Monday, 8 February 2016

Was General Yamashita really a war criminal? 

A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the law of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. They are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict. War crimes will include a number of various crimes, such as genocide or the mistreatment of prisoners of war or citizens committed during wars between nations.                    

The Second World War was concluded when Japan surrendered to the Americans and shortly after that, the Americans began hunting for Japanese war criminals. One of the men they were looking for was General
Tomoyuki Yamashita.            

In November 1905 Yamashita graduated from the 18th class of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. He was ranked 16th out of 920 cadets. In December 1908 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and fought against the German Empire in Shantung, China in 1914. In May 1916 he was promoted to captain.] He attended the 28th class of the Army War College, graduating sixth in his class in 1916. He was obviously an intelligent man.  

He married Hisako Nagayama, the daughter of retired Gen. Nagayama, in 1916. Yamashita became an expert on Germany, serving as the assistant military attaché at Bern, Switzerland, and Berlin, Germany from 1919 to 1922.

In February 1922 he was promoted to the rank of major. He twice served in the Military Affairs Bureau of the War Ministry responsible for the Ugaki Army Reduction Program, which was aimed at reforming the Japanese army by streamlining its organisation, despite facing fierce opposition from factions within the army itself.

In 1922, on his return to Japan, Major Yamashita served in the Imperial Headquarters and the Staff College, receiving promotion to lieutenant-colonel in August 1925.                                                                                          

While posted to the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, Yamashita unsuccessfully promoted a military reduction plan. Despite his ability, Yamashita fell into disfavor as a result of his involvement with political factions within the Japanese military. As a leading member of the "Imperial Way" group, he became a rival to Hideki Tojo and other members of the "Control Faction". In 1927 Yamashita was posted to Vienna, Austria, as a military attaché until 1930. He was then promoted to the rank of Colonel. In 1930 Colonel Yamashita was given command of the elite 3rd Imperial Infantry Regiment. (Imperial Guards Division). He was promoted to major-general in August 1934.

After the February 26 Incident of 1936, he fell into disfavor with Emperor Hirohito due to his appeal for leniency toward rebel officers involved in the attempted coup. He realized that he had lost the trust of the Emperor and decided to resign from the Army—a decision that his superiors dissuaded him from carrying out. He was eventually relegated to a post in Korea, being given command of a brigade. Akashi Yoji argued in his article "General Yamashita Tomoyuki: Commander of the Twenty-Fifth Army" that his time in Korea gave him the chance to reflect on his conduct during the 1936 coup and at the same time study Zen Buddhism, something which caused him to mellow down in character but yet instilled a high level of discipline for himself.

Yamashita was promoted to lieutenant-general in November 1937. He insisted that Japan should end the conflict with China and keep peaceful relations with the United States and Great Britain, but he was ignored and subsequently assigned to an unimportant post in the Kwantung Army.

From 1938-40 he was assigned to command the IJA 4th Division which saw some action in northern China against insurgents fighting the occupying Japanese armies. In December 1940 Yamashita was sent on a six-month clandestine military mission to Germany and Italy, where he met with Adolf Hitler on the 16th of June in 1941 in Berlin as well as Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Throughout his time in the military he had consistently urged the implementation of his proposals, which included "streamlining the air arm, to mechanize the Army, to integrate control of the armed forces in a defence ministry coordinated by a chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, to create a paratroop corps and to employ effective propaganda" Such strategies caused much friction between himself and General Hideki Tojo, the War Minister, who was not keen on implementing these proposals.

On 6 November 1941 Lt. Gen. Yamashita was put in command of the Twenty-Fifth Army. It was his belief that victory in Malaya would be successful only if his troops could make an amphibious landing—something that was dependent on whether he would have enough air and naval support to provide a good landing site.

On 8 December he launched invasion of Malaya from bases in French Indochina. Yamashita remarked that only a "driving charge" would ensure victory in Malaya. This is because the Japanese force was roughly about one-third of what the British had in Malaya and Singapore. The plan was to conquer Malaya and Singapore in the shortest time possible in order to overcome any numerical disadvantage, as well as to minimize any potential losses from a long, drawn-out battle.

