How Japan never punished Nazi criminals — Analysis

Tokyo made the decision to bring war criminals to trial after WWII ended, but it never actually went through.

In Tokyo or any other big city in Japan, there is always a store selling military uniforms and paraphernalia – both authentic and replica – belonging to a variety of armies. The most popular among them are the modern American military uniform and, as strange as it may seem, the old German one circa the Third Reich’s Wehrmacht and SS days. Sometimes, you may see people wearing Totenkopf caps or red swastika wristbands while walking down the street in Nazi uniforms. Usually it’s someone going to a cosplay party, but mostly people buy these uniforms to add to their private collections or to wear at home or in theme clubs. This is not a place where there is aversion to Nazi symbols. Japan, unlike Germany has never experienced denazification. The way that many Japanese view the result of WWII is not what they might have expected.

Family Business

In early 2021, Shinzo Abe, who until recently served as prime minister of Japan, said that the country needs to establish an intelligence agency – the kind of statement he had refrained from in his official capacity.

Although it was surprising, Abe is known for being hawkish in his policy choices. Under his rule as the longest-serving prime minister, Japan had done plenty to stealthily revive its military sovereignty, shattered by the pacifist Article 9 of the 1947 Japanese Constitution and the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan that stipulated that Japan didn’t really need an army. So Abe’s new suggestion is just a follow-up to the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS) that Japan adopted while he was in power.

Japan’s growing military budget (whose very existence would baffle many around the world), swift revamping of its army that technically doesn’t exist, as well as the willingness to dispense with the US defense ‘umbrella’ and create its own nuclear bomb, are all topics for a long conversation that Japanese traditionalists are not very keen to discuss. So let’s talk about the traditions first.

Shinzo Abe was born into a political dynasty. Shintaro Abe was his father and a prominent member of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with which he has been at the helm for more than 50 years. He served as the country’s foreign minister and married the daughter of prime minister Nobusuke Kishi in 1951. Shinzo Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, took their mother’s family name to avoid allegations of nepotism. Kishi, the Japanese defense minister was elected in 2020.

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Nobusuke Kishi held a different view of war. He was appointed in 1935 to oversee the development of Manchukuo’s industrial sector. This puppet state in China was created by the Kwantung Army. He was also responsible for the exploiting of China’s conquered areas. He met General Hideki Tojo, the Kwantung Army commander. When Tojo became Japan’s prime minister in October 1941, he offered Kishi the post of the minister of commerce. On December 7, 1941, Hideki Tojo’s government declared war on the United States and authorized the Pearl Harbor attack.

Kishi became the minister for munitions in the middle of the war. The title of this office may sound pretty modest, but in reality, Hideki Tojo’s close friend and protégé became a key figure among the most influential wartime officials in Japan. As it was to be expected, both Nobusuke Tojo and Hideki Tojo were branded war criminals by the US occupation office after Japan surrendered.

Classes Alive

Japan gave up its surrender to the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. On that day, the US-led Allied Occupation offices headed by General Douglas MacArthur started work on demilitarizing Japan. The Allies were convinced that Japan’s political and military leadership had to be held accountable for their actions. The 1945 Potsdam Declaration affirmed this belief and was reiterated by the US military command in Japan.

The Americans then compiled a list of all officials that would be suspended or detained over several months. A directive was issued by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, (SCAP), on January 4, 1946. It included an Appendix A that listed the different political and public personalities who should be purged. The top category – war criminals, Class A – had 3,422 names. Class B, which included career military personnel, had 122.235 names. There were 210,288 total people listed in Classes C-G. Additionally, 1300 ultranationalist and militarist organizations and similar groups were also disbanded.

Do you think that all those people got the harsh punishments they deserve? Not at all. HidekiTojo was given the death sentence, but his Class A accomplice Nobusuke Kishi was released from prison after only three years. Hideki Tojo was not the only one. SCAP knew perfectly well that the purge was a big threat for high-ranking Japanese officials who weren’t willing to cooperate with the occupation offices.

It could also have led to too many enemies for those with solid backgrounds, like politicians, entrepreneurs or public figures who hold strong anti-American views. It was smarter to have them come over to America and make the pro-American section of the ex-elite the new leaders of Japan. Anybody who suspected that the US might not like them was fired. The rest of the workers continued their work, which was a lot. Only 894 of 7,769 members of Japan’s political elite had been relieved from their duties as of September 15, 1946.

