The primary war crime trials were the International Military Tribunals in Germany and Japan. There were no international tribunals in Italy. There were also national trials in the occupied countries that focused more on local collaborators. The International War Crimes Trials introduced a new concept in international law, making the planning, preparing, initiating, or waging of war of aggression a crime. After World War II, the International Military Tribunal at Nurenberg (composed of a judge from Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) tried NAZI leaders. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, at Tokyo (composed of a judge from Australia, Britain, Canada, (Nationalist) China, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, and the United States) tried Japanese leaders. Both tribunals stressed in their proceedings that laubching a war of aggression "is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime". The two tribunals established the principle that only high government officials actually formulating or influencing governmental policy can be charged with "crimes against peace. Thus soldiers in an army who have a legal obligation to follow the orders of their government can not be procecuted for crimes against peace while the political leaders and ranking generals could. Low ranking individual could, however, be procecuted for individual acts of atroicities such as the murder of civilians. All of the occupied countries tried local collaborators. The Soviets controlled the trials in Eastern Europe. The trials in Western Europe were conducted like the International Tribunals as real trials with judicial safeguards. Trials in Asia were more varied.
War is a brutal buiness and until World War a case can be made that the greatest crime was launching a war, especially an aggressibd war. I the developinvg field of internaztional law is that a state has the fright to defend itself and its people. And beginning in the 19th century we brgin to see the negotation of interntional conventions to protect those caught up in war, especially prisoners of war. And the evolving code of military conduct was that civilians should be protected if at all possible. World War II was thus unique in modern history because the war aims of the Axis powers was not only to destroy the armed firces of enemy powers, but the murder of vast amounts of civilians iin the tons of millions. Despite the advances in military weapons and ordinance. there were fewer combat deaths in World War II than World War I. The massive death toll in World war II was in civilians and to a lesser but still important treatment of POWs. The great bulk of war crimes committed during World War II were committed by the Axis Powers and the Soviet Union. The Germans as a major war goal was to murder tens of millions of people (Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and Balts) so they could remake the ethnic map of Europe. The relevations of the Holocust are terrifying enough, less well known is the even greater crimes that the NAZIs were planning after they won the War. The Soviets were intent on a similar goal, although implementation was restrained after the German invasion because of the need for aid from he Allied powers. The Japanese goal was less to remake the ehnic map of Europe, but to use force and terror to cow the Chinese abd others into submission and absolute disregard for lives lost. The Axis Powers (especially Germany and Japan) were some of the most perpetrators of war crimes in modern history. These were not isolated excesses of individual soldiers and commanders, but carefully planned regime policies and prigrams. And self-deffense was not involved in that the Axis and Soviets were the countries that launched the War. And as mentioned, they were not only will to accdept mass slaughter, but that slaugher was in the case of Germany a primary war aim. A range of factors fed into the apauling toll of civilians, including NAZI and Japanese race theory, a desire for 'living space', Sovit class struggle, existing ethnic and nationalist conflicts. In the mind of perpetrator, this justified noy onky the murder of individuals, but whole groups and classes of people, including womrn and children. Even before the end of the War, details began to leak out about the conduct of the Axis powerws, although Stalin was more sucessful in covering Soviet crime which began well before the War. There were also war crimes committed by Allied countries, but mostly by individual soldiers and minisule in comparison to the crimes perpetrated by the Axis and Soviets.
The Allies at the end of World War I intended to hold the Kaiser and high military commanders responsible for war crimes. This never occurred because the Kaiser fled to the neutral Netherlands and proceution wa largely left in the hands of the new Weimar Republic Germnan Government which was both unwilling and incapable of conducting war crime trials. After Hitler and Stalin launched World War II with the invasion of Poland (September 1939), reports of war crimes against civilians began to reach Allied capitals and the neutral United States. It was soon clear that the levl of attrocitoes against civilians was beyond the scope of what had occurred in World War I or for that matter, any other Europen war. Most of the reorts concerned the NAZIs and the countries they had invaded and occupied. Very little was reported on what was happening in Soviet-controlled areas of Eastern Europe, although we now know that heinous crimes were being commotted there by Stalin and the NKVD, although with out the Jewish racial component. As a result, from an early point, the Germans were warned that they would be held responsible for war crimes. Similar warnings were not issued to the Soviets. As the NAZI and Soviet aggressions expanded beyond Poland, governments-in-exile were set up, mostly in London. These governments both publicized thesr reports of actions against civilians and warned mostly the Germans that officils and military commanders would be held responsible. Notably these pronouncements did not identify the Jews as the primary target of NAZI brutlity. And this practice continued with rate exceptions throughout the War. Here anti-Semitism was a factor, but not the only factor. The Allied pronouncements and warnings had little or no impact on NAZI behavior. Unbeknownst to the Allies was the priority that Hitler assigned to the killing of Jews as well as Slavs and other targeted ethnic groups. And for more tha 2 years, the Germans were convinced they were goung to win the war. After the fall of France (June 1940), most Germans belieced they had won the War. It was not untill mid-1944 that most Germans began to realize that they were going to lose the War and lose it disasterouly. And most Germans were either convinced that what they were doing was acceptable behavior in war time or denined the Allied charges to the extent they were aware of them--seeing them as Allied war propaganda. After the War turned against Germany, the extent of NAZI crime were so emnse that NAZI officials saw nothing to be gained by changing policy. By this time most the Holocaust killing had been completed, but of course not the much larger plnned killing of Slavs and other targeted group. Almost incomprehendibly, major NAZIs and tip military commanders were surprised that they were going to be held responsible for war crimes.
