General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

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General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by caramut » 03 Feb 2007 11:50

The greatest crime of General Homma, the victor in the Philippines, was to humiliate MacArthur, and he paid for it with his life. While there is no doubt that soldiers under Homma's command were responsible for many atrocities, it is questionable whether these flowed from Homma or from others, such as the ubiquitous Colonel Tsuji. Nonetheless, MacArthur was determined to see Homma executed. The dissenting judgments in the US Supreme Court reflect much more credit on the dissenting judges upholding the legal process than the people who perverted it.
Mr. Justice MURPHY, dissenting.

This case, like In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 , 66 S.Ct. 340, poses a problem that cannot be lightly brushed aside or given momentary consideration. It involves something more than the guilt of a fallen enemy commander under the law of war or the jurisdiction of a military commission. This nation's very honor, as well as its hopes for the future, is at stake. Either we conduct such a trial as this in the noble spirit and atmosphere of our Constitution or we abandon all pretense to justice, let the ages slip away and descend to the level of revengeful blood purges. Apparently the die has been cast in favor of the latter course. But I, for one, shall have no part in it, not even through silent acquiescence.

Petitioner, a civilian for the past three and a half years, was the victorious commander of the 14th Army of the [327 U.S. 759, 760] Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines from December 12, 1941, to August 5, 1942. It may well be that the evidence of his guilt under the law of war is more direct and clear than in the case of General Yamashita, though this could be determined only by an examination of the evidence such as we have had no opportunity to make. But neither clearer proof of guilt nor the acts of atrocity of the Japanese troops could excuse the undue haste with which the trial was conducted or the promulgation of a directive containing such obviously unconstitutional provisions as those approving the use of coerced confessions or evidence and findings of prior mass trials. To try the petitioner in a setting of reason and calm, to issue and use constitutional directives and to obey the dictates of a fair trial are not impossible tasks. Hasty, revengeful action is not the American way. All those who act by virtue of the authority of the United States are bound to respect the principles of justice codified in our Constitution. Those principles, which were established after so many centuries of struggle, can scarcely be dismissed as narrow artificialities or arbitrary technicalities. They are the very life blood of our civilization.

Today the lives of Yamashita and Homma, leaders of enemy forces vanquished in the field of battle, are taken without regard to due process of law. There will be few to protest. But tomorrow the precedent here established can be turned against others. A procession of judicial lynchings without due process of law may now follow. No one can foresee the end of this failure of objective thinking and of adherence to our high hopes of a new world. The time for effective vigilance and protest, however, is when the abandonment of legal procedure is first attempted. A nation must not perish because, in the natural frenzy of [327 U.S. 759, 761] the aftermath of war, it abandoned its central theme of the dignity of the human personality and due process of law. ... &invol=759

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Post by Sewer King » 03 Feb 2007 17:19

The best account I have seen on Homma's trial is Lawrence Taylor's A Trial of Generals (South Bend, Indiana: Icarus Press, 1981. 225 pages).

This book was well-written by a former Los Angeles criminal attorney, although nowhere does it explains the author's interest in his subject, other than a professional one. Unfortunately he did not footnote his work, which should have been easy enough for a legal scholar writing about a high trial.

Homma's wife had testified on her husband's behalf during his trial. As requested through the prosecutor, she briefly met MacArthur at his headquarters after Homma's death sentence. It almost sums up the spirit of the whole thing, if it took place the way Taylor tells it (pages 218-20):

"...[she] did not plead for her husband's life. Rather the dignified woman graciously thanked him for the consideration shown her by General Styer [commander US Army Western Pacific] while she was staying in the Philippines. She expressed her deep appreciation for Styer's kindness in permitting her to visit her husband and for the sincere efforts the defense lawyers had made."

"Fujiko Homma said, 'I hear that the death sentence will be sent for your confirmation. It's a very hard job for you I suppose.' MacArthur replied in an unpleasant and arrogant tone: 'Never you mind about my job.'

