The Yasukuni hero

Print edition : November 02, 2007

A memorial to Radha Binod Pal was built at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo a couple of years ago -

In a Japan of resurgent nationalism, Radha Binod Pals dissenting judgment in the Tokyo war trials wins easy admirers.

JUSTICE Radha Binod Pal is highly remembered by many Japanese for the noble spirit of courage he exhibited during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Shinzo Abe, as Prime Minister of Japan, told Parliament during his recent visit to India. Pal was the only judge on the Tribunal who pronounced in favour of the acquittal of all the Japanese figures who were accused of war crimes in the Tokyo trial and on all the charges.

Two years ago, a monument to the Judge was erected at the Yasukuni Shrine, the memorial to Japans war dead and a rallying point for Japanese nationalism. Abes predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, incurred Chinas anger for his visits to the shrine. Abe himself called on Pals 81-year-old son Prasanto in Kolkata recently.

Norimitsu Onishis report from Tokyo on the Pal phenomenon in the International Herald Tribune (September 1, 2007) was most revealing. Many of postwar Japans nationalist leaders and thinkers have long upheld Pal as a hero, seizing on and often distorting his dissenting opinion at the Tokyo trials to argue that Japan did not wage a war of aggression in Asia but one of self-defence and liberation. As nationalist politicians like Abe have gained power in recent years, and as like-minded academics and journalists have pushed forward a revisionist view of Japans wartime history, Pal has stepped back into the spotlight, where he remains a touchstone of the culture wars surrounding the Tokyo trials.

Abe, who has cast doubt on the validity of the Tokyo trials in the past, avoided elaborating on his views in the Indian Parliament or during his 20-minute meeting with Pals son, Prasanto. But the meetings subtext was not lost on some Japanese newspapers, which warned that it would hardly help repair Japans poor image among its neighbours.

After the war, conventional war crimes by the Japanese, categorised as class B and class C, were handled in local trials throughout Asia. Twenty-five top leaders were charged with class A crimes of waging aggressive wars and committing crimes against peace and humanity.

Pal regarded the trial as a farce and the main charges as groundless. He brought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his judgment as atrocities comparable with Nazi crimes. The trials were a sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge. While he fully acknowledged Japans war atrocities including the Nanjing massacre he said they were covered in the class B and C trials. I would hold that each and every one of the accused must be found not guilty of each and every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted of all those charges.

It speaks a lot for the intensity of nationalist feeling in Japan that even a pronouncement like Pals judgment did not earn him unqualified praise. Hideaki Kase, chairman of the Japan-India Goodwill Association, and an adviser to a former Prime Minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, criticised Pal for his acknowledgement of the Nanjing massacre, describing it as a complete lie and Pal as a victim to Chinese and allied propaganda. The judge had an admirer in Nobusuke Kishi, Prime Minister in the late 1950s, who had been a class (A) criminal suspect but was never tried. Prime Minister Abe is his grandson.

Professor Takeshi Nakajima of the Hokkaido University Public Policy School wrote a book, Justice Pal, which was published last July. Post-War politicians invited Pal to Japan several times casting subtleties aside, as Norimitsu Onishi put it, and showered him with honours. But which Judge of any stature would accept such accolades for a judicial pronouncement? Pal was Judge of the Calcutta High Court (1941-43), Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University (1944-46), and thrice Tagore Law Lecturer (1925, 1930 and 1938). That he accepted those invitations reveals a significant flaw in his character.

Curiously, in 1953 he was appointed member of the International Law Commission, presumably at the Government of Indias instance. However, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not think highly of Pal. And rightly so.

The United States occupation of Japan ended in 1952 after Tokyo signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and accepted the verdict of the Tokyo trials. But the end of the occupation also lifted a ban on the publication of Pals 1,235-page dissent, which Japanese nationalists brandished as full exoneration of war crimes.

