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You are here -> HOME - RETROVILLE - 1948 - In the News - Japanese War Crimes Trials
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Welcome to Retroville! It's 1948!
Although the world was focused on the Nuremburg trials in which Nazi leaders and officials were tried and sentenced for crimes committed against Allied nations during World War II, a second trial, lasting far longer and encompassing far greater numbers of defendants, took place from May 1946 through November 1948. Although 80 suspects were originally detained and held at Sugamo Prison, only 28 were brought to trial before an international tribunal made up of eleven nations.
Hirohito - Japanese Emperor - a scientist and businessman, Hirohito would resign
Ultimately, in other trials held in member nations--ten alone in China--more than 900 Japanese civilians and military men would be tried. In the Tokyo Trials, as the first of these international war crimes trials became known, the 28 who faced indictment were all accused of conspiring to promote a scheme of conquest that "contemplated and carried out ... murdering, maiming and ill-treating prisoners of war (and) civilian internees ... forcing them to labor under inhumane conditions ... plundering public and private property, wantonly destroying cities, towns and villages beyond any justification of military necessity; (perpetrating) mass murder, rape, pillage, brigandage, torture and other barbaric cruelties upon the helpless civilian population of the over-run countries."

The trials dragged on for more than two years as hundreds of witnesses testified to the atrocities they had suffered or witnessed at the hands or direction of the named defendants. Future trials of other individuals used some of the same witnesses to indict and convict the additional 900 defendants. With accusations ranging from rape and murder, to the use of biological agents and "scientific experiments" on living victims, the charges against the 28 defendants in the Tokyo Trials went largely unpublished by Allied newspapers.

The defendants comprised both military and non-military persons who had participated in large-scale massacres, governmental overthrow, and inciting war against other nations. They were:

  • Four former premiers: Hiranuma, Hirota, Koiso, Tojo;
  • Three former foreign ministers: Matsuoka, Shigemitsu, Togo
  • Four former war ministers: Araki, Hata, Itagaki, Minami
  • Two former navy ministers: Nagano, Shimada
  • Six former generals: Doihara, Kimura, Matsui, Muto, Sato, Umezu
  • Two former ambassadors: Oshima, Shiratori
  • Three former economic and financial leaders: Hoshino, Kaya, Suzuki
  • One imperial adviser: Kido
  • One radical theorist: Okawa
  • One admiral: Oka
  • One colonel: Hashimoto

When the last statement had been made, the verdicts were handed down:

Two (Yosuke Matsuoka and Osami Nagano) of the 28 defendants died of natural causes during the trial.

One defendant (Shumei Okawa) had a mental breakdown on the first day of trial, was sent to a psychiatric ward and was released in 1948 a free man.

The remaining 25 were all found guilty, many of multiple counts.

  • 7 sentenced to hang (all found guilty of inciting or participating in mass-scale atrocities in addition to the original counts)
  • 16 sentenced to life imprisonment
    • 3 would die between 1949 and 1950 while imprisoned
    • 13 would be paroled between 1954 and 1956
  • 1 sentenced to 7 years in prison (died in prison in 1949)
  • 1 sentenced to 20 years in prison (paroled in 1950 and appointed foreign minister in 1954)

Overall, the defendants sentenced to prison would serve less than five years each for crimes against millions of people. Unlike the Nuremberg trials where justice was swift and the world watched to ensure the sentences were carried out, the Tokyo Trial defendants went largely unnoticed and their ultimate freedoms were granted without international scrutiny.

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