Tomoyuki Yamashita

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The Accused is not charged with having done something or having failed to do something, but solely with having been something...American jurisprudence recognizes no such principle so far as its own military personnel are concerned...No one would even suggest that the Commanding General of an American occupational force becomes a criminal every time an American soldier violates the man is not held to answer for the crime of another. [20]

Yamashita is removed from the courtroom by military police immediately after hearing the verdict of death by hanging Yamashita After Verdict.jpg
Yamashita is removed from the courtroom by military police immediately after hearing the verdict of death by hanging

For his part Yamashita denied he had knowledge of the crimes committed by his men, and claimed that he would have harshly punished them if he had had that knowledge. Further, he argued that with an army as large as his, there was no way for him to control all actions by all his subordinates. As such he felt what he was really being charged with was losing the war:

My command was as big as MacArthur's or Lord Louis Mountbatten's. How could I tell if some of my soldiers misbehaved themselves? It was impossible for any man in my position to control every action of his subordinate commanders, let alone the deeds of individual soldiers. The charges are completely new to me. If they had happened, and I had known about them, I would have punished the wrongdoers severely. But in war someone has to lose. What I am really being charged with is losing the war. It could have happened to General MacArthur, you know. [21]

The court found Yamashita guilty as charged and sentenced him to death. Clarke appealed the sentence to General MacArthur, who upheld it. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Supreme Court of the United States, both of which declined to review the verdict. President Truman denied Yamashita's petition to grant clemency and let the decision stand. [22]

In dissent from the Supreme Court of the United States's majority, Justice W.B. Rutledge wrote:

More is at stake than General Yamashita's fate. There could be no possible sympathy for him if he is guilty of the atrocities for which his death is sought. But there can be and should be justice administered according to the law. ... It is not too early, it is never too early, for the nation steadfastly to follow its great constitutional traditions, none older or more universally protective against unbridled power than due process of law in the trial and punishment of men, that is, of all men, whether citizens, aliens, alien enemies or enemy belligerents. [23]

W.B. Rutledge

The legitimacy of the hasty trial was questioned at the time, including by Justice Frank Murphy, who protested various procedural issues, the inclusion of hearsay evidence, and the general lack of professional conduct by the prosecuting officers. [24] Evidence that Yamashita did not have ultimate command responsibility over all military units in the Philippines was not admitted in court. [25]

The Yamashita Trial Commission. From left to right: Major General Leo Donovan, Brigadier General Morris C. Harwerk, Major General Russel B. Reynolds, Brigadier General Egbert F. Bullens, and Major General James A. Lester Yamashita Trial Commission.jpg
The Yamashita Trial Commission. From left to right: Major General Leo Donovan, Brigadier General Morris C. Harwerk, Major General Russel B. Reynolds, Brigadier General Egbert F. Bullens, and Major General James A. Lester

Former war crimes prosecutor Allan A. Ryan has argued that by order of General MacArthur and five other generals, and the Supreme Court of the United States, Yamashita was executed for what his soldiers did without his approval or even prior knowledge. The two dissenting Supreme Court Justices called the entire trial a miscarriage of justice, an exercise in vengeance, and a denial of human rights. [26]


Following the Supreme Court decision, an appeal for clemency was made to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who declined to intervene and left the matter entirely in the hands of the military authorities. In due course, General MacArthur confirmed the sentence of the commission. [27]

On 23 February 1946, Yamashita was hanged at Los Baños, Laguna Prison Camp, 30 miles (48 km) south of Manila. [28] After climbing the thirteen steps leading to the gallows, he was asked if he had a final statement. The Arizona Republic alleges that his reply, through a translator, was thus:

As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with my all capacity, so I don't ashame [sic] in front of the gods for what I have done when I have died. But if you say to me 'you do not have any ability to command the Japanese Army' I should say nothing for it, because it is my own nature. Now, our war criminal trial going under your kindness and right. I know that all your American and American military affairs always has tolerant and rightful judgment. When I have been investigated in Manila court I have had a good treatment, kindful attitude from your good natured officers who protected me all the time. I never forget for what they have done for me even if I had died. I don't blame my executioner. I'll pray the gods bless them. Please send my thankful word to Col. Clarke and Lt. Col. Feldhaus, Lt. Col. Hendrix, Maj. Guy, Capt. Sandburg, Capt. Reel, at Manila court, and Col. Arnard. I thank you. [29]

Yamashita was hanged. He was later buried first at the Japanese cemetery near the Los Baños Prison Camp. His remains were moved to Tama Reien Cemetery, Fuchū, Tokyo.