The Malayan campaign concluded with the fall of Singapore on 15th of  February 1942, in which Yamashita's 30,000 front-line soldiers captured 130,000 British, Indian and Australian troops, the largest surrender of British-led personnel in history. He became known as the Tiger of Malaya.

The campaign and the subsequent Japanese occupation of Singapore included war crimes committed against captive  Allied  personnel and civilians, such as the Alexandra Hospital and Sook Ching massacres. Yamashita's culpability for these events remains a matter of controversy, as some argued that he had failed to prevent them. However, Yamashita had the officer who instigated the hospital massacre, and some soldiers caught looting, executed for these acts, and he personally apologized to the surviving Alexandra Hospital patients. This was in line with Yamashita's personality and belief, as Akashi Yoji argued, that the first orders given by Yamashita to the soldiers was no looting; no rape and no arson. He gave orders that any soldier committing such acts would be severely punished and his superior held accountable

Nevertheless, Yamashita's warnings to his troops were generally not heeded, and wanton acts of violence were reported. In his article, Yoji argued that the main issue was that despite being an excellent tactician and leader, his personal ideals constantly placed him at odds with the General Staff and War Ministry. His humane treatment of prisoners of war as well as British leaders was something the other officers had difficulty coming to terms with.

Despite the finger of blame for the Sook Ching Massacre being pointed at Yamashita, it was now argued that he had no direct part in it and that it was in fact his subordinates who were behind the incident. A study by Ian Ward concluded that Yamashita should not be held responsible for the Sook Ching Massacre, but Ward did hold him responsible "for failing to guard against Tsuji's manipulation of Command affairs.                                        

On the 17th of  July 1942, Yamashita was reassigned from Singapore to far-away Manchukuo again, having been given a post in commanding the First Area Army, and was effectively sidelined for a major part of the Pacific War. It is thought that Tojo, by then the Prime Minister, was responsible for his banishment, taking advantage of Yamashita's gaffe during a speech made to Singaporean civilian leaders in early 1942, when he referred to the local populace as "citizens of the Empire of Japan" (this was considered embarrassing for the Japanese government, who officially did not consider the residents of occupied territories to have the rights or privileges of Japanese citizenship). nevertheless, he was promoted to full general in February 1943.

In 1944, when the war situation was critical for Japan, Yamashita was rescued from his enforced exile in China by the new Japanese government after the downfall of Hideki Tojo and his cabinet, and he assumed the command of theFourteenth Area Army to defend the occupied Philippines on the 10th of October. The U.S. forces landed on Leyte on the 20th of October, only ten days after Yamashita's arrival at Manila. On the 6th of  January 1945, the Sixth U.S. Army, totalling 200,000 men, landed at Lingayen Gulf in Luzon.

Yamashita commanded approximately 262,000 troops in three defensive groups; the largest, the Shobu Group, under his personal command numbered 152,000 troops, defended northern Luzon. The smallest group, totaling 30,000 troops, known as the Kembu Group, under the command of Tsukada, defended Bataan and the western shores. The last group, the Shimbu Group, totaling 80,000 men under the command of Yokoyama, defended Manila and southern Luzon. Yamashita tried to rebuild his army but was forced to retreat from Manila to the Sierra Madre mountains of northern Luzon, as well as the Cordillera Central mountains. Yamashita ordered all troops, except those tasked with security, out of the city.

Almost immediately, Imperial Japanese Navy Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchire-occupied Manila with 16,000 sailors, with the intent of destroying all port facilities and naval storehouses. Once there, Iwabuchi took command of the 3,750 Army security troops, and against Yamashita's specific order, turned the city into a battlefield. The battle and the Japanese atrocities resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Filipino civilians, in what would be later known as the Manila massacre, during the fierce street fighting for the capital which raged between February 4th to March 3rd.

