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 Amazon.com. 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