by Jack Gray
The Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act of 2000, another name for Title VIII of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2000, authorized the process of locating, declassifying, and publishing documents relevant to war crimes committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Previously, the majority of research on World War II was focused on Nazi war crimes as President Clinton had created the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group (known as the IWG) in 1998 to “to locate, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available to the public all classified Nazi war criminal records.”
The researchers of the IWG felt there was a need for additional research into Japanese war crimes, and asked permission to expand their activities to include this topic. Samuel Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs at the time, informally granted this request, which was later officially confirmed by President Bill Clinton. In 2000 the IWG was formally renamed the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, and asked government agencies to examine their records for documents which could be relevant to Japanese war crimes. Specifically, they asked for (1) any materials related to Japanese Treatment of prisoners of war and civilian internees, including any materials related to forced or slave labor, (2) any materials related to development and use of chemical and biological warfare agents, (3) any materials related to General Ishii (the commanding officer of Unit 731), (4) any materials related to the U.S. Government decision after the War not to prosecute the Emperor and certain war criminals, and (5) any materials related to the so-called “Comfort Women” program, the Japanese systematic enslavement of women of subject populations for sexual purposes. This is why many of the war crimes are still being researched as the declassification didn't happen until the 2000s.
After reviewing each department’s inventory, the IWG estimated that there were about two hundred thousand pages of documents that could be released—a far cry from the ten million pages of documents relating to Nazi war crimes. The reason for this disparity is different departments of the U.S. government have documents pertaining to different aspects of the war; the Department of the Army had greater autonomy over the Pacific theater and kept their own records, gradually releasing them during the 1970’s and 1980’s, whereas in Europe the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) was largely in charge of intelligence, and had more stringent protocols for releasing documents. However, conventional intelligence agencies like the OSS and later the CIA (its successor) did play a role in the Pacific Theater. For example the Office of Strategic Services kept records about Japanese chemical and biological warfare and crimes against both civilians and prisoners of war, while the CIA kept records on Japanese intelligence efforts before and during the war.
In addition to the recently released documents, there are many documents that have been available to the public since the end of the war. Most of these are transcripts or evidence from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which prosecuted individuals such as Tojo Hideki, prime minister of Japan during the war, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, who conquered Malaysia and the Philippines, or Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu, who commanded the Bataan Death March. Prosecutors used over 4,000 documents as evidence against the 28 defendants.
Furthermore, many Japanese records from the war have been translated into English, thanks to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section under General MacArthur, who were responsible for gathering and analyzing Japanese documents during and after the war. Unfortunately, many Japanese documents were destroyed by the Japanese themselves in an attempt to protect their leaders from prosecution for war crimes. More were lost when the U.S. government agreed to return a number of documents to Japan in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Although originally directed to complete their mission in one year, the IWG continued to work until April 2007, when they presented their final report to Congress. They declassified 1.2 million pages of documents relating to Nazi and Japanese war crimes. However, they considered their greatest accomplishment to be their proving that declassification of intelligence documents would not have drastic negative consequences, as was previously thought. U.S. intelligence services had long resisted the release of confidential information, concerned that it would endanger current efforts and operations, but the IWG felt they had shown that the release of historical documents would have no negative effects.
The IWG also drew other large conclusions from their efforts. They showed that the reopening of documents and files is a massive, expensive, time-consuming effort, and recommended that all agencies continually review and follow protocols for declassifying their records instead of having to do large projects to search through decades of unopened files. The reason that these documents remain classified for so long after they became irrelevant was that there was a lack of public interest in Japanese atrocities before and during World War II. However, the stories of survivors and witnesses gradually gained momentum until the 1990’s, when a group of comfort women (women who were forced by the Japanese government to be prostitutes for Japanese soldiers) filed a lawsuit against Japan. In addition, Congress passed a resolution demanding that Japan issue both an apology for the crimes they had committed and pay compensation to surviving victims. However, Japan has never issued a formal apology, and did not provide restitution to their victims.
The documents released thanks to the efforts of the IWG will be resources for researchers and historians who can shed greater light on this dark period of history. Hopefully by learning from the crimes of the past we can prevent any similar atrocities in the future.
This small book provides introductory essays to some of the more useful sources on Japanese war crimes that were released thanks to the Disclosure Acts.
