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‘For the first time Australia speaks, not for herself alone, but for the whole British Commonwealth.’
So wrote a journalist about the Tokyo trials of the Japanese military for war crimes. Australia played a key role in these trials, and in others held elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, including Manus Island. The most tenacious of the Allied prosecutors, Australia was the last country to conduct war crimes trials against the Japanese.
The aim was to prevent a repetition of the horrors of the Pacific War, in which the number of Allied POWs who died in Japanese captivity was many times greater than those who died in German and Italian captivity. Yet debate around the trials was fierce at the time – about the legal basis for them, about whether Emperor Hirohito should have also been charged, and whether Allied soldiers should have been. And not least, about where the nuclear bombing of Japanese cities sat on the scale of wartime atrocities.
Seventy years on, much remains to be learnt from both the successes and failures of these trials. Were they fair? Were their goals realistic? Were they acts of justice or revenge? With international law more important today than ever, Stern Justice makes an irrefutable case for not allowing them to stay forgotten.
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