- Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice by Barak Kushner
Barak Kushner’s latest book is a very timely study of war crimes, war guilt, and war responsibility as seen through the prism of early post-World War II trials. The author focuses on the understudied field of trials for so-called conventional war crimes (Class B) and crimes against humanity (Class C) held by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang/Kuomintang; KMT) between 1946 and 1949 and by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1956.1 Apart from its pure scholarly worth, Men to Devils, Devils to Men also offers a powerful intervention against the instrumentalization of history in the East Asia history wars in general and, more particularly, against the historical revisionism of the current Japanese government. Coincidentally, in November 2015 Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced the creation of an LDP panel, reporting directly to the prime minister, whose ostensible aim is to examine the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trials) of 1946–1948. Although, or perhaps because, it does not study the Tokyo Trials, Kushner’s book may also be seen as an interdiction against both Japanese historical revisionists seeking to exculpate Japanese war criminals and Chinese leaders attempting to instrumentalize Japanese war guilt for nationalist purposes. As is well documented in the trial records and in related scholarship (now including Kushner’s study), members of the Japanese military committed numerous crimes throughout Asia, in particular from 1937 to 1945. Not a few defendants were prosecuted—6,762 individuals in a total of 2,248 cases—with 3,464 people sentenced and 984 executed. Surprising among the cases tried was the acquittal of General Okamura Yasuji, commander of the notorious “kill all, burn all, loot all” China Expeditionary Army. Interestingly, in the trials held by the CCP in the People’s Republic of China in 1956, only 45 out of 1,062 defendants were found guilty and no one was executed. It is therefore neither true that Japanese soldiers were mercilessly tried in revenge nor true that all Japanese war criminals, except for a handful of scapegoats, escaped prosecution. As Kushner explains, the trials were not driven by a desire to seek justice for the victims, but instead they served a political function. Their main aims were to stabilize and legitimize the respective Chinese governments both domestically and internationally, and this entailed, among other things, recruiting the support of their former enemy, Japan. Notwithstanding some harsh and doubtful verdicts, the prosecution of Japanese war criminals by Chinese authorities can therefore be characterized as generally benevolent, and perhaps even as “an aberration of benevolence in the chilly atmosphere of an ensuing Cold War” (p. 10).
Kushner’s study “analyzes the repercussions from the . . . military and diplomatic maneuvers” undertaken after Japan’s surrender to bring the empire to justice. The [End Page 134] author asks these key questions: “How did the Chinese legally deal with Japanese war crimes? What were the Japanese responses, and did these processes shape early Cold War Sino-Japanese relations?” (pp. 3–4). There are multiple answers to these questions, in part because “the Chinese” were separated geographically between Taiwan and the mainland and divided ideologically between the KMT and the CCP. In addition, Kushner reminds us of the importance of the “ambiguity of imperial guilt,” for example in the cases of forced and voluntary collaboration with the Japanese in Nanjing, Manchukuo, Taiwan, and other parts of Japan’s empire where national or ethnic borders were blurred (p. 12). This ambiguity is among the qualities that distinguish the Chinese trials from the majority of prosecutions of Japanese war crimes undertaken in the mid- to late 1940s by France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, the United States, and Australia.
The book is divided into seven chapters, with one each focusing on the KMT trials (chapter 4), the situation in Taiwan (chapter 5), and the CCP trials (chapter 7). The remaining four chapters study...