Isn’t This A War Crime?

I don’t care how old he is, this was done to civilians and POW’s.  Dissected alive. 

In 1944, as a medical auxiliary in the Japanese Imperial Navy, he was stationed in the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. There he was party to one of the most notorious and poorly chronicled cruelties of the Japanese war effort – the medical dissection and murder of living prisoners of war.

Over the course of four months before the defeat of the Japanese forces in March 1945, Mr Makino cut open the bodies of ten Filipino prisoners, including two teenage girls. He amputated their limbs, and cut up and removed their healthy livers, kidneys, wombs and still beating hearts for no better reason than to improve his knowledge of anatomy.

Sounds like a war crime to me.  And as for the threat of death excuse he uses,

“At that time, if a commander gave you an order it was understood that it was the order of the Emperor, and the Emperor was a god. I had no choice – if I had disobeyed, I would have been killed.”

We didn’t buy that excuse from the Nazis at the Nuremburg trials, and we shouldn’t buy it now.  Look at the Doctor’s trial entry from Wiki:

Twenty of the 23 defendants were medical doctors (Brack, Rudolf Brandt, and Sievers being Nazi officials) and all were accused of having been involved in Nazi human experimentation. . .

Of the 23 defendants, five were acquitted and seven received death sentences; the remainder received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.

Transcripts of the Doctors’ Trial at Nuremburg can be found here.

Look, I’m glad Mr. Makino is sorry.  He damned well should be.  That doesn’t negate the crimes he committed and has yet to be punished for. 

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14 thoughts on “Isn’t This A War Crime?

  1. Good luck getting the Japanese to admit any sort of wrong doing during WWII. They barely mention it in their text books and even then I think they frame themselves as the good guys. Korea, China, and other nations in the region are still waiting for some sort of public acknowledgment and apology for the war and the atrocities committed. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

  2. And like all their apologies it was considered half-hearted at best. The Chinese Ambassador to South Korea said: Mr. Koizumi is bringing out an old apology that has been repeated many times over the past 10 years, every time Japan had to repair diplomatic relations with Asian neighbors. The problem is that only the words were repeated, but Japan has never done anything to prove it really regretted its past.

    Japan has also never specifically apologized to Korea – a nation that was literally and figuratively raped by the militarist Japan. The demand for an apology is one of the few things that North and South Korea agree wholeheartedly on.

    The Japanese military vivisected our soldiers as well, forced nurses into slave brothels, and have yet to apologize to any of the Western Allies (Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the US) for those atrocities. All the while actively seeking, if not indignantly demanding, that we apologize for dropping the two atomic bombs that ended the war quickly and decisively and spared millions of lives on both sides.

    In short, Japan apologizes in spurts, just enough to calm the clamor from time to time. All the while extolling the virtues of the Empire during WWII in their text books and history lessons.

  3. What I don’t understand is the unfair dichotomy here. There would be a public clamor for the arrest and trial of a known Nazi war criminal (as in wasn’t there one just a few years ago?) yet here’s a Japanes war criminal from the same damned conflict admitting his crimes to the press, yet there’s nothing done. Why?

  4. There are several points here.

    First, it’s an interesting Jean Valjean type case. One can certainly argue that the actions were horrifying. However, as the article points out in the first two paragraphs, Akira Makino has since seemingly embraced a self-imposed road of penitence. The question I would have is what is to be gained at this point, over sixty years later, in throwing the international book of law or even public scorn at this 80-year-old man? Is there any reason to believe that doing so will somehow lesson the likelihood of similar atrocities being committed elsewhere? It’s a deplorable action, certainly, and should certainly be discussed as the linked article does, but what is the purpose in going farther than that?

    Second, a very good point is made about culture and hierarchy. The Japanese culture is very different from the United States and even German culture. This is not only objectively true, but it must be taken into account when considering the idea of insubordination in military ranks. It’s isn’t an “excuse”, but it is a relevant reason why the command to perform vivisection may have been abhorrent to Makino, but still undeniable as an order from a superior.

    Third, the article is dated 2/25/07 and appears to say he only admitted to the vivisection as of last October. Something may very well be in the works, now that an admission is out. The trouble is prosecution of war crimes, particularly war crimes over sixty years old, takes time. Investigations are still ongoing even into Nazis. It’s a little early to jump to the conclusion that his admission to the press will have no legal repercussions.

    And, I’m sorry, but singling Japan out for sporadic apologies for past transgressions, given today’s reality, is just sadly laughable.

  5. The question I would have is what is to be gained at this point, over sixty years later, in throwing the international book of law or even public scorn at this 80-year-old man?

    There is no statute of limitations for murder, and I don’t see how this is any different. Regret does not equate to justice, and justice has not been served for those who were vivisected alive.

    And, I’m sorry, but singling Japan out for sporadic apologies for past transgressions, given today’s reality, is just sadly laughable.

    I hadn’t really considered that, but you’re right. Unless we’re willing to start having conversations about “reparations.” Don’t even send me down that road. Tyrade is approaching.

  6. I’m not trying to single out Japan, but in a world where Germany has apologized to its neighbors, and to Israel; where Virginia has recently apologized for its role in slavery; where the United States spilt blood in one of the fiercest conflicts in human history to end slavery – Japan stands in a recalcitrant class almost by itself.

    No nation or culture is spot free from transgression. I certainly don’t expect our generation or our fellows in Germany or Japan or the United Kingdom to bear the responsibility of what our ancestors did. It would be nice though if Japan would at least acknowledge in their history texts their role in genocide and a horrific war that killed millions, rather than gloss it over with platitudes. After all, we are taught about our nations wrongs almost to the opposite extreme – that America has done no right or good in the world. There’s a balance to be struck, and I think Japan should do its part.

