University of Hawaii, United States
Following the Second World War, the Allied powers conducted a series of ground-breaking war crime trials to seek justice for atrocities committed by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. These trials produced the legal doctrine of command responsibility; a principle that addresses a general’s accountability for the crimes of their troops, even if they are not aware they occurred. The legacy of command responsibilities development is significant not only in its problematic precedent but because of the lessons it holds for current international war crime courts.
The current paper examines the first Japanese war crime trials that dealt with command responsibly (that of General Yamashita and General Homma) and contrasts them with two later, but comparable German trials (Wilhelm List, et al and Wilhelm von Leeb, et al). The field of Japanese war crimes trials has largely been neglected by postwar scholarship, and no close comparison has ever been done between German and Japanese command responsibly cases. Contrasting differences in the trials’ composition, conviction criteria, and sentences are vital to achieve a better understanding of the evolution of command responsibly. The present study utilizes trial records, military reports, and war-era accounts to analyze these four trials, and examines the possible outcomes of placing the Japanese defendants on trial while applying the conviction criteria used during the German Cases.