28 April 2022 4:00-5:15PM HST

Accountability for War Crimes: WWII Cases in Europe and Asia/Pacific

This panel showcases significant research pieces that have arisen from the history graduate program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in the academic year of 2021-2022. The paper by the first presenter (Peter Bushell, “The Charge of Command Responsibility”) sheds light on divergent ways in which the U.S. authorities pursued the accountability of members of the Axis Powers’ armed forces for war crimes following the end of World War II. By making a systematic inquiry into the records of the Yamashita and Honma Trials at the U.S. military commission at Manila in 1945-1946 and the Hostage and High Command Cases at the Nuremberg Military Tribunals (“NMT”) in 1947-1948, this paper assesses the promises and missed opportunities of the post-WWII American justice initiatives. The paper by the second presenter (“Chelly” Zi Ye, “The Early Institutionalization of Military Comfort Women”) delves into a wealth of Japanese-language primary sources to piece together the historical formation of the Japanese military sexual slavery in the initial years of the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945). This paper brings to light the vital role played by the pre-existing Japanese human trafficking networks, law enforcement authorities, and bureaucratic officials in developing the practical methods of recruiting, transporting, and receiving women for sex at the Japanese military comfort stations in the China theater.


Peter Bushell (MA candidate, Department of History, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), “The Charge of Command Responsibility: An Examination of How Commanders Were Prosecuted for the Crimes of Their Troops in the Post-World War II War Crime Trials of Axis Powers”

Following the Second World War, the Allied Powers conducted a series of ground-breaking war crime trials to seek justice for atrocities committed by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. These trials produced the legal doctrine of command responsibility; a principle that addresses military commanders’ accountability for the crimes of their troops, even if they did not order or authorize the commission of the crimes. The legacy of how command responsibility was implemented is significant not only for its first problematic precedent but because of the lessons it holds for current international war crime courts. This work examines the first Japanese war crime trials that dealt with command responsibility (that of General Yamashita and Lt. General Honma) and contrasts them with two later but comparable German trials (the High Command and Hostage Cases). While scholarship on Japanese war crimes trials has recently burgeoned in the last decade, no close comparison has ever been made between German and Japanese command responsibility cases. Contrasting differences in the trials’ procedures, conviction criteria, and final judgments are vital to achieving a better understanding of the evolution of command responsibility. The present study utilizes trial records, military reports, and war-era accounts to analyze these four trials and examines the possible outcomes of placing the Japanese defendants on trial while applying the conviction criteria used during the German Cases.

This paper is part of “The Charge of Command Responsibility: An Examination of Command Responsibility in the Post-WWII War Crime Trials of Axis Powers” (M.A. Thesis in History, University of Hawaiiʻ at Mānoa, May 2022).

“Chelly” Zi Ye (PhD candidate, Department of History, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), “The Early Institutionalization of Military Comfort Women”

“Military comfort women” was a distinctive institution where the victims suffered from a combination of wartime sexual exploitation, abuse and slavery. “Comfort stations” emerged in 1932 during the First Shanghai Incident as an improvised solution by Japanese field commands, meant to tackle rape and venereal diseases among soldiers. Beginning in 1938, this practice was transformed into a formal institution with standardized procedures regulated and sanctioned by the Japanese bureaucracy and military. By closely examining primary sources, this paper traces the early institutionalization of “military comfort women” while highlighting the roles played by the Japanese bureaucracy and various civilian human trafficking networks. By doing so, this paper attempts to bring attention to under-discussed actors and agents that were indispensable in making and perpetuating the institution of “military comfort women” during the Asia-Pacific War.

Zi Ye produced this paper as part of the coursework in preparation for her dissertation research.

This event is co-sponsored by the History Forum at the Department of History and the War Crimes Documentation Initiative (WCDI) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.