On 23 December 1948, Akira Mutō, Yamashita's chief of staff in the Philippines, was executed after being found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. [30]

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1946 Yamashita decision set a precedent, called command responsibility or the Yamashita standard, in that a commander can be held accountable before the law for the crimes committed by his troops even if he did not order them, didn't stand by to allow them, or possibly even know about them or have the means to stop them. This doctrine of command accountability has been added to the Geneva Conventions and was applied to dozens of trials in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It has been adopted by the International Criminal Court established in 2002. [26]

See also


  1. Marouf Hasian, In the Name of Necessity: Military Tribunals and the Loss of American Civil Liberties, University of Alabama Press, 2012, p. 286 (chapter 7, note 6). "Contemporary writers sometimes called Yamashita the "Beast of Bataan." See "The Philippines: Quiet Room in Manila," Time, 12 November, 194.5, 21."
  2. Virtual International Authority File
  3. Churchill, Winston (2002). Churchill, Winston (2002). The Second World War. London: Pimlico. ISBN   978-0712667029.
  4. "Yamashita Tomoyuki | Japanese general | Britannica". 10 April 2023.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Sixty Years On: The Fall of Singapore Revisited. Eastern Universities Press. 2003. p. 190.
  6. Shaari Isa (2019). Beyond Yamashita and Percival. Malaysian Institute of Translation & Books. p. 44. ISBN   978-9674608262.
  7. Yuma Totani, Justice in Asia and the Pacific Region, 1945–1952: Allied War Crimes Prosecutions, Cambridge University Press, 2015 p. 146
  8. Kevin Blackburn, ‘The Collective Memory of the Sook Ching Massacre and the Creation of the Civilian War Memorial of Singapore,’ Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 73, No. 2 (279)(2000), pp. 71–90 [73].
  9. Kevin Blackburn, p. 74
  10. Richard Fuller: Japanese Generals. 1926–1945. 2011, S. 243–244.
  11. Ward, Ian (1992). The Killer They Called A God. Singapore. p. 237.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. Boris Nikolaevich Slavinskiĭ (2004). The Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact: A Diplomatic History, 1941–1945. Psychology Press. p. 103. ISBN   978-0-415-32292-8.
  13. Ephraim, Frank (2003). Escape to Manila: from Nazi tyranny to Japanese terror. University of Illinois Press. pp.  87. ISBN   978-0-252-02845-8.
  14. John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945 , Random House, 1970, p. 677.
  15. Morris, Farewell the Trumpets, p454
  16. . Retrieved 6 October 2022
  17. David Isenberg (18 January 2013). "Lawbreakers at War: How Responsible Are They?". TIME. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  18. "Yamashita v. Styer". ICD. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  19. United Nations War Crimes Commission (21 July 2013). Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals Vol. 4 (PDF). London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. pp. 18–23. ISBN   978-1491048153 . Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  20. Robert Barr Smith (September 1996). "Japanese War Crime Trials" . Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  21. Warren, Alan (1942). Britain's Greatest Defeat: Singapore. Hambledon Continuum.
  22. . Retrieved 6 October 2022
  23. Yamashita v. Styer decision,; accessed 30 March 2018.
  24. "In re Yamashita (327 U.S. 1)". 1946. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  25. Barber, The Yamashita Trial Revisited.
  26. 1 2 Ryan, Allan A. (2012). Yamashita's Ghost – War Crimes, MacArthur's Justice, and Command Accountability. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN   978-0-7006-1881-1.
  27. "Yamashita to hang". The Straits Times. 8 February 1946.
  28. "Yamashita Hanged". Malaya Tribune. 23 February 1946.
  29. "Yamashita hanged for crimes of war". Arizona Republic. 23 February 1946.
  30. Time-Life Books (2015). Time-Life World War II in 500 Photographs. Time Inc. Books. p. 508. ISBN   978-1-61893-889-3.

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Tomoyuki Yamashita
山下 奉文
Military Governor of Japan to the Philippines
In office
26 September 1944 2 September 1945