Using a Japanese War Crime Trial Simulation to Expand Students' Understanding of the Roots of Wartime Atrocities, Mass Killings and Genocide
The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason for his being. When he violates this sacred trust, he not only profanes his entire cult, but threatens the very fabric of international society. The traditions of fighting men are long and honorable. They are based upon the noblest of human traits—sacrifice.
—General Douglas MacArthur, 1946, confirming the death sentence imposed by a United States military commission on General Tomoyuki Yamashita.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Approximately sixty years ago, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) rendered its historic verdicts in the case of Japan's most notorious war criminals and, in doing so, wrote the final chapter to the Second World War. Unlike the highly publicized Nuremburg Trials, focusing on the horrific crimes committed by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, this event, which dealt with a different regime's crimes against the civilized world, came to be known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials (1946-1948). Over sixty years later, however, these atrocities and their aftermath have been forgotten by all but a few. We find ourselves, in the aftermath of September 11th, living in a brave new world battling a different type of adversary whose actions are, nonetheless, in some respects eerily reminiscent of an earlier clash of cultures. It is for this very reason that it is an opportune moment for us to revisit the Tokyo Trials and examine their historical significance in a world transformed by the events of September 11th.
Since the end of the Cold War, the specter of crimes against civilized nations and the spectacle of highly publicized war crimes trials, such as the trials of Slobodan Milošević and Saddam Hussein, have raised public awareness of atrocities committed by certain groups and individuals. The ideological fervor and moral turpitude displayed by today's extremists, however, are not unlike the actions taken by Imperial Japan's military leaders during the 1930s and 1940s. What these individuals and the societies that spawn them share is an overarching fanaticism born out of cultural misunderstandings, ethnic, racial, or religious rivalries, nationalistic fervor run amok, or a simple desire to demonstrate the superiority of their way of life. As history has shown us, this misplaced fanaticism can lead these individuals and their societies to initiate and perpetrate crimes against innocent civilians in the guise of achieving some greater collective good. Such conduct, as history has documented time and again, can lead to widespread disaster for the perpetrators as well as for their victims and, ultimately, for the people whom they purport to serve. History teaches us that, when leaders invoke sacred motives to sanction evil deeds, the results can be catastrophic. Such motives, while often rooted in a mythology of ethnic, racial, religious, or nationalistic superiority, may actually serve to legitimatize horrific acts which otherwise rational people would understand as inherently wrong and therefore reject. Remembering history's forgotten holocaust provides today's students with a unique opportunity to explore a dark chapter in our historical past and, in doing so, teaches us about the forces that lead groups and individuals to commit crimes against humankind. This essay will outline how our students can cultivate an historical awareness of how and why such evil acts occur and what civilized peoples can do to prevent them from occurring again and again. The Tokyo War Crimes Trials therefore serves as a representative case study.
Tokyo's Teachable Moment
While most students learn about the events surrounding the Nazi Holocaust, few have any awareness of the crimes committed by Japanese soldiers in the Far East during the 1930s and 1940s. In a frenetic rush to cover content, today's history teachers tend to limit their students' understanding of historical atrocities to a cursory examination of Adolf Hitler and his "Final Solution." We should not, however, trivialize a universal phenomenon by merely associating it with a single time, place, and set of conditions. While speeding across the centuries so as assure ourselves that we have covered everything from Plato to NATO before our students must reach for their number two pencils, it is not sufficient for us to check the "atrocities" box on our "to do" list and simply march onward. We owe it to our students and ourselves to remember why history matters and to teach it accordingly. As the Bradley Commission on History in the Schools concludes:
As we prepare the next generation for becoming thoughtful citizens in a twenty-first century democracy, the question we should be asking ourselves in classrooms across America is: Will our students learn that atrocities, which took place long ago, were limited to the actions of one nation under a given set of conditions during a specific period in history? Or, will our students understand that the fatal flaw, which leads individuals, groups, and the nations they claim to serve, to commit unspeakable horrors, lies not in the German character, but in the human character? This question lies at the heart of why the Tokyo Trials constitute a teachable moment in the lives of today's students. Yuki Tanaka, author of a landmark study on Japan's wartime atrocities, explains the relevance of the Tokyo Trials when he writes:
Japan's war against China, which began in July of 1937, before German tanks rolled across the Polish frontier or Japanese planes rained death and destruction on Pearl Harbor, produced a horror in the East directed against a largely civilian population. What few students understand is that this horror was on a scale comparable with that of Germany's later campaign of annihilation against its enemies. As BBC Producer Laurence Rees reports:
James Bradley, best-selling author of Flags of Our Fathers, estimates that nearly thirty million Chinese died in what he refers to as the "Rape of China." 4 By examining these crimes, which included rape, biological and chemical warfare in violation of the Geneva Convention, and the systematic slaughter of the Chinese civilian population, it is possible to debunk a popular myth that the Germans, who followed Adolf Hitler, were a uniquely cruel people whose crimes cannot be generalized to humankind as a whole. It is important for us to remember this forgotten holocaust because it exhibited many of the same cruelties characteristic of other regimes across human history. These crimes included a death rate among allied prisoners of war of twenty-seven percent contrasted with only four percent among German and Italian prisoners of war5 and a secret program of biological warfare, which one historian has estimated resulted in approximately 580,000 casualties.6 Despite documented evidence of these atrocities, however, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and historian John W. Dower concludes, "Historical amnesia concerning war crimes has taken particular forms in Japan, but the patterns of remembering and forgetting are most meaningful when seen in the broader context of public memory and myth-making generally, issues that have deservedly come to attract great attention in recent years."7
Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute and professor emeritus at the University of California explains how these horrific events and Japan's inability to come to terms with them, helped to shape the postwar environment:
To create the conditions in which students will be able to understand and appreciate the historical significance of these momentous issues, it is therefore necessary to travel back in time to recreate the major challenges confronting the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) as they sought to bring Japan's wartime leaders to justice. Theodore Sizer, founding director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, recommends reenacting historical trials as a means of better understanding and appreciating the significance of the larger historical issues involved in these trials:
Given the seriousness of the issues involved, it is recommended that instructors create appropriate pedagogical parameters for examining the atrocities which unfolded as Japanese troops moved ruthlessly and aggressively to subdue the peoples of Southeast Asia. To do so, it is first necessary to provide students with an overview of Japan's imperialist ambitions as those ambitions led to creation of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. An excellent place to begin is by assigning students to read and discuss James Bradley's Flyboys. In the sequel to his best-selling Flags of Our Fathers, Bradley concludes that Japan's efforts to transform itself into an imperialist power were preconditioned, in part, by America's earlier efforts to expand its own power and influence. He writes:
To begin this process of reflective inquiry, the instructor should place his students in small learning teams. These student learning teams would read and discuss excerpts from James Bradley's Flyboys; comparing and contrasting the ruthless actions of the Japanese in their war against China with those actions taken by the United States in an earlier war against the people of the Philippines. This earlier conflict, also largely forgotten, caused the deaths of more than 250,000 Filipinos—men, women, and children—from the beginning of the hostilities on February 4, 1899, to July 4, 1902, when President Roosevelt declared the Philippines "pacified."11 As part of this process of reflective inquiry, students would be assigned a comparative analysis exercise (see Appendix One), which would be written individually, but utilized as a point of discussion within the collaborative groups and the larger class when students share their insights with their peers. Through comparing and contrasting the emergence of the United States and Japan as the two preeminent powers in the Pacific, students will be able to address essential questions such as: Why did a nation (Japan), which once embraced western culture and values, vehemently reject any and all traces of western influence prior to the outset of World War II? Did the social, cultural, economic, political, and military differences, which emerged between the United States and Japan following the First World War, lead to an inevitable clash of civilizations and, as a consequence, a brutal war of attrition in the Pacific? As author and historian John Toland notes, "Millions of Orientals saw Japan's victories as their own, as a confrontation of race and color; they also saw in Japan's victories their own liberation from Western domination."12 Could today's conflict be perceived by America's enemies similarly?
To promote understanding of the historical forces which culminated in the Tokyo Trials, students would be provided by their instructor with a historical overview of the salient events of the 1930s and 1940s, specifically outlining the rise of Japanese militarism. Historian Herbert Bix masterful work entitled, Hirohito And The Making Of Modern Japan, provides an excellent background resource for both instructor and students to familiarize themselves with Japan's militarization from 1936 onward. Bix underscores the historical significance of this pivotal period when he writes:
The other works cited in this essay also provide an excellent point of departure for examining how Japan was transformed from a society, which, at the outset of the twentieth century, had been shaped and influenced by western culture, into a society, which subsequently rejected those ideas and values. The forces, which transformed Japan into a militarized state, based on a warrior ethos, should be examined by students against a backdrop of the violent actions undertaken by the Japanese as they sought to build an empire in the Pacific. As Professor Dower reports:
To understand how Japan's desire for great power status could lead its people to commit atrocities against the civilized world, instructors need to explain to their students how the evolution of Japan's imperialist aspirations led to the rise of a militarist faction within their insular society. Japanese militarists ruthlessly subordinated the democratic desires of the larger population to the collective goal of empire-building in Southeast Asia and, in the process, undermine Japan's efforts to establish a viable democracy. As BBC Producer Laurence Rees notes:
In the worldwide war against terror, a similar clash of cultures is unfolding as certain groups and individuals argue that western values imperil their particular way of life. From the rise of the Athenian Democracy and the Roman Republic to the terrible events of September 11, 2001, the historical forces that enhance or inhibit pluralistic forces, such as democracy, provide a conceptual framework for understanding why societies undergo such profound transformations. Economic uncertainties, which have been exacerbated by the global economic downturn which commenced in December of 2007, underscore the fragility of democratic institutions and participatory forms of government. Using Japan's conquest of Asia as a relevant case study, it is possible for students to understand and appreciate how global economic and security concerns can transform the political landscape.
