Here we go again. On Tuesday , while Israelis were coming out of their bomb shelters and Lebanese civilians were digging in the rubble of their homes for the bodies of children and other relatives, and Americans and Iraqis were dying in an escalating civil war, one of the top news stories a of the day was about Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine erected in memory of his nation's war dead.
This was Koizumi's sixth visit to the shrine and sixth consecutive outcry by victims of Japanese oppression, notably China and South Korea, and others critical of the Japanese military's less than exemplary behavior during that conflict.
What adds fuel to their outrage is the fact that among the 2.5 million Japanese memorialized by the shrine are a handful of war criminals who were executed after the war. Among them: Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was innocent of most of the charges against him, and Gen. Masaharu Homma, whose only crime was outgeneraling MacArthur during the conquest of the Philippines in 1941-42.
No matter. As long as there have been wars, there have been war criminals. And all of them have been on the losing side. If a war criminal has ever been singled out from among the victors and brought to justice, I'm unaware of it.
The Nuremberg Trials offered a prime example. Sitting in judgment of the accused Germans, some of whom were indeed war criminals, were representatives of Joseph Stalin -- arguably a worse monster than Adolf Hitler -- whose Soviet death squads had slaughtered more than 10,000 Polish officer prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk following the German/Soviet conquest of Poland in 1939.
Among Germany's many war "crimes" was the bombing of Rotterdam by the Luftwaffe in May of 1940. The commander of Dutch forces, after rejecting German surrender demands, had withdrawn his army into the cities of Rotterdam and Utrecht, whereupon the Germans threatened to bomb them out. The general changed his mind and surrendered the next day, but the bombing mission had been launched and a German effort to abort the mission was hampered by a signals failure. Thirty bombers struck Rotterdam. The others were successfully recalled.
War crime? Maybe, but if that was a war crime, will anyone in the Israeli military will be called to account for the destruction of Lebanese apartment buildings, farm houses and hospitals because Hezbollah fighters were alleged to be sheltering in them? Don't hold your breath.
If the Germans and Japanese had managed to prevail in World War II, you may be assured that Curtis LeMay and his British counterpart Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris would have been in the dockets as war criminals for their terror bombing policies. Instead, there's a statue of Harris in London today.
More recently, there are those who argue with some justification, that Henry Kissinger qualifies as a war criminal for his role in the secret bombing of neutral Cambodia during the Vietnam War, an act that gave rise to the Khmer Rouge butchers who seized control of that country after the war.
Lt. William Calley was as close as we came to convicting a winning-side war criminal after Vietnam, but Nixon's pardon took care of that.
Saddam Hussein and Ariel Sharon are first-ballot shoo-ins for any future War Criminals Hall of Fame.
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