Keeping some distance from the Tokyo Tribunal
When the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, commonly known as the Tokyo Tribunal, convened after the end of World War II, a total of 28 people including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo were tried as Class-A war criminals. However, two died during the trial and one was dismissed after being found mentally incompetent. Setting aside the findings of the tribunal, the Yomiuri Shimbun’s War Responsibility Reexamination Committee has empirically examined the responsibility of political and military leaders before and during the war. The list of Japanese authorities that the Yomiuri Shimbun committee deemed as being “mainly responsible” shows some similarities—and some differences—from those identified by the tribunal as being Class-A war criminals.
Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Chief of Army General Staff Hajime Sugiyama and War Minister Korechika Anami opted to commit suicide shortly before or after Japan’s surrender and were not defendants at the Tokyo Tribunal. Also Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka and Chief of Naval General Staff Osami Nagano died from natural causes during the trial and thus were not sentenced. Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Shimbun committee identified staff officers including Kanji Ishihara, a mastermind behind the Manchurian Incident; Navy Captain Shingo Ishikawa, who pushed for the advance into southern French Indochina; and military bureaucrats including Shinichi Tanaka of the Army General Staff, who insisted on waging a war against the United States, as bearing heavy responsibility; but they were not even suspects in the Tokyo Tribunal.
However, military officers and bureaucrats pointed to by the Yomiuri Shimbun committee as being responsible were “representatives”—others were just as responsible for the war as these representatives were. The Yomiuri Shimbun committee focused not only on the “responsibility for starting the war” but also on the “responsibility for continuing the war.” Koshiro Oikawa and Soemu Toyoda, Chiefs of the Naval General Staff, surfaced as officers who bear some responsibility for their roles. The newspaper’s committee decided that Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso and Chief of the Army General Staff Yoshijiro Umezu, who received life sentences from the Tokyo Tribunal, were heavily responsible for the war as they had insisted on a final battle on the mainland.
Heitaro Kimura, a pro-Tojo group member and Vice War Minister, and Army General Iwane Matsui, the commander responsible for “Nanking Jiken” (the Nanjing Incident), also were responsible for the war but did not play major roles in directing the war, according to the findings of the Yomiuri Shimbun committee. Kimura and Matsui were sentenced to death by hanging.