Japanese War Crimes and Atrocities


Figure 1.--This boy and his mother in China survived a Japanese air raid on Chungking in 1937, but are in shock over the destruction of their home. The Japanese never took Chyngking, but the city was devestated by several years of Japanese air raids beginning in 1937.

Japan did not and does not today admit the full extent of its responsibility for launching World War II. Many Japanese attempt to hide the extent of their country's war crimes and prefer to view their country as a victim of the War. The list of Japanese atrocities and war is very long, involving the deaths of millions, mostly innocent civilians. The list in its entirity is too long to list here, but we need to mention some of the most grevious atrocities committed by the Imperial armed forces. The primary war crime is the launching of aggerssive war first against China (1937) and then the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands (1941). Specific examples include the terror bombing of undefended Chinese cities (Shanghai); mascres of Chinese civilians (the Rape of Nanking), use of biologcal and chenical weapons, mistreatment and massacres of Allied POWs (the Batan Death March), abuse of civilain internees, use of slave labor, conscription of civilian women for prostitution (Korean comfort women).

Previous Wars

One interesting note here is that the brutal behavior of the Japanese troops during World War II is not how the Japanes behave in earlier conflicts. Japanese behavior toward captured enemy soldiers and civilian populations was correct in both the Russo-Japanese War (1905) and World War I (1914-18). I have less information on the seizure of Formosa from China (1895) and the colonization of Korea after the war with Russia.

First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95)


Boxer Rebellion (1900)


Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

The Russo-Japanese War was the first major conflict between Japan and a European poweres. At the time, international inteactions between Europe and Asia were unknown Much of asiahd been colonized or as in the case of China subgegated through what the himnese ca;; the 'unequal trearies'. Tge Japanese government was determined to change this. TheMeihi Restoration was in large measure founded on a desire to maintain Japan's independence by creating a modern state. The Japanese Government proceeded to destroy existing perceptions that Japan was medieval, uncivilized country. They were determined to act as the Europeans prceuvd civilized conduct. They set out to fight the war as a modern, civilized state, The Japanese government in 1904 was in control of its military and ordered commanders to adhere to international law in their military operations. One historian describes a Japanese policy of ‘humanitarian nationalism’. Officials were particularly determined to to end the 'yellow peril myth;. And this was demonstrated by the correct treatment Russian prisoners of war. The Japanese provided medical assistance to battlefield casualties. They had a major problem with the Russian prisoners of war because of the numbers involved. Prisoners at the Matsuyama prison camp were treated corectly. One historian evenreports tht they were treated with 'kindness'. Here he is referring not just to Japanese authorities, but the local Japanese population. He describes them as 'accidental tourists". Japanese officials understood very well that the entire world was watching them. The treatnent of the Russian POWs provided an opportunity to show case that they could conduct themselves just as civily as the Great Powers. [Shimazu] The contrast with World War II could not be more stark.

World War I (1914-18)

Japan was also involved in World War I. Much of it was naval operation, but there were land operations against the Austrians and Germans in Tsingtao and in seizing German Pacific islands. As far as we know the Japanese behaved correctly, at least toward the Europeans. They were very brutal in dealing with the Chinese, but toward the Europeans their behavior was correct. Just what happened between World War I and worlkd war II is not entirely clear. The military's seizure of the Japanese civilizn government surely must be a factor.

World War II

The attrocities committed by Japanese soldiers defy the cognitive abilities of the human mind. It is difficult to believe that any nation could have carried out the barbarities perpetrated, mostly on innocent civilians. Japanese war crimes were not only unimaginably brutal and widespread, but they are without prescedent even in Japanese history. Some of the attrocities were official Japanese war policy. Many others were ordered by local commasndrs or committed by individual soldiers. NAZI war crimes and depravity are better known, but the Japanese in some ways were even more barbaric thasn the NAZIs if that can be imgained. Despite 8 years of War, there were no Chinese POWs to liberate--they had all been murdered. Japan in sharp contrast to Germany did not and does not today admit the full extent of its responsibility for launching World War II and the brutality of their soldiers during the War. Many Japanese attempt to hide the extent of their country's war crimes. Some claim that the decision to go to war was forced upon Japan. For the most part the Japanese prefer to view their country as a victim of the War. Japanese school childtren are largely tought briefly about the War with text books and school ceremonies that focus on the atomic bombs. The treatment by Japanese text books approved by the Ministry of Education has been a recurring issue affecting relations with China, Korea, and other countries occupied by the Japanese during the War. Virtually unknown to the Jaspanese people are the war crimes perpetrated aginstg their own people. The list of Japanese atrocities and war crimes is very long, involving the deaths of millions, mostly innocent civilians. The list in its entirity is too long to list here, but we need to mention some of the most grevious atrocities committed by the Imperial armed forces.

Post-War Attitudes

There was considerable resentment after the War toward Japan. The greates attrocities were conducted in China. We are not entirely sure about Chinese attitudes after the war. The cojntry was preoccupied with the Civil War. And then with the Communist victory, coounications and cotact with thewest ceased. we do note during the Korean War that the Chinese made accusations that the americans were cominging some of the same war crimes thazt Japan committed. For several years asfter the war, we notice considerable bitternes in both Australia and Britain about the treatment of POWs and civilian internees. A British reader who grew up in the 1950s writes, "There are people in England who do not buy Japanese goods to this day because of how their captured family member was treated by the Japanese. My father discouraged me from buying toys if they said Made in Japan. Made in Hong Kong was Ok but not Japan."

Sources

Beevor, Anthony. The Second World War (Back Bay Books: New York, 2012), 863p.

Bix, Herbert. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (New York: Harper and Collins, 2000).

Bradley, James. Flyboys: A True Story of Courage (Little Brown, 2003), 398p.

Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (Basic Books: New York, 1997).

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Halewijn Brown, Emilie. "The Agonies of internment," The Washington Post May 29, 2005, p. W11.

Jayalakshmi K. "War crimes in WWII: Japanese practised cannibalism on Indian soldiers," International Business (August 11, 2014).

Shimazu, Naoko. Japanese Society at War: Death, Memory and the Russo-Japanese War (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009), 354 p.

Tanaka, Yuki. Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes In World War II (Westview Press, 1997), 304p.

Tanaka, Yuki. Japan's Comfort Women: The Military and Involuntary Prostitution during War and Occupation (paperback 2002).

Van Harl, Major. USAF Ret. "Sister Bullwinkel". Naval & Military History Page (2006).







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Created: December 29, 2002
Last updated: 10:19 AM 10/6/2015