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Occupation offices dealt with large businesses in a gentle manner. The purge saw 161 Japanese companies and 85 in Japan-occupied territory. However, the actual punishment was reserved for the chief executives of businesses producing items for military use. The purge did not affect business people. One good example of how gentle and selective the purge was is the fact that someone as notorious as Masanobu Tsuji – a former general who initiated the Bataan Death March, killing 500-650 American POWs and thousands of other people from different countries – actually went on to be elected to the postwar parliament. 

Tsuji was rightly concerned that he would be executed for the war crimes he committed. He only returned to Japan in 1949 from Southeast Asia. We learned this from unclassified CIA documents in 2006. The agency quickly hired him to help unite anti-military and communist viewpoints. Tsuji was, in the end, a wildcard. He went to Laos in 1961 to fight the guerillas and has not been heard from since. His comrades in arms could not be the same.

People who were needed

Tsuji’s case is a good example of what was happening in the American occupation administration during the first few postwar years. The Americans realized only too soon that Japan’s capitulation was just a formality, while its generals were ready to turn on the vendetta mode and even start a partisan war to fight back. SCAP set aside a goal to monitor for possible sabotage and saboteurs and to collect intelligence that could help identify potential allies.

From 1946 to 1948 (and that’s exactly when the Cold War started), however, the American administration was more interested in securing as many allies as it could for the campaign against the Russians, Communists, and left wing in general, rather than for prosecuting Japan’s military criminals, as long as they were anti-left/Communist/Russian. The purge plan was approved by the American government in mid-May 1948. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East sentenced seven war criminals to death for their crimes of war were executed on December 23rd 1948. Three ex-ministers for the interior, three former yakuza chiefs and Nobusukekishi, minister of munitions, were executed. They weren’t charged nor convicted.

There was also a lot of people who were tried and convicted, and would be sentenced to many years, or even lifetimes, in prison. The tribunal was the only official authority that could alter these rulings, however, SCAP decided to not bother, issuing a directive for the replacement of lifetime sentences by 15 years imprisonment and reducing all other terms by one-third.

The Korean War began in June 1950. Three months later General MacArthur established the Appeal Board, which rehabilitated over 10,000 war criminals according to several Directive 01.4 Articles. Later, all other charges produced by the purge authority were dropped as well, including those against all ex-officers of Japan’s secret police. They were required to combat the new “Communist threat.”Their valuable resource was a key to building the new Japan. This alone is enough reason for us not to forget their history and how they chose to do things. Ex-policemen were made policemen once more, while ex-yakuza chiefs and ex–ministers regained their positions and influence. Nobusuke Kishi, who basically ran the country’s entire defense industry during the war, became an MP as early as in 1953. He was elected secretary to the Japan Democratic Party in 1955. When the Japan Democratic Party was merged into the Liberal Party in 1956, it became an organisation that still controls Japan.

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Ichiro Hatoyama was the founder of Liberal Party, a minister of Education from 1931-1934 who is well-known for his contributions to education. “thought control” policies. He was also listed on the US sanctions lists. He was effectively removed from Japan’s political life until 1951. He made a remarkable comeback in 1954 as head of government. His second cabinet included 13 of the 17 ministers who had been expelled from politics in the past.

Kishi was a close friend of many who managed the occupied territories, as well as those in charge of the war economy. These included Naoki Hoshino and Etsusaburo Schiina and Hisatsune Skomizu. Teiichiro Murinaga and other people collectively called the “The” “subcontractors of the occupation”In the media. These were the same people who took control of the new Japan’s economy. Nobusuke Kishi was elected the head of government in 1957. Eisaku Sato, his stepbrother, became minister of finances. Before that, Sato was under investigation for corrupt practices, but those charges were dropped.

With firm hands and a tainted past

The economic component is crucial to state-building, but it’s not the only thing that gets the job done. For Japan, it was equally important to establish a new, ‘liberal’ framework of governance and social management. The Parliament was comprised of 54 former interior ministry officials and other people who were serving in government during wartime. These were exactly the same individuals who were just a few short years ago listed in various Directive 01 categories.

Senior officers of Tokko, Japan’s secret police that was akin to Germany’s Gestapo, occupied key positions in many postwar cabinets. For example, Kingo Machimura, a police chief known for cracking down on ‘free thinking,’ became the minister of the interior. Kyoshiro Nakamura, the chief of Tokko’s Kyoto branch, was elected the minister of transport. Eijo Okazaki, head of the Tokyo Tokko branch, was appointed the deputy minister of labor and deputy chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Public Safety Commission. Bumbei Harada, the head of Tokko’s Kagoshima Section, was promoted as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police chief. Seisuke OKuno was his ex-colleague and served as minister of education before he assumed the leadership of the National Land Agency. Yoshimi furui served as deputy minister to the interior during World War II and was later appointed minister for welfare. Shigeo Odachi (1944), was the minister of interior. He was later appointed minister for education. Former Tokko chief in Wakayama Keikichi Masuhara got to be in charge of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, which was an awkward postwar euphemism for the de facto Japanese army. FumioGoto, an ex-minister of the interior, was a class A war criminal and became a senator. The list continues…

