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Gary Jonathan Bass is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. He worked as a Washington reporter and West Coast correspondent for The Economist, for which he wrote extensively on the former Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal. Bass has also written for The New näytä lisää York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, and other publications. näytä vähemmän

Sisältää nimet: Gary J. Bass, Gary Jonathan Bass

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Kissinger and Nixon ignoring the tragedy of the birth of Bangladesh. For political expediency.
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ben_r47 | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 22, 2024 |
In September 1945, shortly before his arrest by Allied soldiers, Japan’s wartime prime minister Tōjō Hideki was asked by an American reporter who he considered responsible for the war. ‘You are the victors’, replied Tōjō, ‘and you are able to name him now … But historians 500 or 1,000 years from now may judge differently.’

Here, in essence, was one of the biggest challenges that faced the International Military Tribunal for the Far East when it convened in Tokyo in April 1946: how to avoid the impression of victors’ justice? Modelled on the Nuremberg trials, then ongoing in Germany, the aim of the ‘Tokyo trials’, as they became known, was to try senior Japanese leaders for a range of crimes committed both during the Second World War and in the period leading up to it. When the trials concluded in December 1948, each of the 25 defendants was found guilty on at least one count. Seven, including Tōjō Hideki, were sentenced to death.

In obvious ways the trials did indeed represent victors’ justice. The victors set the mandate and populated the judges’ bench. Their own conduct in the war – firebombing Japanese cities and using atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – was exempt from consideration. And their point of view on the causes of war decided the chronology of the trials: beginning with Japanese militarism in the late 1920s, rather than – as a Japanese witness at the trial suggested – in 1853, with America’s forced opening of Japan to trade and diplomacy on Western terms. Tōjō himself thought that the Opium Wars of the 19th century might be a reasonable point of departure.

And yet as Gary J. Bass points out in this magisterial account – long but never sprawling; thick with detail yet always engrossing – true victors’ justice, as far as some of the Allied leaders were concerned, would have involved putting Emperor Hirohito on trial and most likely hanging him. Large proportions of the Allies’ domestic populations wanted to see Japan destroyed. Bass reports that 85 per cent of Americans had been in favour of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan.

Read the rest of the review at HistoryToday.com.

Christopher Harding
is a cultural historian and broadcaster based at the University of Edinburgh. His latest book is The Light of Asia: A History of Western Fascination with the East (Allen Lane, 2024) and he writes about Asia’s impact on Western life at IlluminAsia.org.
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HistoryToday | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 22, 2024 |
This is a detailed account of the trial that was held in Tokyo after the end of World War II to assess the guilt of "Class A" suspects. That is, those who were not only accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also of starting wars of aggression (read: of conquest), and of conspiring in a plan to wage such wars. Bass gives us a long warts-and-all account, which highlights the many weakness of the process. He clearly sides with those who were of the opinion that neither the Australian chief justice not the American chief prosecutor were sufficiently competent to cope with the enormous responsibilities assigned to them. He highlights the selective assembly of the court, which was dominated by white colonial voices. China, the Philippines and India were represented on the panel of judges, but Indochina and Indonesia, which had suffered much during the war, were only represented by their colonial overlords. The Indian judge Pal famously wrote a very lengthy dissent in which he excoriated the trial as riddled with colonial hypocrisy, much to the embarrassment of the government of the newly independent India, which did not agree.

Last but not least, the jurisdiction and legitimacy of the tribunal was founded very much on a charter issued by the occupying forces, and the US Supreme Court found it necessary to state that as far as it was concerned, the international tribunal was purely a tool of executive power. Several judges cast around for something better, be it "natural law" or treaty precedents, without much success.

The Tokyo trial followed the Neurenberg precedent of declaring it criminal to wage a war of aggression. As Bass documents, this too entered new legal territory, and several of the judges were of the opinion that the defendants could not be held criminally responsible for this, as there had been no internationally accepted law in 1937 or 1941 explicitly forbidding it. Even trickier was the accusation of conspiracy. Bass doesn't discuss this in any detail, but Japanese government in the 1940s by and large operated by the careful and laborious negotiation of consensus between the different factions, before the agreement was formalised as a government decision. It was essential to the way this government functioned, so was it fair to call this a conspiracy? (Bizarrely, as Eri Hotta has shown in her work on 1941, this flawed decision process generated a consensus for war in spite of the private opposition of many, perhaps most, of the key decision makers.)