Reenacting The Tokyo Trials
An important caveat to any simulation-based lesson is a fundamental understanding of what students are and are not able to do. In today's educational environment, it is important to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of a diverse population of learners. Differentiation, at its core, assumes that students differ in their learning styles, that classrooms ought to be places in which students are active learners, decision makers and problem solvers as opposed to being served a "one-size-fits-all" curriculum and treated as passive recipients of information, and that covering content should be deemed less important than giving students the opportunity to create meaning out of what they are taught. It is with this idea in mind that simulations need to be placed against a backdrop of other effective instructional approaches. Teachers should assess the needs and abilities of each group of learners in determining whether, in fact, a historical trial is the proper instructional approach. If the students possess the aptitude and the desire then a historical reenactment of the Tokyo Trials or any important historical trial can serve as a unique learning laboratory enabling students to generate insights and understandings that would not otherwise be possible were the content presented in a more traditional format. If, however, students are not comfortable with an approach which shifts responsibility from the teacher to the student thereby placing the learners at the forefront of the learning process then other instructional approaches (e.g., lectures, directed research projects) ought to be considered instead.
In preparation for the Tokyo Trials, students would be assigned roles as participants. Twenty-five defendants were found guilty of war crimes. They were: Kenji Doihara, Hirota Koki, Seishiro Itagaki, Heitaro Kimura, Iwane Matsui, Akira Muto, Hideki Tojo, Sadao Araki, Kingoro Hashimoto, Shunroku Hata, Kiichiro Hiranuma, Naoki Hoshino, Okinori Kaya, Koichi Kido, Kuniaki Koiso, Jiro Minami, Takasumi Oka, Hiroshi Oshima, Kenryo Sato, Shigetaro Shimada, Toshio Shiratori, Teiichi Suzuki, Yoshijiro Umezu, Mamoru Shigemitsu and Hideki Togo. Students would be assigned to role-play selected defendants, depending on the size of the class as well as the level of interest and the demonstrated abilities of the student participants. These defendants would work in conjunction with their defense attorneys to develop a credible defense for their actions. Together, defendants and their attorneys would engage in document-based analysis to prepare a defense consistent with the arguments researched. The goal of this historical reenactment would not be to deny responsibility for the defendants' actions. Rather, it would be to place these actions within the context of the important events that turned Japan against the West thereby enabling students to better understand and appreciate why civilizations clash and how individuals can justify committing crimes against defenseless peoples.
Other students would be assigned roles as prosecuting attorneys whose jobs would be to research evidence commensurate with the charges that were actually brought against the defendants. These students would research the defendants' backgrounds with the objective of using the same documents used by the defense to build a credible case against their (the defendants') actions. The instructor would serve as the chief justice. It would be his task to evaluate the quality of students' oral and written work during the trial. This task would be made manageable by requiring student-attorneys to submit a legal plan summarizing their line of questioning and the key points they plan to make with each of the defendants. Defendants would submit a character sketch comprising a short biography of the person in question and a rationale for why each defendant took the actions he did during the time in question. This approach would compel students to engage in the document-based analysis necessary to understand the larger issues involved. Central to this idea of teaching history as the reenactment of past experience is the notion that historical thought is multi-dimensional and therefore students must be able to embrace and defend divergent points of view. To understand why individuals and nations commit atrocities, it therefore becomes necessary to immerse oneself in the world of those who were responsible.