Most of the released documents themselves can be found on the National Archives Website at https://www.archives.gov/
National Archives. "Japanese Interim Report: an Interim Report to Congress." https://www.archives.gov/iwg/reports/japanese-interim-report-march-2002-1.html#highlights.
National Archives. "Declassified Documents: Berger Memorandum, February, 1999." https://www.archives.gov/iwg/guidance/berger-memorandum/berger-memo-dec-2000-2.html.
National Archives. "Interagency Working Group Title 8, Intelligence Authorization Act." https://www.archives.gov/iwg/about/iwg-title-8.html.
U.S. Congress. Nazi War Crimes & Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group Final Report to the United States Congress. April 2007. https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/NaziWarCrimes_Japanese-Records.pdf
by Christopher Sayas
The Imperial Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 allowed for the culmination of the Second World War to reach the Asian continent. To fulfill its ambitions as an asian empire that could rival any formidable western colonial power it needed the raw resources to build such a domain. Wanting to emulate western colonial expansion, Imperial Japan saw the use of military force the only way in which it could fulfill its own goals of Asia. But through expansion the Imperial Japanese government committed countless atrocities across the Asian continent.
Events of the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, as well as numerous individual stories of Japanese imperial savagery to prisoners of war, civilians, and those who were often viewed as being inferior are well documented. Yet the Japanese government did not seem to go through the same intense cleanse of its imperial government the way that Nazi Germany seemed to go through. Although both Axis allies and guilty of horrendous crimes, Germany underwent an intense cultural transformation to rid itself of Nazism and the vehicles that which were driving forces of militant expansionism. Many who were responsible within the Japanese government and private institutions following the war retained their positions or were only jailed for a fraction of their sentences, leaving many quite free only a few years after the war. Some would serve quite soon after as officials for the new post world war government that would seem drastically liberal to many outsiders but in reality would still be quite hard right leaning. The Cold War also had an affect as well, prompting some more liberal political elements to be suppressed and an component of conservatism to be retained that has survived over the years and generations.
Although Imperial Japan was defeated and its military empire dismantled following the end of the war, it did not shed the same kind of conservancy that Germany had been able to following the end of the war. Officially, the Japanese government of the post world war has apologized on different occasions but often falling on deaf ears. For many the official apologies feel insincere and perhaps only seemingly to gain political points from its closest military ally and trading partner, the United States. It would also seem that because official apologies are tied to compensation and financial redress creates a highly politicized statement that many Japanese officials have used as bargaining chips in the international community. Even more surprising is the continued maintenance and reverence of the Yasukuni Shrine of which many accused of war crimes are honored by the Shinto priests and many Japanese officials. Although the shrine itself is not exclusive to the Second World War it has remained
Today’s modern day Japan does not hold the same kind of blatant and aggressive ambitions that its past empire once held. The Japanese Constitution holds in Article 9 that the government never again will take up arms and display the same kind of belligerence and hostility that it manifested during the Second World War. This clause in the constitution in its official English translation states that the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” But more recent events have challenged the idea of a less militaristic and aggressive Japanese nation. Some laude the more flexible interpretation as a sovereign right while others see it only as a means to justify future conflict and perhaps help spark another global conflict.
Just in 2014 the official reinterpretation of the article meant that Japan could officially come to the aid of its allies if they were under attack. Additionally, it has also meant that the nation is able to now officially sell or give military grade equipment to its allies. With a more liberal understanding of the clause some in China and Korea have denounced the moves, interpreting the moves as a harkening back to the past imperial ambitions. Furthermore, Japan, although banned from having a traditional military has in its place a Defense Force that remains one of the most well armed and funded forces in Asia. Its own equipment is some of the most sophisticated and advanced in the region making the nation one of the most well equipped nations in the world.
Yet there are dissidents in Japan in both the Diet and the public who are in fact in favor of a more stronger and direct apology policy regarding the past atrocious war crimes. It can only be that accepting the past and not denying such actions, that Japan and its neighbors can move forward to build a longer lasting peace.
Hideki Tojo Trial
Bodies of victims along Qinhuai River out of Nanjing's west gate during Nanjing Massacre.
