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Major Events around the Time of the Atrocities

Major Events around the Time of the Atrocities



Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (ratified upon Japanese membership)

This treaty is also called the Hague Convention, and Article 46 of its appendix entitled, "Laws and Customs of War on Land", stipulates the right not to be subjected to humiliating acts of rape.

This Treaty stipulates that women must be protected from rape or forced prostitution during a war, but it does not apply to women in colonies.


International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic (ratified upon Japanese membership)

In this treaty, women who are under age (under 20 years old) are totally prohibited from engaging in prostitution regardless of their consent. Even if they are adult women, they can be punished if they are subjected into prostitution by fraud or by forced means.

The Japanese government originally entered the Treaty under the condition that the minors were under 18 years of age; but, in 1927, they abolished this condition of reservation. However, the Japanese government did not allow this treaty to be applicable to Japanese colonies such as Korea and Taiwan.


International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children (ratified upon Japanese membership)


September. The Manchurian Incident

The Manchurian Incident occurred on September 18, 1931, when the Japanese Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria bombed the railway line of the South Manchurian Railway (this incident is called Ryu Joho), which resulted in a war (dispute, incident) between China (The Nationalist Government) and Japan.

Japan shifted the blame of the railway bombing to China and occupied Manchuria in about five months. It is considered as one of the most successful military operations in history. However, due to this Manchurian Incident and the establishment of Manchukuo, a puppet government established by Japan in 1932, Japan became increasingly isolated from the international community.

In China, the anti-Japanese movement intensified as well as criticism from the Western Powers led by the United States which had an interest in China. This eventually led to the Japanese withdrawing from the League of Nations in 1933. Due to the Manchurian Incident, the voice of the military within Japan became increasingly stronger subsequently placing Japan was on the road to militarization led by its military.

Among Japanese researchers, there are some who claim that this Manchurian Incident was the starting point of what is also referred to as the ’Fifteen Year War’ which lasted until the end of Pacific War in 1945 when Japan surrendered. This assertion originates from the viewpoint that the incident was a continuation of Japanese conquest. However, there are other historians who oppose the theory of the ‘Fifteen Year War’ because there is no continuity between the Manchurian Incident and the Sino-Japanese War which broke out in 1937.


January. The First Shanghai Incident and Installation of Military ‘Comfort Stations’

The First Shanghai incident was instigated by the Japanese in January of 1932 in Shanghai, China as an attempt to turn the attention of the Western powers away from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria after the Manchurian Incident (1931).

In May 1932, an armistice agreement was signed between China and Japan ending the armed conflict. After the outbreak of the First Shanghai Incident, the Japanese military systematically established military ‘comfort stations’ to provide sexual services to soldiers. At the time, Yasuji Okamura, deputy chief of staff of the Shanghai Dispatch Force Command, wrote in his memoirs that the Imperial Navy was the first to set up a military ‘comfort station’. There were a few Korean women who lived in Japan working inside the ‘comfort station’ in Shanghai.


January. Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women of Full Age (Japan did not join.)

The Japanese government reportedly did not join the treaty because of domestic legislation, but knew about the existence of the treaty itself.



July. Outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War and Expansion of the ‘Comfort Women’ System

On July 7, 1937, armed conflict broke out between the Chinese and Japanese armies on the Lugu Bridge near Beijing. This incident marked the beginning of the war between China and Japan which lasted between the two adversaries until 1945.

At that time, the Japanese called this war the "Sina (China) Incident". And among the Chinese at the time, the term "Sina" used by the Japanese was regarded as a contemptuous word.

On the other hand, the Chinese refer to the Sino-Japanese War as the ‘Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression’ or ‘8 Years War’. To date, controversy continues among historians as to the causes of war or which side the first shots were fired.

Some statistics suggest that during the Sino-Japanese War, the statistics on Chinese casualties, including soldiers, are not accurate. However, some speculate that the death toll to be around 20 million. From the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, the ‘comfort women’ system under the jurisdiction of the Japanese military was expanded. There were at least four reasons for this.