The Allies and Soviets reached agreement on the creation of an International Military Tribunal to try major war criminals (August 8). The date was very important. It was 1 day before the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the Soviet Union had not yet declared war on Japan. Thus the agreement only related to German and collaborationist war crimes in Europe. They decided to establish an International Military Tribunal (IMT) to try German war criminals. The IMT was to try thosecaccused of war crimes "whose offenses have no particular geographic location". The signees agreed that based on the Moscow Declaration that war criminals should still be returned to the countries where they committed their offenses. And they agreed that the IMT did not preclude national governments from establishing other courts to try war criminals in their country or Germany.
The primary war crime trials were the International Military Tribunals in Germany (Nuremberg) and Japan (Tikyo). There were no international tribunals in Italy which had quit the War (1943). The Italians were left to try their Fascist war criminals. There were also national trials in the countries that had been occupied by Axis firces. These trials often focused more on local collaborators, but they dis try Axis war criminals as well. The International War Crimes Trials introduced a new concept in international law, making the planning, preparing, initiating, or waging of war of aggression a crime. Both tribunals stressed in their proceedings that laubching a war of aggression 'is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime'. The two major tribunals in Nuremberg and Tolyo established the principle that only high government officials actually formulating or influencing governmental policy can be charged with 'crimes against peace'. Thus soldiers in an army who have a legal obligation to follow the orders of their government can not be procecuted for crimes against peace while the political leaders and ranking generals could. Low ranking individual could, however, be procecuted for individual acts of atroicities such as the murder of civilians and POWs. The Soviet Uniin also committed major wae crimes bith as a NAZI ally (1939-41) and as Allied co-beligerant (1941-45). The Soviers were never tried for war crimes becuase there participation in the War was vital for the fefeat of Germany. The Wesrern Allies coulf not have defeated the Germans without Soviet particioation, at lease without use of the atmoic bomb.
The Allies decided to try NAZI war criminals in Nuremberg. This was in part a symbolic gesture because Nuremberg was the heart of NAZI Germany, but the palace of justice in Nuremberg was on of the few facilities left standing in Germany large enough to accomodate the proceedings. Nuremberg was location of the annual NAZI Party Congresses. The chilling film, "Triumph of the Will" depicted one of these congresses. There were other reasons for holding the trials in Nuremberg, one in particular was that it was in the Western zone. The first trial of the NAZI leadership was held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. The International Military Tribunal (IMT) convened in the principal courtroom for criminal cases (room No. 600) in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice. It was the scene of many NAZI show trials. Allied leaders during the War had agreed to prosecute those responsible for war-crimes. After World War II, the International Military Tribunal at Nurenberg (composed of a judge from Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) tried NAZI leaders. President Harry S. Truman designated Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson as the U.S. representative and chief counsel. He planned and organized the trial procedure and served as Chief Prosecutor for the United States. It was Jackson who recommended Nuremberg as the site for the trials. The Soviets wanted the trials held in Berlin. A compromise was reached. Berlin was to be the permanent seat of the IMT and that furture IMT trials could be held in Berlin. There were no further IMT trials, however, because of the Cold War. There were further trials, but none cinducted by the Soviets and Western Allies jointly. Each of the four Great Powers (England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) provided one judge and an alternate as well as the prosecutors. The first session of the International Military Tribunal was opened on October 18, 1945, in the Supreme Court Building in Berlin, which had become the seat of the Allied Control Council. Soviet judge, Iola T. Nikitschenko presided over the opening session. The prosecution presented indictments against 24 "major war criminals" and against 6 "criminal organizations": Hitler's Cabinet, the leadership corps of the Nazi party, the SS (party police) and SD (security police), the Gestapo, the SA and the General Staff and High Command of the Wehrmacht.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, at Tokyo (composed of a judge from Australia, Britain, Canada, (Nationalist) China, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, and the United States) tried Japanese leaders.
