CHINA: Judgments Need to be Made Now

On March 15, Beijing’s National Library of China (NLC) said it will speed up work compiling historical files on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, aka the “Tokyo Trials.”

For the uninitiated, the IMTFE is where alleged Japanese war criminals were put on trial for acts committed during WWII.  The atrocities occurred when Japanese troops invaded China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere. The resulting trials lasted from May 1946 to November 1948, and involved more than 800 court sessions. In the end, seven Japanese military and political leaders were sentenced to death.

Why now the flurry of activity in Beijing?

The action comes in response to a comment made March 12 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in which he questioned the tribunal’s validity.  Abe referred to the WWII judgment as “a verdict made by victorious countries rather than the Japanese people’s own conclusions.”  The Japanese media quoted the Prime Minister as stating that “history should be assessed by historians.”

Gao Hong, head of the NLC office that oversees historical files from 1911 to 1949, replied that, the relevant history is “recorded in the abundant files in our library, and history itself is the best textbook.”  He also commented that the absence of original historical files on the Tokyo Trials in China is a drawback in disputing “rampant right-wing voices in Japan.”

In other words, if you’re going to counter a critic, you better get your ducks in a row.

China has few academic books on this specific period, whereas Japan academics have made it a specialty, with more than 300 published articles on the trials. To try to correct this, The Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, an 80-volume series, is set for completion in June.  The series will be co-published by the NLC and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  The NLC will hold China’s first international symposium on Japanese WWII crimes trials this summer, with scholars from around the globe (including Japan) expected to take part.

As they say, there’s always two sides to the same story…. even very old ones.

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