Richard Paul, director of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, underscores the importance of lessons that promote divergent thinking. He uses the American Revolution to illustrate this idea: "Thus, when considering a question, the class brings all relevant subjects to bear and considers the perspectives of groups whose views are not canvassed in their texts—for example, what did King George think of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress, Jefferson and Washington, etc."16
This instructional approach has its roots in classical epistemology. As Aristotle concluded, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." This is the guiding principle in embracing an instructional philosophy allowing students to make sense out of the past, as practicing historians often do, by attempting to place themselves inside the minds of those who made the history. This paradigm shift requires teachers to view their students, not as passive receptacles to be filled with a series of discrete and disconnected facts, but as practicing historians who are young apprentices learning the craft of history as would any novice.17 No individual understood or appreciated the possibilities inherent in this idea better than philosopher-historian R.G. Collingwood who wrote:
Students not assigned roles as either attorneys or defendants would serve, instead, as jurors. These students would be required to keep a trial journal, which would be submitted at the conclusion of the trial. In these journals, students would summarize the major arguments made by the attorneys and defendants. They would also be required to record their reactions to those arguments based on evidentiary support and how plausible they therefore considered these arguments to be. Jurors, at the conclusion of the trial, would have the opportunity to meet as a group and utilize their reaction journals as a basis for purposeful deliberation. They would then decide the guilt or innocence of each of the defendants and report their findings to the class.
It is important to assign roles in any historical reenactment based on an understanding that each student has different strengths and weaknesses. For example, students who possess natural leadership skills should be assigned leadership roles while students who are analytical and introspective in nature should be assigned research-oriented roles. The process of assigning roles to students, based on their respective strengths and weaknesses, creates an environment in which each student will likely succeed as opposed to a random assignment of roles and responsibilities, which may ultimately result in frustration, disappointment, and failure.
All student participants would be required to complete a debriefing exercise. Historians are writers. Students must adopt this practice too. The debriefing exercise is essential for practicing historians to make sense of what they have experienced just as real historians would. It is the point at which generalizations and symbolic meanings are generated out of students' concrete experiences. The teacher's role in eliciting "learner-discovered" principles, in assisting students in their attempts to organize their ideas and experiences into higher-order generalizations, and in providing the discussion and assignments which will relate the experiences of the past to students' real world experiences must form the core of this debriefing exercise.19
In the case of the debriefing exercise for the Tokyo Trials, students would link past to present by applying the lessons of the IMTFE to establish guidelines for the United States. These guidelines would explain how America's soldiers and civilians ought to wage a successful worldwide war against terrorists and their supporters consistent with the principles embodied in our democracy. Students would apply their knowledge of the past to ensure that our society does not repeat the mistakes made then now or in the future. Rather than simply preparing these students to perform competently on a standardized assessment, this is a lesson demonstrating how these young people can serve purposeful and productive lives as citizens of a democracy. Appendix Two provides an example of such a debriefing exercise.
From Tokyo To Tolerance
In attempting to understand and appreciate the significant issues and events associated with the Tokyo Trials, it is important for our students to consider the profound lessons which this experience offers us. Laurence Rees concludes, "If there is one lesson to be learnt from all this, then that lesson is also a warning—human begins take considerably more of their ethical values from the particular system they happen to be in at the time than you would have ever thought possible."20 As students are debriefed, this is a lesson that needs to be fully grasped. As the United States moves into an increasingly uncertain world, how does our ethical system of thought condition us to see the world around us? How does our perception of America's actions in the global village correlate with the perception that others have of us and of what we do? And, how can we wage a successful war against terrorism without violating the fundamental ideas and ideals which form the basis of our democracy?
Examining the aforementioned questions provide our students with a powerful culminating experience enabling them to relate the lessons of the Tokyo Trials to the world in which we live today. The stakes are high. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough noted, in a speech he gave at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in July of 2007, "Students in this nation are growing up historically illiterate and, if we don't fix the situation soon, our nation, our constitutional democracy, is doomed."
It is for this reason that those of us who teach history must rethink how we teach history. We should remember that the young men and women who enter our classrooms today may someday be called upon to make history of their own. Reenacting the Tokyo Trials presents us, as teachers of the past, with a unique opportunity to escape the confines of an approach to historical instruction that has increasingly become rooted in a "one size fits all" philosophy, which demands far too little of today's learners. This misguided notion, which sacrifices depth of understanding for breadth of coverage, relies on a minimalist approach to student learning stressing knowledge and comprehension at the expense of other important skills not measured within the framework of a multiple-choice test. As historian Tom Holt explains, to "do" history is not to memorize, but to question and to imagine. Historical thinking requires curiosity and a search for the paths of access, not just getting things by heart.21
Rather than approach historical instruction as an exercise in the trivial pursuit of knowledge for no other reason than that of performing competently on a battery of standardized tests, reenacting the Tokyo Trials gives us, as educators, a unique opportunity to provide our students with a deeper understanding of why the past matters. Such a heartfelt understanding will stimulate curiosity, promote tolerance, and provide our students with an appreciation for why the events of long ago remain relevant in their lives now and in the future. It was the Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana who said, "When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." How can our students remember the past when experience is not retained? How can they learn the lessons history has to offer us when they are denied the opportunity to explore? And, how can they prevent the terrible mistakes of the past from repeating themselves again and again when we are so quick to forget? It was the Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who long ago provided us with the answer to these questions. "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?"
