An Australian jurist evaluates the legality of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal that followed Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II.
Smith (Sail the Solomons, 1998, etc.) takes readers through the legal foundations of the tribunal that tried Japanese leaders for war crimes during World War II, and specifically uses the trial of Japanese premier Koki Hirota as his focal point. He begins by analyzing the legal basis for the tribunal, which was led by the United States under the authority of the Instrument of Surrender that marked the end of the war. He then delves into Japanese history, explaining the legal and cultural structures that governed Hirota’s activities as a civilian member of the government and identifying concepts of imperial authority and obedience. The book then takes readers through the trial itself, which led to the convictions of Hirota and several other top officials; their superior, Emperor Hirohito, was never tried. Smith relies on both legal philosophy and documentary evidence to present a convincing case for the tribunal’s shortcomings, and he ultimately condemns the verdict against Hirota. The book presents reasonable arguments against many charges, arguing that, for example, no international legal authority had banned the act of going to war in 1941. Smith also shows that the lawyers representing the defendants were prevented from obtaining evidence and making arguments on their clients’ behalf. The book is a dense, demanding read that requires readers to comprehend difficult legal concepts, but the prose is clear, and it includes several anecdotes that may take readers by surprise; for instance, several indicted Japanese officials weren’t tried at all simply because the courtroom’s dock didn’t have room for them. Thorough references and substantial excerpts from primary sources help Smith provide a solid basis for his conclusions.
A well-argued analysis of a key trial in postwar Japan.