Chinese people being buried alive by Japanese soldiers, Nanking Massacre
Author: Nicole Dahlstrom
Did Japan really apologize for the horrible atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II? International headlines of Asians still demanding apologies from Japan’s current Prime Minister have many people across different age groups and backgrounds asking this question. If you’re wondering what some of those atrocities were, you are not alone. Little is taught to Western youth about the Pacific side of World War II. Almost anyone you ask can tell you about the Holocaust and Germany’s repentance since, but very few Westerners can answer the question of Japan’s apology to it’s victims in the Pacific Region.
In order to answer this question, we need to first understand who those victims were.
“R. J. Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, estimates that between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3 to over 10 million people, most likely 6 million Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of war.”
The Imperial Japanese Army’s merciless massacres of civilians and prisoners of war is the reason for much of the controversy surrounding its role in Pacific World War II. Their gruesome resume includes atrocities such as; human experimentation(learn more here), biological warfare, use of chemical weapons, torture of prisoners of war, forced labor, sexual slavery, and perfidy.
The ‘Tokyo Trials’
The majority of these war crimes and their perpetrators were tried under The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which was formed to try accused people in Japan itself. These trials were known as the ‘Tokyo Trials,’ and they primarily tried class A war criminals. The ‘Tokyo Trials’ represent the first major setback for Japan on the road to an effective apology. Although the trials saw 920 war criminals executed, 475 receive life sentences, and 2,944 receive some prison time, they failed to indict Emperor Hirohito and allowed many other accused right-winged war criminals to serve in post-war Japanese governments. This failure has had multiple ramifications on how Japan, along with the rest of the world, understand the war.
Japanese leaders were able to escape blame swiftly because of the international pressures of the Cold War. Former enemies of Japan embraced the nation as a new ally in the Pacific. Dr. Shiro Isshi, the leader of Japan’s biochemical weapons program, and his staff were actually able to trade the information obtained from their experiments in return for immunity in the Tokyo Trials. This type of pardon would be almost unfathomable for their German counterparts who caused the same kind of suffering through inhumane human experiments.
For a comprehensive list of apologies issued by Japan please see this List of war apology statements.
Over the past 75 years, Japan’s leaders and people have taken many opportunities to offer their sincere condolences and remorse to the victims made to suffer by the Imperial Japanese Army. These attempts, although not meaningless, have failed on a large scale due to the perceptions of the victims, as well as Japan’s own sentiment towards the war.
Some of the most infamous victims of the Imperial Japanese Army include the euphemistically termed, ‘Comfort Women.’ Chinese experts estimate that around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, were captured and coerced into providing sexual services before and during the war. Very few survivors of the ‘Comfort Women’ system are left alive today. In fact, the last Chinese ‘Comfort Women’ passed away this November 2015.
The struggle ‘Comfort Women’ have faced in receiving the apology they call for outlines the struggles of many victims of Japanese wartime atrocities. Apologies have been insincere and inconsistent. What these victims are really seeking is not just any apology from Japan - they recognize there have been attempts made in the past. They are seeking a legislative apology put into motion and agreed upon by a majority of the Diet. This type of apology would be binding unlike those official statements that have come from Japanese leaders in the past.
So, although there is a long list of official and unofficial apologies that have been issued, all have fallen short of what is actually desired by many victims.
Revisionism and Whitewashing
The final element in this complex issue reflects a notorious problem in history education and media. In many nations, including Japan, the history taught to youth is whitewashed or revised in order to create a better image for the nation and instill national pride. This problem presents itself in American school classes in regards to subjects like Native American history and the history of American slavery.
The version of Pacific World War II history taught to Japanese youth is not spared this nationalist treatment. Widely accepted facts about atrocities are denied and parts of history are glossed over. This whitewashing and revising in education, paired with outright public denial of certain widely accepted facts, like those about the ‘Comfort Women’ system, has led many to question Japan’s sincerity when it comes to apologizing.
So, did Japan Really Apologize for WWII?
Officially, yes, Japanese leaders have issued countless statements of apology and remorse for the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. Whether it be pride, ignorance, or political gain, there are many reasons as to why these apologies have not fully healed the wound that was left. One thing that continues to hold true is this: “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.”
The best apology to the victims of any atrocity is to not forget them and their story.