Despite these fundamental weaknesses, the trial as described by Bass could be described as largely fair. The author clearly is of the opinion that the civilian ministers Togo and Kaya were found only guilty by association, bearing the collective responsibility of the cabinets they had been part of, despite being personally opposed to the war. Most of the military men plainly enough were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated under their command, and their protests of ignorance were unconvincing. Several of them also blatantly wanted to use the narrow window of opportunity in 1941-1943 to create an empire in the Pacific and South-East Asia. They deserved their condemnation, and the judges acted with commendable independence.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding the trial was caused by the decision, a largely US decision, to keep the emperor Hirohito out of it. This was politically expedient but how people perceived it depended a lot on their acceptance of Hirohito as a constitutional monarch. I am skeptic of the way in which Bass treats every ritual statement of obeisance to the emperor that the civilian and military leaders made, as a gotcha. There is a world of difference between words of pious reverence spoken about a living deity, and practical politics. Reality, as far as my reading suggests, is that Hirohito was conservative and nationalist by instinct as the product of his upbringing and his role, but not an effective leader. He tended to give his blessing to the consensus or to the already established facts on the ground, and in this he followed precedent. It was tragic that at a crucial time Japan had a weak head of state, but such are the risks of hereditary monarchy. (Hirohito's father had been entirely incapable of handling government responsibility.)

There are some other flaws in the narrative of Bass. For example, he takes the Japanese leaders to the task for treating the Vichy government as the legitimate government of France in 1941, but forgets that the USA did exactly the same. More worryingly, Bass repeatedly condemns Kido Koichi for recommending the appointment of the "belligerent" Tojo Hideki as prime minister in late 1941, but at the time Tojo was actually urging Kido to try to find a way to reverse an earlier decision to go to war. Kido was probably naive, but not entirely reckless is recommending this appointment, as there was a real possibility that Tojo could steer the Army away from war. The general was at best ambivalent and at worst two-faced about war, perhaps mainly because as a staff officer he was acutely aware that Japan would face impossible odds.

So it seems harsh, with hindsight, to condemn Tojo outright as an aggressive warmonger. That said, as army minister as well as prime minister, Tojo was clearly directly responsible for the horrendous treatment of prisoners of war. He used a cultural excuse, declaring that Japanese soldiers found it shameful to be capture and thus regarded prisoners as without honour. But he conveniently omitted to mention that he himself was responsible for promulgating this standard in 1941. As recently as the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, the Japanese military had been praised for its humane treatment of prisoners of war. The enormous suffering of prisoners, enslaved workers, and civilians was the result of an executive choice and not of some frozen cultural characteristic.

Having recounted all of this background, Bass extends his story by describing how the Tokyo trial has remained controversial, in Japan and in the rest of Asia. Its memory has become a political tool to be used and abused in internal and foreign policy. The author describes how the lives of the Indian and Chinese judges were deeply affected by this; in very different ways the decisions they had made determined the rest of their lives. These are moving sections of the book, flavoured with personal recollections of their descendants. The Indian judge Pal enjoyed the life of a celebrity, but the Chinese judge Mei suffered enormously because of his role in the trial.

Overall, a very good history, but with a fair number of imperfections. If you went to read it, I'd recommend to go for the electronic version if you can, as the paper version really is inconveniently thick!
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EmmanuelGustin | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Dec 28, 2023 |
The story behind the independence movement in Bangla Desh which created a chain reaction of diplomatic maneuvers as Pakistan tried to suppress those aspirations. Heavy-handed dealings by the Pakistan government and military when they refused to recognize legitimately elected leaders in East Pakistan served as the catalyst for the aggressive separation advocates. Central to the narrative, hence the Blood Telegram, is the refusal of Kissinger and Nixon to heed the advice of their diplomats in South Asia. Despite the brutality, atrocities, and even genocidal actions of Pakistan, the Nixon administration remained firmly committed to Pakistan. This included the usual duplicity and the illegal funneling via third parties to supply Pakistan. Because of its proximity, India was drawn into the crisis as it absorbed refugees, supported guerrillas, and ultimately engaged in full-scale combat with Pakistan.
Because Kissinger was using Pakistan as a conduit to launch its " Opening" with China, there were multiple layers of backroom dealing, including Kissinger trying to broaden the conflict by having China invade India. A proposition China sensibly declined. The loathing both Kissinger and Nixon felt for India and Indira Gandhi escalated the tensions and drove India closer to the Soviet camp. This is a classic study in how policy decisions trigger the law of unintended consequences and left the U.S. aligning itself with dictatorships against a democracy - India, and democratic movements in Bangla Desh.
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VGAHarris | 3 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 19, 2015 |


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