Monday, July 9, 2012

Massive cache of original "Tokyo War Crimes" trial materials available digitally

"These defendants were not mere automatons, they were not replaceable cogwheels in a machine, they were not playthings of fate caught in a maelstrom of destiny from which there was no extrication. These men were the brains of an empire, they were the leaders of the nation's destiny."
As assistant chief prosecutor of the Tokyo War Crimes trial, Frank Stacy Tavenner Jr. delivered these impassioned words in his final summation in the case against 28 Japanese defendants accused of starting an illegal war, atrocities, and crimes against humanity. A film of him speaking them is now among a digital collection of documents and videos at the University of Virginia Law Library. "It was theirs to choose whether their nation would lead an honored life in the family of nations, willing to settle differences that might arise in an amicable and lawful manner," he continued, "or whether their nation would embark upon a program of aggrandizement and war against the other members of the family of nations, and would become a symbol of evil throughout the world."
The defendants at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials
The defendants at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials
Memorialized in an all-star film called Judgment at Nuremberg, the trials of Nazi war criminals were widely reported. The lesser-known Tokyo trial set an important precedent in establishing the basis for prosecuting the crime of "aggressive war" by a foreign country. Groups of items from the more than 20,500 original documents donated to the collection by Tavenner (a 1927 graduate of the UVA School of Law) and several of his colleagues yielded subsections on women's involvement in the prosecution, the Pearl Harbor attack, and Japanese experiments with biological warfare. In the process of being digitized are the following:
  1. a detailed timeline of the trial, 
  2. more trial documents, 
  3. photos of the prosecution team, 
  4. mug shots of the defendants, 
  5. military maps, 
  6. mementos such as Japanese propaganda used as evidence,
  7. Stars and Stripes newspaper clippings,
  8. a section on relations (often touchy) between the US and Soviet Union delegations.
"A comely brunette American woman rose among the prosecutors at the Tokyo International War Crimes Trial and for one hour summarized the allied charges against burley Naoki Hoshino, Tojo's actual ruler of the puppet state of Manchoukuo…. She told the 11 Allied judges that Hoshino was one of the geniuses behind the Japanese plot to dominate Asia." Of course they felt it relevant to mention her level of attractiveness and hair color, her husband's job, and her age!
For more on this pivotal period in world history, we have several books on hand that offer a special slant, including one on the African-American "Patton's Panthers"; Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific; The World War II Bookshelf: Fifty Must-Read Books; and Weller's War: A Legendary Foreign Correspondent's Saga of World War II on Five Continents. Stateside is well represented also, with Helluva Town: The Story of New York City During World War II and the highly regarded historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  


  1. War crimes tribunals seem like applying Marquis of Queensberry rules to Gotterdammerung; the insanity is too enormous for the civilsed process to handle. But they help civlisation recover from its delirium, and may give a few victims some feeling of justice triumphant.

    1. Brilliant simile. I wish justice has been more triumphant in the case of all the Nazis who were aided and abetted by institutions such as the catholic church in fleeing to South America.

  2. This was very interesting - I know very little about the Japanese involvement in the war and the Pacific theater in general (at least, compared to the European theater and Germany). I should rectify that gap in my knowledge, especially since Japan is the nominal reason we got into the war in the first place.

  3. I highly recommend the book "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand - a true story of an American survivor of a Japanese POW camp. I too had not learned as much about Japan's involvement in WWII as I had about Germany. This book is fascinating & unbelievable.

  4. My family knew several POW camp survivors in China, who lived on 2 bowls of congee per day for years. One American soldier had Hogan's spirit and moxie--he built a makeshift oven out of bricks found in the rubble, and could bake a passing good cake in it! But all came out of camp with their clothes falling off their bony frames, with nightmares long after.