A Trial of Generals
When the American forces on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese in early 1942, both sides were astonished to discover that the Japanese under General Masaharu Homma had defeated an army more than twice its size. For the Japanese, the 100,000 soldiers and civilians coming out of the jungles of the Philippines’ Bataan peninsula presented a horrendous logistical problem – how to get them safely into POW camps. The result was the infamous Bataan Death March, during which 7,000 American soldiers succumbed to heat, disease, exhaustion, or the brutalities of their captors.
During the Death March, General Homma was busy trying to capture the remaining American soldiers – first under General Douglas A. MacArthur and later, after MacArthur’s departure for Australia, under Jonathan M. Wainwright – from their entrenched positions on the island of Corregidor in Manilla Bay. Homma was to remain unaware of the atrocities being perpetrated by his troops until the end of the war.
By the end of 1944, the war was going badly for the Japanese. Tojo has already been removed in July that year, and MacArthur was mustering an overwhelming force to retake the Philippines. Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the hero of Japan’s Malayan campaign (which resulted in the surrender of a much superior British contingent in Singapore to a small Japanese force), was hurriedly recalled from an insignificant post assigned him by the jealous Tojo to shore up the weakened and frail defense of the islands.
Yamashita’s orders called for pulling back into the Philippine jungles, abandoning Manilla as hopeless to sustain under the American onslaught. But sailors under the command of Admiral Iwabuchi, apparently with Iwabuchi’s blessing and directly in the face of Yamashita’s direct orders, did not leave Manilla. Instead, they fortified themselves with alcohol and, counting themselves as dead already, went on a rampage against Manilla and its inhabitants – raping, burning, torturing, murdering. Yamashita, virtually isolated in the jungle, waited until the war’s end to surrender. It was then that he heard about the incredible acts of sailors nominally under his command.
With the Allied victory came – eventually – the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals. Both were models of due process, with internationally recognized jurists deliberating for years about the charges and countercharges involved. But long before this, two Japanese generals were tried in the Philippines by a military commission under General MacArthur. They were found guilty, appealed that decision and lost, and were executed.
A Trial of Generals is the full treatment of these trials, which were travesties of American judicial conduct. It tells the story not only of the background, charges, trials, and executions; it also tells the human story of three generals caught in a desperate bind involving the highest calling of the military profession – duty, honor, country.
Jacket design/Don Nelson