SCAP, and in particular General Charles A. Willoughby were instrumental in allowing them to escape from prison. Willoughby, assistant chief of staff for intelligence (G2), was known to be called by General MacArthur as ‘my pet fascist.’ It was Willoughby and MacArthur who helped General Shiro Ishii, one of the worst criminals in human history and director of the infamous Unit 731, to escape prosecution. One of the most secretive branches of the Kwantung Army, Unit 731 used biological weapons to test on human life. It claimed the lives of Russians, Chinese and Koreans. The test subjects were internally referred to as the ‘logs.’

According to various sources, between 3,000 and 10,000 ‘logs’ were murdered in the most gruesome ways by Unit 731. Shiro Shishii was allowed to surrender to US forces and received immunity from prosecution. Additionally, he was awarded a grant in Maryland for his continued work. 

A Japanese journalist quite accurately noted at the time that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East selected a handful of people to punish for the crimes committed against Japan’s wartime enemies – the US, the UK, China, and the Soviet Union – but overlooked the hundreds, if not thousands, of military and police officers, bureaucrats, and industrialists who had committed crimes against their own people.

Those who sent our people to the front lines, who took away their freedom and property, who imposed cruel and inhumane laws, still remain in positions of power after the war,”According to the journalist.

Shiro Shiii’s case is a clear example of how even those with the worst crimes against humanity can escape justice. It is hard not to see the context in which postwar Germany was viewed. In that country, restoring justice was the first priority. No German war criminal was free. In a process called denazification the Germans tried to put their own criminals under sway. In the wake of the Nuremberg Trials, a number of organisations were found to be criminal. Any association or membership with such organizations was considered a crime. However, such an act has never been committed in Japan. 

Liberal Spy

Shinzo Abe, who is a member of powerful political dynasties, stated that Japan required an intelligence agency. It surprised many people for one simple reason. The country already has a total of 16 intelligence and counterintelligence organizations that cover all areas of the country’s security including military, political, scientific, and technical, and are perfectly capable of protecting the country. Abe’s supporters, however, claim that Japan is still not protected enough and demand a new, centralized intelligence apparatus. They came up with another idea. “forgotten hero”From the past, and made him a role model. Taketora Okada today is called an avid supporter liberalism. Taketora Ogata was also ardent supporter of the idea of creating “a Japanese CIA”Back in the day.

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Taketora Ohta was a brilliant journalist who began his career at The Asahi Shimbun. It is one of Japan’s most respected newspapers and oldest. As the Intelligence Bureau head, Ogata joined the Japanese government in 1944. Ogata is remembered by his supporters as a strong advocate for liberalism and freedom speech. Since he “fought to build a mechanism for exchanging and analyzing information through joint meetings of the Army, Navy and the government.”Ogata’s very liberal ideas never became a reality. Japan defeated him and he was declared a war criminal. Ogata, who was then the vice-president of the Liberal Party of Japan in 1952, was allowed to resume politics. Ogata then vowed that he would establish “a Japanese CIA.”This project was never completed, and he also died while trying to run in 1956 for prime minister.

The idea of creating the seventeenth intelligence agency in Japan may be supported today. The creation of a seventeenth intelligence agency is what its supporters see. “a Japanese CIA” as a way to guarantee peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region – quite in the spirit of the “liberal spy” Taketora Ogata. But Japan’s current Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, does not seem to be particularly eager to revive these old ideas. Fumio Kishida is the leader of Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. However, there are more complex aspects to his past. Kishida’s father and grandfather were both members of parliament, his cousin was the minister of justice, and another relative of his, Kiichi Miyazawa, went on to serve as the prime minister, despite the fact that he was the chief of the Kempeitai military police department during the war.

However, the Hiroshima nuclear bombing on August 6 1945 claimed the lives of some members of the Kishida clan. It’s been reported that the future prime minister was affected by the memory of this tragedy since early childhood. Kishida, who is currently fighting the pandemic with great success and helping to boost the economy seems to have a lot of work. The demographic problem is more difficult. Perhaps all that doesn’t feel liberal enough compared to the idea of creating one more intelligence agency, but it definitely helps people live better.

All things considered, Japan has a strong emphasis on individual freedoms. This includes freedom to speak your mind and wear any wartime Nazi uniform you like in public. There has been no proper denazification of Japan.



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