Verdict of History

Published: 2021-06-29 06:53:20
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Category: American History

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Andrew Morris

The Verdict of History

At the moment of its charter on January 19, 1946, the International Military Tribunal Far East was held to be the second half of the trials that would establish the legal basis for lasting world peace. However, the Tokyo Trials failed to render the same moral judgment as the Nuremberg Trials. Both were based solidly in ex post facto law and victor's justice, but the politically charged motives present in the Japanese tribunals seriously undermined its lasting weight. Paramount in the political gambit was the American choice to spare Emperor Hirohito, whose exclusion from prosecution severely weakened the extent to which Imperial Japan faced justice during the foundation of Modern Japan.

Pre-surrender Policy
Even before the surrender of Japan, as early as 1942, the position of the emperor was being debated. In defeated Japan, would there be direct military rule like would come in Germany, or Allied oversight of the existing Japanese government? This could not be answered without there first being a policy towards the emperor. Emperor Hirohito, at the political and theocratic center of the imperial system of Japan, could be deposed and replaced. But the institution of the emperor could not be removed without overhauling the Japanese governmental system. Therefore the question of the emperor largely became a question of the method of the occupation.1
In 1944, the policy of indirect rule was advocated by the paper "Military Government and the Institution of the Emperor," written by Hugh Borton. The most convincing argument for this position was that the military simply lacked the trained personnel required to run the country if there was a total purge of the governing bureaucracy. Furthermore, if the democratic ideals the occupation was supposed to impose on the Japanese were to have any lasting weight, an Allied imposition removing the emperor would be futile. Thirdly, the historical and traditional position of the emperor would be a serious break in continuity that might undermine the occupation. The paper did recommend, however, that if the policy were ineffective that the Civil Affairs Administrator (later known as the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers) would have power to remove him.2
A very similar paper written by Dr. Blakeslee titled "The Postwar Objectives of The United States in Regard to Japan" was presented to the State Department's Postwar Programs Committee (PWC) and accepted. There was dissent in the PWC, however, and committee member Breckenridge Long advocated the total decentralization of the Japanese government. The former ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew, in his new position as the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs was able to mollify this dissent by taking a hard line. Many of the Committee's contributions found their way into the Potsdam Declaration.3
The weakness of the Tribunal can also be found in the method of the surrender. A draft of the Potsdam Declaration written by Grew included a concession for the retention of the emperor. As a former ambassador to Japan, Grew understood that the main resistance to its terms would be the retention of the Imperial Institution. Secretary of War Stimson's draft also included a similar provision. However, the successful testing of the Atomic Bomb caused President Truman to remove the declaration's protection of the emperor. Prompt and utter destruction could be guaranteed, so any leniency was no longer needed to hasten unconditional surrender.

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