HAWAII, DECEMBER 7, 1941: U.S. sailors amid the wrecked aeroplanes at Ford Island Naval Air Station as they watch the explosion on USS Shaw in the background, during Japan's "surprise attack" on Pearl Harbour.-AP

Nehru had strong sympathy for Japan. Overruling the advice of the Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs, Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, and his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, then Ambassador to the U.S., he declined to sign the U.S.-sponsored Peace Treaty with Japan and signed, instead, a separate Peace Treaty on June 9, 1952. Pals judgment drew two comments from Nehru. On December 6, 1948, he wrote in a circular letter to the Chief Ministers: In Japan the sentence of death passed on Japanese war leaders has met with a great deal of adverse criticism in India. The Indian Judge on that Commission, Justice Pal, wrote a strong dissentient judgment. That judgment gave expression to many opinions and theories with which the Government of India could not associate itself. Justice Pal was, of course, not functioning in the Commission as a representative of the Government of India but as an eminent Judge in his individual capacity. Nevertheless most of us have felt that it is unfortunate that death sentences should be passed at this stage on war leaders. We have felt, however, that an official protest would not do any good either to the persons concerned or to the cause we have at heart, and therefore, we have not intervened officially (emphasis added throughout).

On November 12, 1948, the former Prime Minister of Japan, Hideki Tojo, and 24 others were sentenced to death for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal set up by 11 nations in Tokyo. On December 22, 1948, Tojo and six other Japanese leaders were hanged while the sentences of the remaining 18 were commuted to imprisonment lasting over 400 days.

Nehrus confidential cable to the Governor of West Bengal on November 29, 1948, reflected his views on Pals performance more candidly: We are unanimously of opinion that you should not send any telegram to General MacArthur. He is mere mouthpiece of other Governments and has no discretion. Apart from this any such move on our part would associate us with Justice Pals dissenting judgment in Tokyo trials. In this judgment wild and sweeping statements have been made with many of which we do not agree at all, we have had to inform Governments concerned informally that we are in no way responsible for it. Any statement sent by you might well create great difficulties for us without doing much good to anyone else. (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 8; pages 233 and 413, respectively.)

The censure was richly deserved. But that is one part of the story. What is of far greater importance are Japanese perceptions of the countrys conduct in the war and Chinese and South East Asian perceptions of that conduct, which are diametrically opposed to the Japanese perceptions. Not to overlook American perceptions, either, Japans attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, left a deep wound in the American psyche, and its memories affected American discussions on war scenarios during the Cold War the dreaded surprise attack.

These two Asian and American perceptions of Japan must be distinguished. The distinction lies at the heart of the problem of perceptions of war guilt. This problem must be resolved not by politicians but by acknowledged scholars of the countries concerned.

A formidable literature exists on neglected warnings of Japans attack on Pearl Harbour, besides the 39 volumes of Congressional hearings. Roberta Wohlstetters work is among the best (Pearl Harbour: Warning and Decision, Stanford University Press, 1962). She wrote: Never before have we had so complete an intelligence picture of the enemy. Thomas C. Schelling wrote: If we think of the entire U.S. government and its far-flung military and diplomatic establishment, it is not true that we were caught napping at the time of Pearl Harbour. Rarely has a government been more expectant. We just expected wrong. And it was not our warning that was most at fault, but our strategic analysis. We were so busy thinking through some obvious Japanese moves that we neglected to hedge against the choice that they actually made.

But in 2000 appeared a stunning book which offered a sinister explanation for the neglect it was deliberate. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted war with the Axis in order to help Britain, and he manoeuvred to get Japan to fire the first shot. It is Day of Deceit. The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbour (Free Press) by Robert B. Stinnet. The author served in the U.S. Navy under Lt. George Bush in 1942-46, where he earned 10 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Bush went on to become President, siring George W. Bush en route. Stinnett was Consultant on the Pacific War for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and for Asaki and NHK Television in Japan. He did research for the book for over a decade. His preface sums up his thesis: This book contradicts and questions much of what has been written about the events and decisions that led to Japans attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. As a veteran of the Pacific War, I felt a sense of outrage as I uncovered secrets that had been hidden from Americans for more than fifty years. But I understood the agonising dilemma faced by President Roosevelt. He was forced to find circuitous means to persuade an isolationist America to join in a fight for freedom. He knew this would cost lives. Many Americans had chosen isolationism to shelter their young from the horrors of another war, and believed that Roosevelt would not send their sons to fight in foreign wars. Roosevelt believed that his countrymen would rally only to oppose an overt act of war on the United States. The decision he made, in concert with his advisors, was to provoke Japan through a series of actions into an overt act: the Pearl Harbor attack

The answer to Roosevelts dilemma is found in an extraordinary number of documents whose release I have been able to obtain through Freedom of Information Act requests. These papers outline deliberate steps that were planned and implemented to elicit the overt action that catapulted America into the war, and devastated military forces at Pearl Harbour and other Pacific bases. Eight steps were suggested to provoke a Japanese attack. Shortly after reviewing these, Roosevelt put them into effect. After the eighth provocation had been taken, Japan responded. On November 27 and 28, 1941, U.S. military commanders were given this order: The United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. According to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, the order came directly from President Roosevelt we intercepted and decoded military cables. We knew the attack was coming.