First, it was to prevent the rape of Chinese women by Japanese soldiers. From the perspective of Japanese military, if the rape of Chinese women continued on the Chinese front, negative sentiment toward the Japanese would increase among the Chinese and it was believed that it would defile the Japanese military's reputation of upholding the spirit of the warrior (bushido). Even after the establishment of military ‘comfort stations’, however, the rape cases involving Japanese soldiers did not stop.

Second, there was a need to prevent sexually transmitted diseases amongst the Japanese soldiers by setting up military controlled ‘comfort stations’ and performing systematic check-ups on 'comfort women'. In other words, the rationale behind the need for ‘comfort women’ was from the military’s standpoint in that an increase in the number of soldiers suffering from STDs will weaken the military strength.

Third, there was a need for the Japanese military to boost morale among its troops. As the war progressed on the battlefield, the morale among the soldiers were low. As a matter of fact, problems such as the rape by Japanese soldiers in the occupied territories within China were plaguing the Japanese military. This created the need for comfort facilities to raise morale. Lastly, there was the problem of espionage. There were concerns that military secrets could be leaked to the Chinese if Japanese soldiers were to visit local brothels. Hence, it was necessary for the Japanese military to organize comfort facilities under its control.


December. Nanjing Massacre and the Establishment of Military ‘Comfort Stations’

After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War (July 1937), the Japanese military expanded its frontline in China and eventually attacked Nanjing, the capital of the Chinese Nationalist Government. In Nanjing, which was estimated to have a population of about 200 to 250 thousand, the Japanese soldiers committed horrific atrocities which included acts such as plundering, rape, arson, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians and Chinese nationalist prisoners of war from December 1937 to the beginning of the following year. A British Reuters correspondent, who was staying in Nanjing, spoke to the audience about the atrocities of the Japanese military saying, "they systematically and thoroughly robbed them", at a lecture on December 13. John Rabe, a German Nazi official, wrote in his journal on December 17 that a Chinese woman was "stabbed by a bayonet after she had been assaulted". He also wrote that he had heard rumors of more than a thousand people being assaulted the previous night.

There are many arguments about the number of Chinese victims in Nanjing. Most Chinese scholars claim the death toll to be at 30 million, but some conservative intellectuals in Japan deny the massacre altogether. The Far East International Military Tribunal (August 1946), where Japanese war criminals were put on trial, estimated the total number of Chinese victims to be around 200,000.

The Japanese historian Hata Ikuhiko, who academically and thoroughly analyzed the number of Chinese victims, asserts that about 53,000 people (23,000 civilians and 30,000 Chinese prisoners of war) were sacrificed. On the other hand, when the rape of Chinese women was revealed to the outside world through Westerners residing in Nanjing causing criticism from the international community, Japanese military commanders stationed in China began systematically organizing military ‘comfort stations’.

Foreigners in Nanjing also witnessed Chinese women that survived the Japanese massacre being recruited as ‘comfort women’. Since the 1938, the ‘comfort stations’ directly operated by the Japanese military were established in full force along the Chinese war front, and many Japanese and Joseon (Korean) women were forced to engage in sexual acts with Japanese soldiers as ‘comfort women’. Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a historian, claims that military, police, and administrative agencies were deeply involved in the establishment of Japanese military ‘comfort stations’ and the recruitment of ‘comfort women’.


September. Entering into the Triple Alliance

In September of 1940, Japan, having becoming more isolated from the internationally since the Manchuria Incident, joined hands in a Triple Alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which were both confronting the US and Great Britain at the time. Originally, the three countries tried to attract the Soviet Union to form a four-way alliance, but only Japan, Germany and Italy joined in the alliance due to inconsistencies between their foreign policies. In Japan, Emperor Hirohito and other naval commanders were initially passive towards the triple alliance. Eventually, however, the Japanese government signed the alliance pact due to the efforts of those who advocated the alliance led by young officers in the army, navy, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The main contents of the alliance treaty included provisions which affirmed Japan’s dominance in Asia while Germany and Italy’s power would be within Europe, and that the other signatories would provide mutual assistance in case one of them were to be attacked by the United States. This provision against the US eventually worsened Japan's relation with the United States. As the Sino-Japanese War lagged on, Japan exhausted large amounts of resources and came into conflict with the US which supported China's Nationalist Government. Therefore, the hidden motive was to keep the United States in check by joining hands with Germany which was unrivaled in the European battlefront after their invasion of Poland in 1939.