  7. This is drifting into an interesting philosophical debate that probably doesn’t have a real answer and is one of those ineffable questions, namely how does one get justice in a situation like this. It’s one thing to say justice hasn’t been given, but what does that actually mean?

    To me, justice equates to a return to the state of existence prior to the transgression. If someone stole my wallet, I would consider justice to be served if my wallet (and anything in it) were returned to me or equal value was paid to me by the thief. Society then tends to add a caveat onto that justice that the thief, in order that he learn the seriousness of his crime and not repeat it, be additionally punished in some way. Usually it’s prison time (the successfulness and even purpose of prisons is an entirely different discussion, though), sometimes it’s community service or parole or even a simple fine. The point is, I’m not sure these additional punitive measures or rehabilitative measures (however you want to look at it) are actually part of the “justice” I was seeking.

    After I get my money back, it seems to me that as much “justice”, or return to my original state of being, as possible has been accomplished. There’s no amount of suffering or money that’s ever going to make me psychologically the same as I was prior to the violation, so any additional punishment attempting to do that is beyond justice and simply vengence, a desire to hurt others because we’ve been hurt. The only thing that has a shot of doing that is time and possibly a believable, visible act of contrition on the part of the thief.

    So that’s a very slippery word, justice, and a very slippery concept unless one nails it down with an agreed upon definition.

    In the case of Akira Makino, the question I would ask is how does one serve justice in this case and, in this case, what is the definition of justice? What is the ideal solution and should a life spent in contrition for acts of horror have some sort of mitigation? One might argue that, while Makino’s vivisection is horrible, since then his desire to purge his soul of that horrible decision has led to a betterment in the life of many others as well as a deeper understanding of the horrors of war. These good works would not have been possible had he simply been thrown in jail or even executed as around 900 Japanese military were for war crimes. This doesn’t excuse the initial bad action, but it does seem to be a sincere desire to give justice to those he wronged by spending his entire life in the betterment of the fortunes of others. How would legal prosecution at this point extend that justice in any way?

  8. Paragraphs one and two of the linked article are what I’m using. Also the last paragraph describes a man who is working to expunge his soul. Finally, and perhaps ironically, his decision to talk about it and be the first Japanese soldier to admit to these atrocities when the man could have easily gone to his grave without telling anyone.

    One might argue, “too little, too late,” and if he was really contrite, then why didn’t he speak up years ago. I’m just not sure, though, that’s a compelling arguement. I’m also not sure that legal prosecution now, over sixty years later, after what appear to be honest, forthright efforts of atonement throughout a life, serves anything other than vengeance. Regardless of one’s definition of Justice, it should never include vengeance.

  9. I just don’t see that as evidence of anything other than a guilty conscience, not necessarily remorse. I guess that’s just a difference of opinion.

    Regardless of one’s definition of Justice, it should never include vengeance.

    I agree, but it must include some form of compensation, i.e. time served for a life taken.

  10. Then what would you see as a suitable sign of remorse? I certainly agree that it’s a guilty conscience, but everyone has some of that. The difference, I think we’d both agree, is in action. What does one do about that guilty conscience? Ignore it or attempt to make some sort of reparation? Working throughout one’s life lecturing on the horrors of war, helping those less fortunate, undertaking spiritual pilgrimages and ultimately even speaking out about one’s crime seem to argue not only for remorse, but for active contrition. So what is the standard you are looking for?

    At this point, though, near the end of the story, how is jail time compensatory? The man is old. He’s not well. It’s not as if prime producing years were being taken out of his life (which, again, is more about the efficacy of jail and an entirely different discussion, but still relevant). Effectually, jail time would only make him a ward of the state, to drain money as his health deteriorates further. He’s already devoted a significant portion of his life to far better sources of reparation than simply sitting in a jail cell mouldering, real-world actions that have benefits.

    It feels like the only form of compensation you are willing to consider is jail time and I’m just not clear on what purpose that serves in this case.

  11. He’s already devoted a significant portion of his life to far better sources of reparation than simply sitting in a jail cell mouldering, real-world actions that have benefits.

    QJ, as far as I’m concerned he can never atone enough. Even if he is truly remorseful that does not take away what he did. It does not bring those people back or lesson their suffering. It does not erase the fact that they were treated as less than lab animals. The only form of compensation I’m willing to consider is indeed jail time, and if he served 1,000 years it would never be enough to make up for what he did.

    You say this:
    Effectually, jail time would only make him a ward of the state, to drain money as his health deteriorates further.

    That’s an argument against the entire philosophy of incarceration, not justice in this particular case. I’m not going to lose one whit of sleep if a murderer dies faster because he’s in jail. Good. May he face God’s justice all that more swiftly.

    It’s not as if there’s doubt about his guilt. He admits he did these things. And, as a Christian I forgive him, even as it truly galls my soul. Perhaps that’s a fault that lies with me. But he still owes an unpayable debt, and his age is no damned excuse for not being in jail. His entire life since then should have been spent atoning while in prison, and as far as I’m concerned he’s getting off damned easy at having been free for so long as it is.

    You may be willing to say, “well, we’ll just have to be quicker catching the next one.” I’m not. Do you know why there’s no statute of limitations for murder? Because it’s such a deplorable act, that’s why. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, once we catch you you’re going to pay for what you did. That’s not vengeance, that’s justice. Shooting the guy in the street would be vengeance. Making sure the Justice System doesn’t miss him simply because he’s an 83 year old man isn’t vengeance, it’s proper justice.

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