Mona is a veteran writer, educator, and coach. She is presently affiliated with Enrich Magazine and Pressenza
Two years ago, in 2019, Republic Act 11216 was passed, declaring that September 3 will commemorate the surrender of Japan’s General Tomoyuki Yamashita, as a working public holiday.
Most people associate Yamashita with the legendary Yamashita treasure, an alleged gold treasure that he accumulated elsewhere in Asia, and stashed in several tunnels in the Philippines. However, no one has found any evidence of this treasure’s existence to date.
Yamashita’s name also evokes fear, as he was the leader of the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines, a time that was affiliated with rape, cruelty, and the deaths of civilian men, women, and children.
Tried for war crimes
It would be better to remember that Yamashita was the first Japanese to be tried for war crimes, and his trial and subsequent hanging laid a precedent called The Yamashita Standard for command responsibility.
Yamashita’s defense against the war crimes he was accused of, was that they were done without his personal knowledge. His conviction set a precedent that in times of war, a leader has command responsibility and is guilty of evil acts of violence done by his people, under his watch, whether he knew of these acts or not.
Another error of history needs to be corrected, namely the fact that Yamashita was captured by Filipino guerillas, he didn’t surrender to the Americans. According to retired Maj. Gen. Restituto Aguilar, chief of the Veterans Memorial and Historical Division of the PVAO, this was discovered in an original document from the United States National Archives and Records Administration in Virginia.
Aguilar said that immediately after the war ended, the Americans took all documents of the Filipino guerillas for purposes of their recognition. The Filipino guerillas all over the country did so accordingly. These documents were proof of their war service. They included “forms, a roster of troops, after-battle reports, everything, including diaries (and) photographs”, Aguilar said.
For this reason, Filipinos relied largely on memory when talking about the Japanese occupation and the war. It was the American narrative of the war that prevailed. However, 70 years later, the PVAO sent a team to the US national archives and records administration in Virginia. They scanned the original document which is available online.
Who is Yamashita?
Yamashita Tomoyuki was born on Nov. 8, 1885, in Osugi Mura, a rural village on the mountainous Shikoku island, Japan. His father, Sakichi Yamashita, was a country doctor. His mother’s name was Yuu.
Tomoyuki Yamashita had an elder brother and two sisters. His brother became a doctor, just like his father, while young Tomoyuki pursued and excelled in military education and later, a military career.
In June 1908, Yamashita graduated with full honors from the Hiroshima Military Academy. In 1914 he fought against the Germans in Shantung, China. Then in 1916, he graduated as a captain and stood sixth place in his class at Staff College.
Yamashita became an expert on Germany and served as a resident officer in Switzerland and Germany from 1919 to 1922. Then he served at the Tokyo Imperial Headquarters until 1926, where he rapidly rose through the ranks until he became the highest-ranking general of his country’s air force. He then was appointed as Military Attache to Vienna, Austria.
In 1936 a coup attempt was staged by a group of disillusioned young officers in Japan who believed that their political leaders weren’t doing enough to strengthen the Japanese military. Yamashita succeeded as a vital mediator during this time, which is referred to as the "Young Officers' Revolt."
He later served as Chief of Staff of the North China Area Army in 1937-1939 and won many war victories in northern China up to 1940. When Japanese militarists successfully took control of Japan, Yamashita signed a Triple Alliance Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on September 27, 1940. The pact was agreed upon with the intention to prevent the United States from entering the conflict of Hitler in Europe.
War record in Asia before the Philippines
Here is the timeline of Yamashita’s achievements under the Triple Alliance Pact with Hitler and Mussolini. First, on December 7, 1941, Japan (not led by Yamashita) bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
- December 8, 1941. Yamashita, commander of the 25th Army, invaded Malaya.
- Jan. 11, 1942. Yamashita drove both the British and Commonwealth forces out of Malaya and captured its capital city, Kuala Lumpur.
- Feb. 8, 1942. Yamashita entered Singapore.
- February 15, 1942. Yamashita captured Singapore, marking the pinnacle of his Army career.
