Modern non-fiction: The Other Nuremberg: The Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, by Arnold C. Brackman

The story of the Second World War, as told by my high school, took about ten textbook pages and fifteen minutes and went like this: “American farmers, internment of Japanese Americans, Holocaust, Atomic Bomb.” This is hardly a complete picture. So bring up the International Military Tribunal for the Far East – the IMTFE – and we’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. Arnold C. Brackman, who covered the trial for the United Press through most of its 1946-48 lifespan, spent the subsequent twenty-five years researching and writing what remains the only serious attempt to document the whole process. He writes in his introduction:

“Some people dimly recall a handful of Japanese atrocities during World War II: the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the POWs and other slave laborers building the Siam-Burma Death Railway, including the bridge over the River Kwai. But who remembers the mass murder or 18,000 Filipino men, women and children in the town of Lipa? Or the murder of 450 French and Vietnamese POWs at Langson, Vietnam, where the Japanese first machine-gunned them in the legs and then dispatched the squirming targets in a bayonet drill?”

This book is history we should know – the military usurpation of the Japanese government in the 20s and 30s through intimidation and murder, the racist Japanese supremacy of the State Shinto, the policy of world conquest that took its first belligerent steps on foreign soil with the unprovoked invasion of China in 1931. (For an extraordinarily succinct summary of Japanese war aims, see Morison’s brilliant Two-Ocean War, p. 41.)

Steeped in ignorance of the details of the war, there is an increasing & dangerous tendency to say that all sides were equally bad, or that we weren’t really fighting for anything in particular, or that we would have won no matter what or that it wouldn’t really matter if we’d lost. This book is concerned with the trial itself, and is far from an attempt to document Japan’s war crimes thoroughly – that would take a dozen volumes. But it will give you a basic idea of how the war started (and ended) and, most important, of the bestial, sub-human, sub-animal brutality of the Japanese army during the war.  You may dimly recall the Rape of Nanking, but you may not be able to picture the Japanese army moving into an undefended city still half-a-million strong and murdering a quarter million – half the remaining population – in only six weeks. And raping and gang raping the women of Nanking at the rate of just over 1000 per day. The attitude of the murderers in court after the war was also strikingly and worrying different from the prevailing attitude in Nuremburg.

I’ve attempted over the last few years to learn thoroughly the history of the Second World War and the events that lead up to it in both theaters; I have a long way to go. This book isn’t a vital introductory text (I plan to review some suggestions in that line soon) but it is mandatory reading if you are in search of a broader understanding of the events that split the twentieth century in half.

Engagingness: 7/10

Prose: 6/10

Material Importance: 8/10

Overall Goodness Rating (OGR): 7.5/10

The Other Nuremberg: The Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, by Arnold C. Brackman.  William Morrow & Co, Inc, 1987.  432 pages.