By provoking the attack, Roosevelt accepted the terrible truth that Americas military forces including the Pacific fleet and the civilian population in the Pacific would sit squarely in harms way, exposed to enormous risks. Roosevelts decisions were strategically calculated to lead to the ultimate victory of allied forces over the Axis nations that threatened the liberties we all cherish Historians must grapple with what is knowable, and as documented as human action and thought can be. He consulted more than 200,000 documents and interviewed very many persons.

There is a smoking gun in Appendix A. It is an eight-action memo of October 7, 1940, by Lt. Commander Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence (O.N.I). He was a Japan hand who spoke Japanese before learning English. The memo was addressed to two of FDRs most trusted military advisers, Captains Walter S. Anderson, Director of Naval Intelligence, and Dudley W. Knox, a strategist who endorsed the memo and sent it to Anderson who, of course, had direct access to the President.

The paper trail of the McCollum memo ends with the Knox endorsement. Although the proposal was addressed to Anderson, no specific record has been found by the author indicating whether he or Roosevelt actually ever saw it. However, a series of secret presidential routing logs plus collateral intelligence information in Navy files offer conclusive evidence that they did see it. Beginning the very next day, with FDRs involvement, McCollums proposals were systematically put into effect. Throughout 1941, it seems, provoking Japan into an overt act of war was the principal policy that guided FDRs actions toward Japan.

The memo read thus: It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States Government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado; and it is barely possible that vigorous action on our part might lead the Japanese to modify their altitude. Therefore, the following course of action is suggested: A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore. B. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies. C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese Government of Chiang-Kai-Shek. D. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore. E. Send two Divisions of submarines to the Orient. F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. Fleet now in the Pacific in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. G. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil. H. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British empire. If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better. At all events we must be fully prepared to accept the threat of war.

Hemmed in or not, Japan decided to go to war. Here one must pause and ask whether the U.S. 10-point proposal of November 26, 1941, calling inter alia for an end to its war against China and in Indo-China was at all unreasonable. If it seemed so to Japan, it was because Japan was bent on expansionism anyway.

It was aggressive, not defensive. Negotiations collapsed on November 28-30. Emperor Hirohito and his council of advisers, the Liaison Conference, gave the go-ahead to Admiral Yamamoto to start the war on December 8, 1941, Tokyo time. Doubtless, the other points in the U.S. proposal might have seemed like an ultimatum to Japan by another great power. Fundamentally, Japan was expansionist then.

This brings us to the problem. It is this record of pre-War diplomacy that makes some Japanese feel that they were not altogether in the wrong after all. War guilt is not easily faced. After 1919, many Germans thought that their country had not lost the war. Its enemies did not occupy Germany. In 1945, they did. But there was Hitler and the Holocaust to remove all doubt. The Japanese have been much less willing to accept guilt. In this, they are not justified for two reasons. What of Japans war against Asian countries? Secondly, Japans crimes in occupied territories and on the prisoners of war? Even vis-a-vis the U.S., Japan did launch the war.

China is justifiably resentful of Japans ambiguity on war guilt despite expressions of regret. The wave of resurgent nationalism in Japan must be met by the truths of history, bearing in mind Burkes warning against drawing up an indictment against a whole people.

It is possible to end the chapter by recourse to history written jointly by all sides. If Russian and American scholars can collaborate to write the history of the Cold War, why cannot American, Japanese and Chinese scholars, besides those of South East Asia? Why not tap the resources of the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, D.C. and aid it too. Archives must be opened by all. The historical truth is a powerful liberating force.

In this exercise Radha Binod Pals udgment will be of no help at all. When the Japanese who extol it face up to the truth, they will realise what a disgracefully perverse document it is. They need no help from Pal.

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