How “Tokyo Trial” Showed Me the Fairness of History

I wrote this article in Japanese and translated it into English using ChatGPT. I also used ChatGPT to create the English article title. I did my best to correct any translation mistakes, but please let me know if you find any errors. By the way, I did not use ChatGPT when writing the Japanese article. The entire article was written from scratch by me, Saikawa Goto.



Movies and books covered in this article

I will write an article about this movie/book

Three takeaways from this article

  1. The US secretly worked to avoid the Emperor’s responsibility for the war’ without the knowledge of the presiding judge.
  2. Justice Pal did not claim that “Japan was not at fault.”
  3. The defense lawyers of the victorious nations fought to achieve a fair trial for the defendants of the defeated nation.

The five-hour-long movie does not explicitly make that claim, but it still makes you feel that “war should not be waged.”

Self-introduction article

Please refer to the self-introduction article above to learn about the person writing this article. Be sure to check out the Kindle book linked below as well.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

The quotes used in this article are based on notes taken at the movie theater from movies in Japanese and are not direct quotes from the foreign language original movies, even if they exist.

What Happened in the Famous “Tokyo Trial”?

About My Basic Knowledge

I basically don’t have any general knowledge about history. Since I am a science-oriented person, I have never took any history classes in high school.

Nowadays, I think I should have learned more about history when I was a student. It’s embarrassing as an adult to not have even basic knowledge, and it often hinders my understanding when reading books or watching movies.

I don’t know much about the Pacific War or the Tokyo Trial in particular. Although I have some knowledge from reading books and watching movies when I was growing up, most of such works proceed with the assumption that “the readers should have some knowledge of what you learn in textbooks,” so in the end, I am still left without basic knowledge.

Please understand that this article is written by someone who is ignorant of history. There may be parts where I’m off the mark, but that’s due to my lack of knowledge.

“The American Fight for Not Holding the Emperor Accountable for War” Unfolds

This movie is based on actual footage from the “Tokyo Trial,” combining various images of the defendants who were classified as Class-A war criminals.

What surprised me the most when watching the movie was the stance of the United States. They maintain the attitude of “not holding the Emperor accountable for war.”

Of course, even I, who is very ignorant, know that Emperor Showa was not held responsible for war crimes. When I read books as an adult, I learned that America used the Emperor’s presence to advance its occupation policy. However, I didn’t know that America actively tried to guide the Tokyo Trial to “somehow avoid blaming the Emperor for responsibility” for the sake of its national policy.

The Tokyo Trial was a trial by the Allied Powers (winning countries), and of course, it was not something that was carried out based solely on America’s intentions. In that situation, the way they tried every means to avoid the Emperor’s war responsibility was very impressive.

In the movie, they also touched upon MacArthur’s impression of Emperor Showa.

After the war, Emperor Showa went to see MacArthur himself and reportedly made an appeal for the distribution of food to the people, saying he did not care what happened to himself. During that conversation, he is said to have said something to the effect that he was responsible for the war.

At that time, there were many voices in the US public opinion and even within the US military calling for the condemnation of the Emperor’s responsibility. However, it seems that MacArthur became sympathetic to Emperor Showa after meeting him in person. Although it is unclear how much MacArthur’s favorable impression of Emperor Showa influenced the subsequent trial and occupation policy, the fact is that the US went on to pursue the trial without condemning the Emperor’s responsibility and proceeded with an occupation policy that utilized the Emperor.

I was surprised when I watched the movie about how strict the Tokyo Trial was conducted. I had the impression that trials conducted by victorious countries were manipulated to their advantage by bending the rules, but it was completely different. The trial was conducted according to proper procedures and it felt very fair. I was also surprised by how the Emperor was treated in the trial.

The person who served as the presiding judge for the Tokyo Trial was a man named Webb, who was from Australia. He had a clear stance that “the Emperor should be held responsible” and the trial was conducted strictly according to the rules. However, it is said that the United States aimed for the trial to proceed in the way they wanted, behind the back of the presiding judge who was seeking to hold the Emperor responsible. This suggests that the United States was determined to avoid holding the Emperor accountable for the war.

For example, during the questioning of a defendant who was a close aide to the Emperor, Keenan, the lead prosecutor for the United States who served in the Tokyo Trial, asked questions in this way.

Were all the decisions just the Emperor’s approval of what someone else has done or were they made by the Emperor himself?

In other words, he was assisting with the answer, “Just say that the Emperor approved what someone else decided.” And even after that, they asked in a blatant manner like this:

The Emperor just approved it, right?

However, perhaps he thought there was something behind the leading questioning from the Chief Prosecutor. Keenan could not elicit the answer “The Emperor just approved it” from the defendant.

It was probably because of such a “failure.” It is surprising that they had made a secret agreement in advance with Tojo Hideki through his lawyer during the interrogation, saying “We have no intention of pursuing the Emperor’s responsibility, so please answer skillfully.”

Of course, Tojo Hideki agreed. This is because he could not have wanted the Emperor’s responsibility to be pursued.

However, Tojo Hideki made a problematic remark in response to a certain question:

It is impossible for the Japanese people to do anything against His Majesty’s will.

This is very bad because this statement clearly implies that “the Emperor is the ultimate decision maker.” Webb, who wanted to hold the Emperor responsible, naturally did not overlook this remark, and the situation became very precarious.

However, after various developments, it was eventually decided that the Emperor would not be prosecuted. Japan was probably relieved, and America too was likely relieved.

Protest by Judge Webb

Despite being the chief judge of the Tokyo Trial, Webb had returned to his home country until just before Tojo Hideki’s interrogation, and was away from the Tokyo Trial. Officially, it was said that he had another trial in Australia, but it was for an unusual reason and caused a stir among those involved.