The Tokyo War Crimes Trial defendents included a select group of generals, admirals and diplomats. Many Japanese believed that after these trials, war criminals had been justly tried and punished. The Tokyo Trials had, however, been much more narrowly focused than the comparable abnd better known trials in Germany. General Douglas MacArthur commaded the occupation force ans substantially influenced the judicial priceedings. He concluded that it was necessary to maintain governmental continuity in the form of the Emperor. This became official U.S. Government policy. As a result, the procedutors in the War Crimes trials scrupulously avoided any mention of Emperor Hirohito. The defendants out of loyalty to the Emperior did the same, despite the fact that it would have helped their defenses to claim that they were following his orders. When Tojo told his lawyer that "the subjects of Japan can never say or do anything against His Majesty's will," the prosecutors convinced him not to say that on the stand. The U.S. Goverment decesion to exempt Emperor Hirohito from culpability for the War and ensuing war crimes lessened the need for serious examination in Japan of individual and national responsibility. Many Japanese continued to believe that the Wat was a legitimate attempt to defend the country. Few Japanese were informed of the full extent of the crimes committed by the Japanese military in occupied countries. Most Japanese citizens immediately after the War were focused on the immedite task of survival and challenges of rebuilding Japan after the destructive Allied bombibng.
The Allies and Soviets along with the Chinese Communists also consucted war crimes trials. These were mostly confucted against Japanese military personnel. This is because, most German war criminals managed to escape to the Reich and were apprehended there. At the time the Japanese surrendered, Japan still controlled large areas outside the Home Islands, including areas of China, Indo-China, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, central Luzon, Formosa, and many Pacific Islands. Thus Japanese military personnel surrendered in the various far-flung theaters of War. The Tokyo IMT Tribunal tried Government officials and senior military commanders arrested in the Home Islands. The Allies tried some 5,700 lower-ranking Japanese military personnel for Class-B war crimes. They were were charged with conventional war crimes. Australia, China, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted these trials in various Asian and Pacific locations. Despite the brutalization of Indian POWs by the Japanese, India did not participate despite becoming independent (1947). The charges covered the many different war crimes and atrocities, including POW murder and abuse, rape, sexual slavery, torture, ill-treatment of workers and slave labor, summary execution, medical experimentation on civilians and POWs, and other inhuman actions. These trials took place in around 50 locations in Asia and the Pacific. The best know of these trials was the procecution of General Yamashita in Manila. Most of these trials were completed by 1949, but Australia held some trials as late as 1951. [Wilson et. al. ]
China had more reason than any other country because of the extent and barbarity of Japanese actions. It held 13 tribunals, resulting in 504 convictions and 149 executions. The result of these 5,700 procecutions, 984 were sentenced to death; 475 received life sentences; 2,944 were given prison terms; 1,018 were acquitted; and 279 were never brought to trial or not sentenced. The number of death sentences by country is as follows: the Netherlands 236, United Kingdom 223, Australia 153, China 149, United States 140, France 26, and Philippines 17 . [Dower, p. 447.]
The Soviet Union and Chinese Communist held their own trials of Japanese war criminals. The Soviets took karge numbers of Jaoanese soldiers prisioner at the end of the War (August 1945). Most disappeared in the Sobiet Gulag and never returned home. Being captured by the Soviets in the Far Easr was a virtual death sentence. Most of the Japanese POWs were worked to death in Siberian labor camps. It hardly made sence trying war criminals except to establish a historical record. One important Soviet trial was the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials which brought some members of Japan's notirious bacteriological and chemical warfare unit (Unit 731) to justice. Gen. MacArthur as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in a terible miscariahe of justice gave immunity to Shiro Ishii and all members of the bacteriological research units in American hands.
All of the occupied countries tried local collaborators. The Soviets controlled the trials in Eastern Europe. The trials in Western Europe wee conducted like the International Tribunals as real trials with judicial safeguards. Trials in Asia were more varied.
Dower, John Embracing Defeat (1999).
Wilson, Sandra, Robert Cribb, Beatrrice Trefalt, and Dean Aszkielowicz. Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice after the Second World War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).
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