"The elderly woman realized by his manner that this was the end of the short meeting. As she rose to leave the room she quietly said 'Please remember me to your wife.' MacArthur said nothing.

"MacArthur later reflected: 'She was a cultured woman of great personal charm. It was one of the most trying hours of my life. I told her that I had the greatest possible sympathy for her and understood the great sorrow of her situation, No incident, I said, could more deeply illustrate the utter evil of war and its dreaded consequences upon those like her who had little or no voice or part in it. I added that I would give the greatest consideration to what she had said.'

"MacArthur did not consider the case. As a gesture to Mrs. Homma, he issued orders that Homma was not to be hanged, as previously ordered. Rather, he was to be shot by firing squad."


Mrs. Homma spoke English fluently, and her entreaty is just the kind of human detail that a high-handed MacArthur would not listen to, reply to, or remember accurately. If it happened as described -- again no footnote from Taylor -- I am somewhat surprised that he received her at all. This is the other, non-judicial side to Homma's American legal defense, which were likewise overruled and left standing only on moral grounds.

A Trial of Generals will reportedly be dramatized on film as Beast of Bataan. Whatever the interest in making this movie, the title sounds at least a little gratuitous and well-removed from the idea of the book.

Good military courtroom film dramas often have to recreate the wartime events argued in the trial. Breaker Morant, The Caine Mutiny, and Judgement at Nuremberg come to mind. But the first two films were about relatively small incidents, one of them fictional, while the third was about a well-known large one.

To me it would seem hard to truly capture on film the doomed defense of the Philippines in 1941-42, and MacArthur's responsibilities in it. Especially when swimming against the tide of popular history. The bane of history films is that their makers tend to be simplistic, and Americans ones especially so.

Originally this Beast of Bataan film was to be directed by Paul Verhoeven, who is best known for thrillers like RoboCop (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992). But he also did the war film Soldier of Orange (1977), adapted from a true-life story of several Dutch friends divided by the German occupation in WW2. It was a good movie, but the story had room for some liberties to be taken. Taylor's point was that there is more to Homma's and Yamashita's trials than the simple certitudes of their verdicts. There is less room to challenge them in a film than in a book. So it is also a challenge for a screenwriter if he really is adapting Taylor's book.

My own father survived the Death March. He was a Philippine Commonwealth soldier, an artilleryman taken prisoner on Bataan, and later among those released from Camp O'Donnell in 1943. He then fought as a guerrilla and had the satisfaction of going in with the Los Banos rescue raid. Now 85 years old, he still holds to the same certitude about Homma's execution.

As a surviving Fil-Am war veteran, he is effectively one of the victors to whom Taylor attributes "victor's justice." Although he once did paralegal work I cannot interest him much in the arguments in defense of Yamashita and Homma. He remembers the J-shaped crossguard of the Japanese bayonet, and the smell of corpses in the tropical heat. Naturally it is still a personal matter with him. He is active in veterans' affairs, the Filipinos only having been officially recognized as US veterans in 1986, long after the Truman administration denied them that status.

His wartime experience was incorporated in an off-Broadway play, Daughter of a Pacifist Soldier (2002). This was a performance-art project in cooperation with the US Veterans Administration (VA), using one veteran from each of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam -- my father being the WW2 one. Veterans often must express painful experiences indirectly, and that was why the VA helped with this play.

I mention this because that is how I put the case of Homma to my father, by comparing it to other war crimes trials and other incidents. He would not hear it beyond a general's broader responsibility for what is done under his command. Other historical ambiguities he can see in the war, and in Philippine history. Even those in himself too -- he speaks Japanese, understands the culture, has traveled to that country. But he will not see Homma and Yamashita in the same light. I mentioned that Yamashita's children are trying to clear his name, and he dismisses the idea.