Yamashita would continue to use delaying tactics to maintain his army in Kiangan (part of the Ifugao Province). Yamashita's troops continued to fight in the mountains despite suffering widespread disease and starvation. By the time Yamashita surrendered to the U.S. forces in June 1945, 210,000 Japanese soldiers were dead. By the time of his surrender, his forces had been reduced to less than 50,000 because of the lack of supplies and tough campaigning by elements of the combined American and Filipino soldiers including the recognized guerrillas.                                                     

Yamashita surrendered in the presence of Generals  Jonathan Wainwright and Arthur Percival, both of whom had been prisoners of war in Manchuria. Percival had surrendered to Yamashita after the Battle of Singapore.

Prior to September 3, 1945, General Yamashita was the Commanding General of the Fourteenth Army Group of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippine Islands. On that day, he surrendered to the United States Army and became a prisoner of war. He was the Commanding General of the United States Army Forces, Western Pacific, whose command embraced the Philippine Islands.

Immediately after his surrender, General Yamashita, as commander of all Japanese forces in the Philippines, was arrested as a war criminal, charged with responsibility for atrocities committed by Japanese forces under his command against civilians in Manila and prisoners of war by failing to prevent the atrocities committed by some of his men.  

An American military commission was convened to put General Yamashita on trial for those crimes. Evidence presented at his trial suggests, however, that he was unaware of the crimes committed by the members of the Naval Base Force who had refused to obey his order to move out of Manila, and that he exercised no command over those forces during the battle taking place in Manila.

Was General Yamashita  really responsible for the crimes committed by his Japanese troops against local civilians and POWs in the Philippines?

When he arrived in Manila as Commander of the 14th Area Army in October 1944, the Japanese communication and supply system was already in turmoil, and the morale of the troops was very low. These problems intensified after his headquarters was moved to Baguio while the troops were scattered throughout the mountains of northern Luzon. By this stage the soldiers were desperate in the face of severe shortages of food, medicine and ammunition. Many soldiers never received Yamashita's orders and instructions, and many commands were ignored, even by junior officers. The rejection by the 31st Naval Base Force of Yamashita's order to evacuate Manila was a typical example of a situation aggravated by the longstanding Army-Navy rivalry. Based on that information, his defense lawyers, themselves members of the American armed forces; thought that the trial of General Yamashita was a “kangaroo court”—a political exercise that was staged by the U.S. Army, particularly General MacArthur. 

It seems that Yamashita was profoundly affected by the tribunal, even though the proceedings conducted by the US Army were patently unfair. At the hearing, about 200 victims and witnesses to various Japanese atrocities gave detailed accounts of Japanese atrocities. It must have been an excruciating experience for Yamashita, listening day after day to painful stories of the victimization of many men, women and children especially since he didn’t order such atrocities to be committed by his soldiers.  

On the advice of his American lawyers, he denied responsibility for the crimes committed by those under his command, but in his personal will he humbly acknowledged his failure as commander to discipline his soldiers and punish those who committed crimes against the people of the Philippines. Moreover, he appears to have internalized the pain of the victims of Japanese atrocities, displaying remorse for his troops' war crimes, somehow overcoming his own old-fashioned militarist ideology and replacing it with a remarkable self-criticism. This is clear from his last words, dictated to Buddhist prison chaplain Morita Shokaku, shortly before he was hanged. These words, a message to the Japanese people, were an addition to his written will, in which he sincerely apologized to all the people of the Philippines for the atrocities that his troops committed.

His remorse in my respectful opinion doesn’t mean that he was personally responsible for the atrocities committed by his men, especially when he ordered that such atrocities in the Philippines were not to be committed. In contrast to other Generals, Yamashita made no excuses for the atrocities that his soldiers committed against the people of the Philippines. On the contrary, he clearly accepted responsibility as commander and the judgment by rigorous but impartial law. It seems ironic that many conservative politicians who support Prime Minister Koizumi's official visits to Yasukuni Shrine now claim that the war crime tribunals conducted by the Allied forces were simply "victor's justice" and therefore had no legal validity.

However, this particular defence does not automatically exempt Yamashita from responsibility for Japanese military atrocities elsewhere. 

