Did you know?
Last week was the first lecture in a local series on “Crime and Punishment,” which includes both real-life crime (true crime, write large), and an examination of fictional crime, as in the works of Raymond Chandler and Victor Hugo. There’s a bit on crime science, with a procedural lecture (the work of crime labs) and the intersection of juvenile justice practices and advances in brain science. In other words, a very big and loosely woven net of topics.
The first lecture, given by Gary Bass, a Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton was on the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal after World War II and is based on a book he’s been researching for years, expected in 2023 (watch for it!). I don’t know about you, but I was a tabula rasa for this one. If you’d asked me if there was such a tribunal, I would have said, “Uh, probably.” Alas, I don’t know enough to go into the details.
It’s interesting (and sad, really), how popular culture has shaped much of our views of this aspect of post-WWII actions. We can probably thank Hollywood and Spencer Tracy for that—at least for periodic reminders of those dramatic events–and it’s a shame there hasn’t been an equivalently memorable treatment of the actions and personalities at the Tokyo Tribunal, which went on for twice as long (two and a half years). Though Americans may be marginally aware of it, most certainly the Asian nations that had suffered at the hands of the Japanese occupiers were acutely aware.
For example, China was consumed with memories of the bombings and privations as well as the Nanjing massacre of 1937, during which more than 200,000 civilians were slaughtered. Post-war Australia and New Zealand were fixated on the grim fates of their captured soldiers whom the Japanese worked to death. Again, popular culture fills in a few blanks, if you remember the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai or Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the 2014 Booker Prize winner.
One of the most interesting personalities involved was Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal, who became the only one of the judges who insisted all the defendants were not guilty, based in part on his questioning of the tribunal’s legitimacy. The interests of Empire and the U.S. use of the atomic bomb meant, to Pal at least, that no one’s hands were clean.He’s still held in high esteem in Japan today.
Europe-based World War II stories are a staple of crime and espionage thrillers. Thinking about some of the complexities the Tokyo Tribunal exposed, I thought I saw a deep well of new and compelling inspiration.