This treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor was but the first of the innumerable war crimes committed against the United States by the Japanese. Moreover, these crimes perpetrated against Americans were but a small fraction of those committed by the Japanese throughout Asia during World War II. The horrors perpetrated by the Japanese ranged from the beheading of American soldiers to medical experiments on prisoners to the Rape of Nanking to the forcing of Korean girls into service as Comfort Women. The illegality of the vast majority of these acts is without question. However, many in Japan, military leaders and politicians alike, have attempted to defend the attack on Pearl Harbor as being within the laws of war.
A number of arguments were
presented in defense of these acts during the International Military Tribunal
for the Far East ("Tokyo
Trials"), beginning May 3, 1946. Among the Class A war criminals
charged with the acts of aggression in connection with the attack on Pearl
Harbor were Prime Minister Hideki Tojo; Shigenori Togo, then Foreign Minister;
Shigetaro Shimada, the Minister of the Navy who authorized the attack;
and Osarni Nagano, Chief of Naval General Staff who planned the Pearl Harbor
attack. Tojo was among the seven Japanese leaders sentenced to death, Shimada
received a life sentence and Nagano died of natural causes during the Trial.
Despite their inglorious fates and unlike their Nazi counterparts, the
dignity and reputations of these men survived the Tokyo Trial. This is
due in part to a number of historical myths, claiming that President Roosevelt
invited or provoked the attack so as to ensure U.S. entrance into the war
or that the attack on Pearl Harbor was not an act of aggression but rather
an act of self-defense. The former myth will not be discussed here although
it is worth noting that it has been largely debunked elsewhere.
Rather, the focus of this paper will be on the various arguments presented
by these Japanese war criminals and others defending the legality of the
attack on Pearl Harbor.