- July 1942. Yamashita was demoted and assigned to Manchuria. It’s believed that Hitler and Mussolini distrusted and felt threatened by Yamashita’s many war victories. They also feared that his popularity with army commanders could lead to a possible coup.
- Prime Minister and President Hideki Tojo also envied Yamashita’s success and ordered him transferred to Botenko in Manchuria in July 1942. This was an obvious demotion.
- August 1944. Yamashita was charged with leading the defense of the Philippines and served there until the remainder of the war. He divided the 14th Army into three defense groups, namely:
- Shobo, the largest group with 152,000 troops led by Yamashita. This group defended northern Luzon.
- Kembu consisted of 30,000 soldiers under Gen. Tsukada. They defended Bataan and part of the central region.
- Shimbu, with 80,000 men to defend southern Luzon, was led by Gen. Yokoyama.
Yamashita’s Defeat in the Philippines
The beginning of the fall of Yamashita took place on January 6, 1945, when the US Sixth Army landed 200,000 troops at Lingayen Gulf, Pangasinan, on northwestern Luzon. After one month, Manila was controlled by the Americans.
By May, the US took over Southern Luzon, while Yamashita resorted to guerilla warfare in the northern Sierra Madre mountains and the Cordillera Central mountains.
Writing history the right way
The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office seeks to correct history, which declares that Yamashita surrendered to American forces. According to retired Maj. Gen. Restituto Aguilar of the PVAO, Yamashita was actually captured by Ifugao guerillas.
Aguilar based his claim on original documents from the United States National Archives and Records Administration in Virginia. He said that Yamashita was captured on September 2, 1945, in Kiangan, Ifugao.
He added that Yamashita had 30,000 troops with him, but most of them were sick and hungry. To avoid a massacre, Yamashita came out and was captured on September 2, 1945, by Filipino guerillas.
The next day, September 3, 1945, Yamashita was flown to Camp John Hay where he was turned over to the Americans, who made the Japanese general sign an official document of surrender.
The Trial of Yamashita
Tomoyuki Yamashita was the first Japanese to be tried for war crimes. Yamashita’s trial took place from October 29, 1945, to December 7, 1945. He faced a United States Military Commission that was acting under the authority of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines.
1. His crimes and evidence:
- The prosecution presented one bill containing 123 paragraphs, that listed down Yamashita’s violations of the laws of war, read by major general RB Reynolds.
- Some 286 witnesses testified and 423 exhibits were presented.
- War crimes included many atrocities, particularly in Manila, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were raped and murdered. Most of the city was also burned by Japanese soldiers.
- Contained in the documents was information on the deaths of some 60,000 unarmed men, women, and children in the Philippine Islands.
The complete trial record of Yamashita consisted of 4,055 pages. The general defended himself by saying that he had no knowledge of the crimes that were mentioned against him and that they were done by his soldiers without his personal knowledge.
On December 7, 1945, four years after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Gen. Yamashita was found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. However, Yamashita raised his petition to the Supreme Court of the United States. He appealed for the writ of habeas corpus (This is a writ where a court determines whether a person’s detention is lawful), and the writ of prohibition (An order from an appellate court prohibiting a lower court from acting on a case for lack of jurisdiction).
Yamashita’s petition was rejected by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone on February 4, 1946. A plea for clemency was also rejected by President Harry S. Truman. Finally, Gen. MacArthur, upon final review, affirmed the death sentence upon Yamashita and ordered that the recommendation by the commission be implemented.
Yamashita was executed by hanging at 3:02 am on February 23, 1946, at Los Banos Camp. The general was initially buried in a Japanese cemetery that was located near the Los Baños Prison Camp. Afterward, his body was transferred to Tama Reien Cemetery in Fuchū, Tokyo, Japan. He is buried alongside many other Japanese war heroes.
Yamashita’s trial and subsequent hanging set a precedent that a commander can be held responsible for the atrocities committed by his troops, even if he was unaware of his soldiers’ activities. This standard of command responsibility is also referred to as the Yamashita Standard.