Published Date

June 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From What Shall Be Done about Japan after Victory? (1945)


War criminals

When we consider the moral responsibility for Japan’s war guilt it is hard to distinguish between the mass of the people and their leaders, or between the rank and file of the army and its commanders.

Are the Japanese as a People guilty? As a people can they be punished? Defeat and humiliation, the end of their pipe dreams of conquest, the loss of millions of fathers, husbands, and sons in battle, civilian deaths by the thousands in air raids, and the destruction of much of their means of livelihood will be the lot of the common people. Consent to a war of conquest was their common crime. Defeat and invasion will be a punishment they all will share.

But there are uncommon criminals whose responsibility for specific crimes can be established. International law provides that offenders against the laws of war may be tried and punished by the nations holding jurisdiction over the territory in which the crime is committed. Japanese officers and government officials who ordered the torture or murder of prisoners of war and interned civilians, or the massacre of defenseless Chinese men, women, and children, will be punished—if they can be caught and identified.

In a statement issued by President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and Premier Stalin in October 1943, these three leaders declared that the Nazis responsible for atrocities, massacres, and executions of innocent civilians would be sent back to be judged at the scenes of their crimes. German war criminals whose crimes were committed in their own country are to be tried and sentenced by joint action of the United Nations. It is expected that similar measures will be taken in the case of Japan. In April 1943 the President and the Department of State assured the American people that the Japanese officials responsible for the murder of our captured airmen would receive the punishment they deserve.

After the Japanese are defeated, the peoples of the invaded countries may be tempted, not unreasonably, to take the law into their own hands. Should measures be taken to prevent mass violence against Japanese soldiers and civilians in the liberated areas?

The nations who have fought this war to preserve law and decency must keep the record clean by giving the worst of our enemies the justice they denied their victims. An allied commission to investigate, try, and punish Japanese offenders, similar to the United Nations War Crimes Commission established at London, might be one means of accomplishing this purpose.

Next section: Shall We Destroy Japanese Trade and Industry?