On the 18th of February 1942, three days after the capture of Singapore, Yamashita issued an order to 'select and remove hostile Chinese. At the time, about 600,000 Chinese lived in Singapore and anti-Japanese sentiment was rife after a decade of Japanese invasion and war beginning in Manchuria in 1931 and continuing in China from 1937. In actual fact, a Chinese guerilla force set up with the help of British forces support fought fiercely against the invading Japanese troops after the fall of Singapore. For their part, the Japanese occupation force amassed and interrogated 200,000 Chinese men aged between 15 and 50, in an attempt to root out the so-called "anti-Japanese elements," such as communists and supporters of the Guomindang, as well as ordinary criminals.

One officer, Masanobu Tsuji, reportedly boasted that he would reduce the Chinese population of Singapore to half by implementing Yamashita's order. Due to the haphazard methods used to find these "anti-Japanese elements," however, the exercise ended as a massacre of large numbers of innocent civilians. Estimates of the toll varied between 6,000 and 100,000, although it was probably around 40,000. Similar atrocities were also carried out across the Malaya Peninsula, resulting in the deaths of a further 60,000 Chinese. If the British forces had conducted Yamashita's war crime tribunal, he would certainly have been found guilty for this appalling large-scale massacre of the Chinese citizens since he was on that island just under five months while those atrocities were committed on that island before he was transferred to Norther Manchuria as commander of the First Area Army.   

The reason why he would be found guilty of the massacres in Singapore is that he had to be well aware of what was going on in Singapore when these atrocities were being committed by his men. I have visited Singapore and I assure you it is a very small island and the massacre of 40,000 Chinese would not go unnoticed by General Yamashita. These actions by his men automatically turned him into a war criminal in which a sentence of death would be most appropriate.

He in my opinion, should have been hanged for the crimes in Manila that he wasn’t personally responsible for since he made it clear to his men that they were not to harm the citizens in Manila and they disobeyed them without his knowledge.

Jest before he was hanged on February 23rd 1946, his least message (written in part) to the people of Japan was as follows;

“Due to my carelessness and personal crassness, I committed an inexcusable blunder as the commander of the entire [14th Area] Army and consequently caused the deaths of your precious sons and dearest husbands. I am really sorry and cannot find appropriate words for sincere apologies as I am really confused because of my excruciating agony. As the commander of your beloved men, I am soon to receive the death penalty, having been judged by rigorous but impartial law. It is a strange coincidence that the execution is to be carried out on the birthday of the first U.S. president, George Washington.

“I do not know how to express my apology, but the time has come to atone for my guilt with my death. However, I do not think that all the crimes for which I am responsible can easily be liquidated simply by my death. Various indelible stains that I left on the history of mankind cannot be offset by the mechanical termination of my life.

“For a person like me who constantly faced death, to die is not at all difficult. Of course I should have committed suicide when I surrendered, as ordered by the emperor in accordance with the Japanese code of the samurai. In fact, I once decided to do so when I attended the surrender ceremonies at Kiangan and Baguio, at which General Percival, whom I had defeated [in Singapore], was also present. What prevented me from committing such an egocentric act was the presence of my soldiers, who did not yet know that the war was over at that time. By refusing to take my own life, I was able to set my men free from meaningless deaths, as those stationed around Kiangan were ready to commit suicide. I really felt pain from the shame of remaining alive, in violation of the samurai's code of "dying at the appropriate time in an appropriate place." I therefore can imagine how much more difficult it is for people like you to remain alive and re-build Japan rather than being executed as a war criminal. If I were not a war criminal, I would still have chosen a difficult path, bearing shame to stay alive and atone for my sins until natural death comes, no matter how you all might despise me.”  unquote

I am saddened by the massacres, murders and shameful actions of mankind in pursuit of war. Wars solve nothing when instigated by those who want to conquer other lands. I have dealt with these war crimes in both Europe and Asia extensively in Volumes One and Two of my memoirs; Whistling in the Face of Robbers 

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