the former’s war crimes were exempted, and only the latter’s war crimes were prosecuted. . . . In this regard, it is difficult to deny that the trial was imperfect as a mechanism of
‘justice and fairness.’ ”18 Although Ienaga dedicated much of his career to exposing Japan’s war crimes, he was also deeply troubled by the failure to prosecute the atomic bombings by the United States and atrocities committed by the Soviet Union against Japanese civilians and soldiers.19
Here, Ienaga’s discussion of Japan’s past wrongdoings vis-a-vis the Tokyo Trial was part of the incipient intellectual movement in the 1960s that began to connect discussion of war responsibility with a critical assessment of the trial. This movement was initiated by Takeuchi Yoshimi, a writer and China scholar, who published “Overcoming Modernity” (Kindai no chokoku) and “On War Responsibility” (Senso sekinin ni tsuite), in 1959 and I960, respectively. By observing arguments advanced by Tsurumi, Maruyama, and others, Takeuchi argued,
In both German and Japanese cases, prosecutors argued that Germany and Japan had waged wars of aggression, and these wars were aggression against civilizations. The judgments supported this argument, but I am skeptical about them. At the same time, I cannot accept the argument that the plaintiffs and defense lawyers made at the Tokyo Trial—namely, Japan waged a war of self-defense, not of aggression. . . . I therefore conclude that the Japanese are responsible for the war of aggression [against Asian countries], but the Japanese should not be held responsible onesidedly for the war between the imperial powers (tai teikokushugi sense)?'0
Takeuchi’s intervention notwithstanding, the debate on the Tokyo Trial among Japanese intellectuals remained limited, and it tended to be philosophical, lacking empirical investigation of the trial as a historical event.
Around 1980, however, the intellectual debate on the Tokyo Trial finally took off, as a growing number of legal scholars and historians began to study the trial empirically. In 1979, professors of law and history, librarians, and journalists in Japan created the Tokyo Trial Study Group (Tokyo Saiban Kekyukai), which held meetings to discuss historical facts and implications surrounding the trial.21 Moreover, B. V. A. Roling, one of the eleven judges at the trial, published two edited volumes on the trial in 1977, and R. John Pritchard, a historian based in London, began to edit and publish the trial proceedings in 1981. These activities inside and outside Japan led to the International Symposium on the Tokyo Trial in Tokyo in May 1983 to mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Tokyo Judgment. This symposium enlisted nineteen participants, including some of the foremost experts on the history of the Asia-Pacific War and international law, such as Awaya Kentaro, Onuma Yasuaki, Ienaga Saburo, R. John Pritchard, Richard Minear, and B. V. A. Roling.22
Reflecting on the two-day symposium, one of the organizers, Ando Nisuke, a professor of international law at Kobe University, summed up the task for Japanese historians and citizens in terms of going beyond the dichotomous view of the Tokyo Trial:
One position is to accept the majority opinion based on the prosecutors’ argument, and condemn the aggressive nature of the Japanese government’s action and the cruelty of the Japanese military’s behaviors. The other is to completely reject the majority opinion by invoking the defense team’s argument and, in particular, Justice Pal’s argument that the Japanese government and military merely engaged in unavoidable acts of self-defense, and Japan was therefore not guilty. However, I suspect that the truth lies in the middle of these two positions. . . . In short, what the Japanese should do is not to take the black-and-white, categorical approach toward the Tokyo Trial but instead to consider the entirety of the trial as objectively as possible and distinguish elements of the trial that we should use for future cases from those that we should not.23
Such rejection of the dichotomous view consolidated in the 1990s. Even Fujioka Nobukatsu and his colleagues in the Liberal Historical Research Group at least initially attempted to critique the dichotomy.24 In fact, while extremists on both the left and the right continued to adopt the dichotomous view, its rejection seemed to be firmly entrenched among younger generations of historians on both sides of the political spectrum. Take, for example, Ushimura Kei (born in 1959) and Higurashi Yoshinobu (born in 1962), two of the most prominent right-leaning Japanese historians in the younger generation. Ushimura is currently a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, and Higurashi is a professor at Teikyo University. Ushimura published Beyond the “Judgment of Civilization": the Intellectual Legacy of the Japanese War Crimes Trials, 1946—1949 (“Bunmei no sabaki" wo koete: tainichi senpan saiban dokkai no kokoromi) in 2001, while Higurashi published International Relations of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial: Power and Norms in International Politics (Tokyo Saiban no kokusai kankei: kokusai seiji ni okeru kenryoku to kihan) in 2002. These works propelled Ushimura and Higurashi to the status of foremost experts on the trial in
Japan. Despite their differences, Ushimura and Higurashi shared the same position on the Tokyo Judgment: it was neither the “judgment of civilization” nor “victor’s justice.”25 Both Ushimura and Higurashi rejected the binary opposition in favor of a more empirically rigorous approach to understanding the trial in its full complexity and ambiguity.
Ushimura was particularly vocal in his criticism of “historically uninformed, narrow-minded nationalists who tried to argue that Japan was not guilty on all accounts.”26 Even though Ushimura took a sympathetic stance toward JSHTR members, including his former teacher Nishio Kanji, he blamed older generations of Japanese intellectuals for having approached the Tokyo Trial historical view as a moral, rather than empirical, problem. He also criticized Japanese nationalists who refused to listen to criticisms from abroad. Instead, he insisted that it was crucial to approach the international controversy surrounding the Tokyo Trial with “empathy—an act of thoroughly placing oneself in the other’s position, no matter how difficult it may be.”27 Ushimura consistently promoted an empirically grounded approach to understanding both the history of the Asia-Pacific War and its divergent commemorations by different groups of actors.
While Ushimura and Higurashi represented voices from the right of the political spectrum, similar calls for a more rigorous approach were also heard from the younger generation of left-leaning Japanese historians. For example, Totani Yuma (born in 1972), a professor of history at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, published The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II (Tokyo Saiban: Dai Niji Taisen go no ho to seigi no tsuikyu) in both Japanese and English in 2008. She worked with Kasahara Tokushi and Yoshida Yutaka, two of the most prominent Japanese historians of Japan’s war crimes, and collaborated with an international team of scholars critically exploring the potentials and limitations of the Tokyo Trial as a model for international criminal justice in the contemporary world.28 In this regard, Totani followed in the footsteps of older left-leaning scholars in Japan, but she also tried to inject more empirical rigor into the debate and challenged the existing research on the trial by drawing on hitherto unused archival materials.
To be sure, historians have no authority to change the judicial judgment of the Tokyo Trial, but they can nonetheless problematize its historical judgment. As Paul Ricoeur observed, judges must decisively rule upon and close cases, something historians can never do. Historians must always submit historical facts and interpretations “to the critique of the corporation of historians . . . to an unending process of revision, which makes the writing of history a perpetual rewriting. This openness to rewriting marks the difference between a provisional historical judgment and a definitive judicial judgment.”29 A critical reassessment of this kind offers a crucial first step in resolving East Asia’s history problem by helping to disentangle commemorative positions of relevant pol itical actors from the problematic Tokyo Judgment.
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