Anyway, I recommend Taylor's A Trial of Generals which turns up in the used-book market easily enough, including on If the film Beast of Bataan is actually made and released, it might conceivably return the book to print. But it's always better to read the book, well before the movie comes out

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Post by Pips » 03 Feb 2007 23:54

You've summed things up beautifully Sewer King. A Trial Of Generals is a fascinating, and disturbing, read. It's an excellent illustration of when politics rules the judical system, where people use it to achieve their own less honourable ends.

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Post by Peter H » 04 Feb 2007 00:43

"The Causes of the Bataan Death March Revisted" ... isited.doc

Homma's WW1 service,observer with the BEF in France:

His extensive contacts with Britain are apparent here:
HOMMA (HONMA), Masaharu: Born 1888; 2dLt (Infantry), November 1907; was
graduated from War College, December 1915; Member, Army General Staff
(Captain), August 1917; military student, England, August 1918 (and served as
observer with British forces in France); Instructor, War College, June 1921;
Resident Officer, India, August 1922; Member, Army General Staff, August 1925;
Aide-de-Camp to Prince Yasuhito Chichibu, January 1927; Military Attache,
England, June 1930 (subsequently decorated with Military Cross of British
Empire); Colonel, August 1930; Army General Staff, May 1932; Regimental
Commander, 1st Infantry, August 1933; Brigade Commander, 32d Infantry Brigade
(MajGen), August 1935; Army General Staff, December 1936; Chief, Second
Bureau, Army General Staff, July 1937; 27th Division Commander (LtGen), July
1938 (blockade of Tientsin foreign concessions, 1939); Commanding General,
Formosa Army, December 1940; Fourteenth Army Commander, November 1941
(Philippines Campaign); transferred to First Reserve List, August 1943;
convicted by United States military commission, Manila, February 1946 (charged
with responsibility for "Death March" on Bataan); executed by firing squad

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Post by cstunts » 04 Feb 2007 19:38


The sorry Homma trial was certainly not the sole or most egregious example of MacArthur's Morals. One should also recall the deals cut with Japanese bacteriological warfare scientists & officers later, of which MacA would surely have known--since it was his G-2, Willoughby who was directly involved. [These deliberate deceptions infuriated Justive B.V. Roling who did not learn of them for some thirty-five years.] Even later still (ca1949) there was top-down pressure from these gentlemen to avoid instigating more warcrimes/atrocity trials against the Japanese--as in the Ambon airfield case, and Sado Island massacre--when it was decided that the US-Japanese "reconciliation" had greater priority. I am fairly certain Australians understand this. As early as 1947 MacA & Willoughby were already concerned with 'winding down' warcrimes cases...even though many of the very worst examples had not even been discovered at that time, or bodies from known cases yet properly identified, etc.
Homma was only the most glaring & poignant example of Victor's Justice, but we should not overlook the numerous crimes of omission that MacA's IMTFE perpetrated. And in view of the fact that other, unrecovered Allied remains probably still exist in some areas that were under control of the Japanese during the war, such neglect by MacA & co. retains its power to elicit revulsion & dismay...

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by CurtisCrowell » 18 Jan 2014 19:59

I have a question and a comment.

First, it always seemed to me that the difference in the aftermath of the war between Europe and the Pacific was that in Europe we had the Nuremberg Trials, whereas in the Pacific we had MacArthur's List. I feel that two major components of the difference were the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the somewhat racist view toward the Japanes. The latter had ramifications in the internment camps in the US.

Finally, does anyone know where Homma was buried, or what happened to members of his family? He seems such a tragic figure in all this.

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by cstunts » 18 Jan 2014 22:07

I expect his ashes are in Japan, of course. No doubt at a well-kept memorial.

And I expect he is seen as a victim of 'victor's justice'...However, in 1946 when he was shot for warcrimes, we didn't see things from quite so elevated or 'highly evolved' a moral plateau as civilization has reached today.

