Japanese War Criminals by Sandra Wilson, Robert Cribb, Beatrice Trefalt and Dean Aszkielowicz

Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice After the Second World War by Sandra Wilson, Robert Cribb, Beatrice Trefalt and Dean Aszkielowicz (Columbia University Press)

Judges' Comments

Japanese War Criminals showcases the power of collaboratively authored historical research. In its analysis of new sources written in multiple languages, it is truly transnational. It engages impressively with one of the most complex moral and legal problems — can we achieve justice and restitution for crimes committed during war?

Wilson, Cribb, Trefalt and Aszkielowicz have placed the war crimes tribunals in their full cultural, legal, diplomatic and political contexts. We read about the significance of the trials to people around the world as they struggled to return to ‘normal life’ and reconstitute moral order amid the wreckage produced by the war. The book skilfully shows that identifying criminal acts committed during militarised conflict is more than a matter of practical legal determination; it has implications that go well beyond setting parameters for just war and legal killing.

Japanese War Criminals is an exceptional book. It provides readers with fresh insights into the complex moral challenges, practical legal limitations and political constraints that influenced the Allied authorities in their execution of justice in the emotionally charged years following the Pacific War. Never shying away from recognising the horror of crimes committed by the Japanese military, the book also reveals that the trials were complicated by the Allies’ efforts to prevent their own wartime atrocities from facing similar legal and moral attention. This powerful book shows us that the horror of war contaminates every aspect of civilised life, including the law and its ideals of justice and impartiality. It is a remarkable achievement, both for its intellectual reach and its deft handling of fraught ethical issues that continue to confront us today.