World War II War Criminals: Nazis vs. Japanese.

Much has been in the news lately about retired Cleveland auto worker, Jan Demjanjuk, who was last week found guilty of being a guard at Sobibor Prison Camp during World War II.  In addition, Jerusalem’s Simon Wiesenthal Center continues its dogged pursuit of Nazi war criminals, and rightfully so.

But what of Japanese war criminals?  Why do we never hear of them?

Japanese culture held an extreme disdain for those who surrendered.  Accordingly, they treated prisoners of war harshly.  In fact, as the Allies began retaking the Pacific, island by island, Japanese officials called for the execution of POWs, rather than allowing them to be liberated.  Who can forget the Palawan Massacre, where American POWs were confined, then doused in gasoline and set afire by their captors?  Some 150 died the most unimaginable death, literally burned alive.  Eleven escaped to tell the tale.

A general rounding up of those Japanese accused of atrocities did occur shortly after war’s end.  War criminals were tried in courts, convicted, and some were executed, while others were sentenced to prison terms.  But with the Cold War in full swing, the United States recognized the importance of Japan as a strategic ally.  On December 24, 1948, General MacArthur announced a Christmas Amnesty for Class A war criminals.  Relief for those accused of Class B and C war crimes followed the next year.  In 1952, the search for remaining fugitives officially came to an end.  By 1958, all Japanese war criminals were set free.

In just one example, Matsuhiro Watanabe, a former prison official and sadistic psychopath, accused of a career-long string of atrocities and who was once listed as number seven among Japan’s most wanted fugitives, would not spend one day in prison for his inhumane treatment of POWs.  Nicknamed the Bird and featured in the bestseller, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand, Watanabe even sat for an interview with American television in 1995.  He passed away in 2003.

Clearly, a double standard exists.  For those Nazi war criminals, even down to the guards, no stone will be left unturned.  But for their Japanese counterparts, the search was called off over a half century ago.  Fair?  Obviously not.  It all comes down to what your country can do for America, and when.

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