A TRIAL OF GENERALS makes for depressing reading indeed. (As do all warcrimes trial records.)
Accessing the records of his trial would be quite simple, though. Nothing difficult or occult there. For such a highly-publicized trial--even one w/such a clearly foregone conclusion--the paper trail generated would be the debris field from the TITANIC or BISMARCK...

For any suffering from reflexive 2014-Era of Victimology pangs of sympathy, however, I do recommend finding a war crimes trial from the Pacific War and investigating it in-depth. You'll frequently be hard-pressed to believe you aren't reading a work of post-modern horror fiction.

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by gebhk » 20 Jan 2014 12:16

Cstunts - I don't think anyone is indulging in victimology here. The point I believe that is being made is that if you go down the legal route you by definition hold yourself to a higher standard. When you fall short of that standard you cannot expect to avoid censure. Particularly so when the ramifications of such a falling short are as profound as in this case. Mr Justice Murphy was quite right when he said: "tomorrow the precedent here established can be turned against others" and that "No one can foresee the end of this failure of objective thinking". In law, as in public planning, there are no such things as exceptions - only precedents. Establishing the precedent at such high level that the due process of law can be set aside when it is expedient concerns everybody and, probably unfairly, invites comparison with the 'justice' meted out by some of the most awful regimes in (then very recent) history.

The very fact that the crimes in question are so horrific should give us doubly pause for thought rather than reason for rushing to judgement. Few would question that pandering to the very natural public wish to see someone/anyone punished for horrible crimes as soon as possible has led to many grave miscarriages of justice. Acquiescing to a principle that the greater the crime, the lesser the need for due process, seems a dangerous path to go down therefore.

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Sitting in judgment is not for those made of sugar candy...

Post by cstunts » 21 Jan 2014 22:10

The previous reply makes no sense to me, and has little or nothing to do with what I posted. I said nothing about rushing to judgment anywhere.

The case of Homma was an exception, as was that of Yamashita, and not the norm. And those who argue that the IMTFE was tainted overall by 'victor's justice' are simply children, to put it with Biercean politeness...

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by Ironmachine » 22 Jan 2014 08:08

CurtisCrowell wrote:Finally, does anyone know where Homma was buried, or what happened to members of his family? He seems such a tragic figure in all this.
IIRC, he is buried at Yasukuni Jinja Shrine.

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by hisashi » 23 Jan 2014 16:25

Ironmachine wrote:
CurtisCrowell wrote:Finally, does anyone know where Homma was buried, or what happened to members of his family? He seems such a tragic figure in all this.
IIRC, he is buried at Yasukuni Jinja Shrine.
Nobody has been buried in Yasukuni. It is a common misunderstanding.

Yasukuni had collected the name, class, grade in honors system of fallen soldiers. In ritual, they prepare a name list and hold it up in front of a holy mirror. That's all. No cemetery. Just name data. But once after this ritual, the dead are considered to have joined in the group of spirits admired there. In Shinto (I believe, in many other religions) it is common that many shrines enshrine the same god or spirit. Yasukuni asserts they do not exclusively keep any spirit.

Some of executed war crime indictees had their remnants returned. For Philippine cases it seemed fallen POWs' ashes were returned but in manner each individual was not identified. Homma family has a tomb in Kanagawa prefecture, but perhaps Masaharu's bone is not in it.

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by Wellgunde » 28 Jan 2014 01:02

The February/March 2007 (Volume 58, No.1) issue of American Heritage Magazine has an interesting article on the Homma trial which contains the recollections of Robert Pelz, one of Homma's defense counsels. It can be found here: ... eral-homma

γνώθι σαυτόν

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Re: General Homma's life wrongly forfeit?

Post by Leo Niehorster » 28 Jan 2014 07:09

Interesting story. Thanks for the link.

<Mr. Picky>Some errors: The Russians invaded the Kuril Islands in 1945, not 1943. The rifles that equipped the execution squad were probably M-1, certainly not M-16.</Mr. Picky>
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