Anthony Pattiz teaches at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, Georgia. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Appendix One: Comparative Analysis Exercise
How One Nation's Actions May Have Shaped Another's
When others use violence we must be violent too.
—Yukichi Fukuzawa, quoted in James Bradley's Flyboys
Instructions: You will write a two-page comparative analysis. For your analysis, you will examine how the American War in the Philippines (February 4, 1899-July 4, 1902) influenced Japan's aggressive behavior in the 1930s and 1940s. You will read and utilize the excerpted chapters from James Bradley's Flyboys entitled, The Rape of China and The ABCD Encirclement to defend or refute the following thesis:
Japan's decision to launch an aggressive war against China was shaped by its desire and ambition to achieve great power status concomitant with the United States, Great Britain and other major western powers. The ruthless measures, which Japan pursued to achieve its imperialist ambitions, were consistent with earlier U.S. actions as demonstrated in the Philippines. While Japanese atrocities were on a much greater scale, evidence exists to demonstrate that Japan's actions were NOT inconsistent with those of other great powers, as illustrated in the American example, in their [Japan's] effort to expand their power and influence across the Pacific.
Please Note: Your two-page analysis may defend or attack the above thesis. Whichever decision you make, you are required to cite evidence. If you decide to refute this thesis, you may substitute Bradley's evidence for other credible historical evidence, but you are required to cite whatever source(s) you use and your evidence must be credible (i.e., well researched and documented).
Appendix Two: Applying The Lessons Of The Tokyo Trials
Guidelines For The Treatment Of Enemy Combatants
Assume that you are a special representative of the United Nations. You are a historian familiar with the lessons of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). You have been commissioned by the President of the United States to provide a report to the Department of Defense applying the historical lessons of the Tokyo Trials. Specifically, in your report, you are to do the following: (1) Outline specific recommendations regarding the treatment of enemy combatants, (2) Recommend what steps the U.S. Government ought to take if the rights of enemy combatants are violated and (3) Provide a rationale (explanation) as to why it is both important and necessary for the men and women of the United States Armed Forces to enforce a universal standard of conduct in conducting military operations both at home and abroad.
Please Note: In developing your report, you must not only apply the historical lessons of the Tokyo Trials, but also draft a document consistent with the ideas and ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. In other words, your report should not, in any way, violate the central tenets on which America's democracy is based.
1 Paul Gagnon, Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education. (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989), 55.
2 Yuki Tanka, Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996), 5.
3 Laurence Rees. Horror In The East: Japan and the Atrocities of World War II. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: De Capo Press, 2001), 30.
4 James Bradley, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage. (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 2003), 58.
5 Tanaka, Hidden Horrors, 2-3.
6 Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: The Hidden History Of Japan's Biological Warfare Program (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), xii.
7 John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan In The Wake Of World War II. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), 29-30.
8 Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 11-12.
9 Thoedore Sizer, Horace's Hope: What Works For The American High School. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996), 128-129.
10 Bradley, Flyboys, 66.
11 Ibid, 68.
12 John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. (New York: The Modern Library, 1970), xiv.
13 Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito And The Making Of Modern Japan. (New York: Perennial, 2000), 614.
14 Laurence Rees, Horror In The East, 20-21.
15 Dower, Embracing Defeat, 22.
16 Richard Paul, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs To Know To Survive In A Rapidly Changing World (Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1992), 645.
17 Anthony Pattiz, "Teaching History as the Reenactment of Past Experience." Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, 30: 1 (Spring 2005), 17.
18 R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946).
19 The teacher has some latitude in how he constructs a debriefing exercise. What is important is that the students, in some way, shape, or form, address the twin questions of: "What does this all mean?" and "Why is this relevant today?" There are different approaches a teacher can take. One approach would be to link past to present by having student participants analyze the historical ramifications of the decisions made in terms of how those decisions might have impacted the modern world. Another approach would be to have students shift advocacy by adopting positions contrary to the positions they embraced during the historical reenactment. Both approaches require students to organize their ideas and experiences into higher-order generalizations and, in doing so, their knowledge and understanding is given new meaning and is more likely to be retained long after the lesson has concluded.
20 Rees, Horror In The East, 155.
21 Tom Holt, Thinking Historically: Narrative, Imagination, and Understanding. (The College Board: New York, 1995), xii.
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