There seem to be two completely different theories about this movement.

One is that the Allies protested against not pursuing the Emperor’s responsibility, while another theory suggests that the Allies, who disliked Webb’s presence, persuaded Australia to temporarily exclude him. Either way, this episode conveys how Webb tried to make the Emperor’s responsibility clear during the trial.

Additionally, during the reading of the verdict, Webb presented his original arguments.

The verdict consisted of 10 chapters and was so voluminous that it took 10 days just to read it aloud. Furthermore, there was a rule that required the disclosure of minority opinions that emerged during the verdict process when delivering the judgment.

However, Webb decided to omit reading the minority opinions, citing that even reading them alone would take several days.

As it turns out, Webb’s own opinion was included in those minority opinions. According to later revelations, Webb argued as follows:

Since we were unable to summon the Emperor to trial as a defendant or at least as a witness, it is not reasonable to judge the other defendants in a trial that allows for the death penalty.

The true reason why Webb decided not to read the minority opinions was not clear from the movie, but in any case, it is a story that conveys that Webb was not satisfied until the very end.

Justice Pal’s Argument

Now, among the minority opinions that Webb did not read out loud, there was also one from Pal, a judge who is often mentioned in relation to the Tokyo Trial.

Justice Pal was not in Japan at the time of the opening of the Tokyo Trial and joined in the middle of it, but he was also the only expert among the judges to have written on international law.

Because it was a minority opinion, it was not read out during the trial. What was his argument?

Before explaining that, let’s first clarify the relationship between “war” and “trial”.

“War” is governed by “international law.” War is originally a killing battle, and simply “killing people” does not necessarily become a crime. No matter how cruel the act is, as long as it falls within the scope of the law, it is legal.

So, what does it mean for a war to be “illegal”? It is whether it was an “act of aggression”. There are several international laws regarding war, such as the “Pact of Paris” and the “Kellogg-Briand Pact”, and any war that violates those rules is considered a “war of aggression” and judged to be “illegal”.

With that in mind, let’s try to understand Justice Pal’s argument. He raised the question of why there was no discussion about “whether this war was a war of aggression or not.” In other words, he pointed out that there was a problem with the way the trial was conducted.

To recognize a “war” as “illegal”, it is essential to establish that it was a “war of aggression”. However, in the Tokyo Trial, it was assumed that “the Pacific War was a war of aggression”. This was a trial that lacked rationality, he argued, and all the defendants who had been judged in such a trial were innocent.

Justice Pal’s argument in the Tokyo Trial is often explained as “Japan was not bad.” In fact, I had the same understanding. However, Justice Pal did not say anything like that. On the contrary, he stated that there was no need to justify the actions of the defendants.

The argument is that while the actions of the defendants were wrong, the trial itself is invalid due to procedural errors. The fact that there were some judges made such claims seemed to be a sign that the Tokyo Trial was being conducted fairly.

American Lawyers Trying to Conduct a Fair Trial

Earlier, I wrote that I was surprised by how strictly the trial was conducted. This impression was largely due to the actions of the American lawyers who were assigned to defend the Class-A war criminals.

First of all, the Tokyo Trial was conducted based on Anglo-American law, not Japanese law at the time. This would be natural. But because few Japanese were familiar with Anglo-American law, if this went on, the trial would proceed without a clear understanding of the rules.

So the Japanese side appealed to MacArthur to have lawyers who were familiar with Anglo-American law to defend the accused. In response, MacArthur inquired with the US and American lawyers were assigned to each defendant.

However, the Japanese side had doubts whether the lawyers from the victorious countries would defend the Class-A war criminals from the defeated country fairly. It was a natural concern, but it turned out to be groundless. The American lawyers started by questioning the very nature of the trial, just like Justice Pal did earlier.

One lawyer argued as follows:

Trials conducted by the victors lack fairness, so this trial should be conducted in a neutral country.

In addition, another lawyer said the following:

War is not a crime in the first place.

The latter argument is essentially the same as Justice Pal’s logic: “Since international law allows for the existence of war, war itself is not a crime, and war has never been treated as a crime in the past.”

The lawyer went further, making a provocative statement, “If you say that killing in war is a crime, then I can also point to the person responsible for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.” Considering that this was said soon after the end of the war, it can be seen as a quite challenging claim. It’s a kind of threat, saying that if you blame the Japanese for killing people in the war, then you Americans who killed people with the atomic bomb are also on the same level. I think it was a very brave statement.

In the end, these arguments made by the defense team did not receive much discussion and the trial proceeded. However, I think these actions left an impression on the Japanese side that American lawyers would provide a fair defense.

My vague impression was completely different from reality. I felt that the trial recorded the struggle of those who tried hard to maintain fairness in the trial while advancing the American intention of “not holding the Emperor accountable for war.” Frankly, I feel sorry for having had the arbitrary image that the victorious countries handled things more casually.


This is an epic movie that lasts for five hours (when I watched it in the movie theater, there was a break), and it’s never just about the trial. It combines shocking footage related to the war and various scenes with the defendants to capture the image of Japan before and after the Tokyo Trial. I was surprised that the footage from that time was so well preserved, and it was filled with stories I didn’t know, so I found it very interesting to watch.

Japan is the first sovereign state to include “renunciation of war” in its constitution. Indeed, Japan has not engaged in direct warfare, but it is involved with countries that are at war. There are movements to change the constitution to enable participation in combat operations. Moreover, wars are happening somewhere in the world even now.

I know that merely talking about idealistic theories will not solve anything, but I always believe that wars should disappear from the earth and want to advocate for that whenever I have the chance.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

  • URLをコピーしました!
  • URLをコピーしました!