Date of Award


Document Type




First Reader

Dr. Wayne Bowen

Second Reader

Dr. Kevin Brennan

Third Reader

Dr. S. Ray Granade


As World War II drew to a close in Europe, the victorious Allies faced the question of what to do with the political and military leaders of defeated Germany. The war had been like none other; they needed a drastically new approach to the final treatment of those in charge of the Axis powers. While war crimes could be punished under the Geneva and Hague Conventions, no international agreements assigned personal responsibility to those who ordered the crimes.

While Axis leaders could have been simply executed, the Allies chose to plan a cooperative international trial. The resulting International Military Tribunal (IMT)--commonly known as the Nuremberg trial--was a carefully planned, well-funded and adequately staffed experiment in international law that is often cited today. before the Nuremberg trial ended, a similar effort began in the Far East for Japanese leaders, but it had less support and has been the subject of far less historical analysis.

Why is the Nuremberg trial often considered a watershed event while its Tokyo counterpart is at best a legal footnote? After more than a half-century of criticism, it is obvious that a major war crimes trial for national leaders, though preferable to summary execution, was more suited to the situation in Germany that in Japan. The Allies developed the London Charter that governed the IMT to try German leaders for more than just conventional war crimes, and the Nuremberg trial was tied to those circumstances. While many Japanese leaders were guilty of war crimes, the situation might have been more effectively dealt with by separate courts-martial. In other words, the complexities of the Asian situation revealed the IMT framework's limitations.

Both Allied goals and the geopolitical context help explain the Japanese trial's relative lack of importance. At Nuremberg, the Allies were still attempting to establish a framework for international judicial cooperation and to discredit Nazism in Germany. The Tokyo trial liked the same sense of urgency and purpose. Nuremberg had already set the legal precedent, time's progression had revealed a Western-Soviet rift, and the US-dominated occupation of Japan found other ways to meet democratization goals.



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