Precedent

by Brien Jackson

To follow up on my last post, I should note that there is something of an original precedent for declining to punish war crimes, even very bad war crimes, on the basis that doing so would create very bad outcomes elsewhere, and to the extent that our modern conception of crimes against humanity comes from Nuremburg, it’s important that this case also stems from World War II.

I’m referring of course to the United State’s decision not to prosecute Emperor Hirohito of Japan for war crimes, even though such charges were brought against Hideki Tojo and other leaders of the militarist regime, and some military officers as well. The reasoning was very simple; the emperor’s centrality to Japanese culture, and the religious conception of the emperor, meant that putting Hirohito on trial would have created an unnavigatable post-war situation in Japan  for the United States, and the concious decision was made that punishing Hirohito for his role in the atrocities was not worth jeopardizing the viability of the post-war strategy.