July. Special Military Exercises of the Kwantung Army and Mass Recruitment of Korean ‘Comfort Women’

In July 1941, Japan's Kwantung Army, stationed in the northeastern part of China, carried out special military exercises with about 800,000 troops near the border between the Soviet Union and northeastern China in preparation for a war with the Soviet Union.

The Kwantung Army planned to recruit 20,000 Korean 'comfort women' to provide to its troops, and made a request to the Joseon (Korea) governor-general, the colonial ruling authority in Korea, to send about 10,000 Korean women (some say the number of women requested was 8,000) to northeastern China.


October. Hideki Tojo, Army general, appointed as Prime Minister

Hideki Tojo, who had taken a hardline stance on the issue of engaging in a war with the United States, was appointed Prime Minister in October of 1941. After which, he began preparingactively for war with the United States.

After Japan was defeated in 1945 by the United States, Tojo was convicted as a Class-A war criminal by the International Military Tribunal (August 1946) and was hanged.


December. Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor and the Outbreak of the Pacific War

Tensions between Japan and the US reached its height as the Japanese military voiced its anger about sanctions on Japan which was imposed by US as a response to the continuing Japanese aggression in Asia. Eventually, on December 8, 1941, Japanese naval troops staged a surprise attack on Hawaii and the British colonies in Southeast Asia marking the beginning of the Pacific War.

One of the direct motives for Japan instigating war with the Allies was because it needed resources to continue the war on the Chinese front because the US embargo on petroleum and other key resources made war with China difficult. Therefore, it was crucial for Japan to invade the colonies of Southeast Asia which had an abundance of natural resources and to keep back the Allied forces such as the United States which was capable of interfering with their efforts. However, contrary to their real purpose of the starting the war, the Japanese referred to the war as "the construction of the Greater East Asia Coalition" or the "Asian Liberation War". Immediately after the war began, the Japanese government began referring to it as the "Greater East Asia War". The term as been brought back to life by right-wing intellectuals in Japan and is being used as justification for the war,

The United States began referring to the war as the "Pacific War" shortly after its end. It can be said that both names can about from each country’s own perspective on military history. On the other hand, some Japanese and progressive western scholars refer to the war as the Asia-Pacific War. The reason for this is to emphasize the fact that other Asian countries including China participated and suffered losses from Japanese imperialism. The "Asia-Pacific War" includes the events ranging from the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 up until the surrender of Japan in 1945.



February. Amendment of the Japanese Military Penal Code

On February 20, 1942, the Ministry of War revised the Military Penal Code so that criminals who commit acts of rape in Japanese territory or on the battlefield would be receive a one year sentence to life imprisonment. In fact, however, many Japanese soldiers who had committed the rape in China and elsewhere were rarely court martialed for their crimes.


June. The Battle of Midway

Although it was the first battle between the Japanese and the American task fleets, the Japanese were crushed as they suffered great losses which included four aircraft carriers turning the tide of war on the high seas to the United States.


September. The Ministry of War of Japan Counts More than 400 ‘Comfort’ Facilities Overseas

The Japanese Ministry of War Report published on September 3, 1942, contained the number of ‘comfort stations’ in each region : 100 in Northern China, 140 in Central China, 40 in Southern China, 100 in Southeast Asia, 10 in Western South Pacific, and 10 in Southern Sakhalin.


February. Complete Withdrawal of Japanese Troops from Guadalcanal

From the summer of 1942, American and Japanese troops engaged in a fierce battle on Guadalcanal Island in the Pacific. Battles between the two ended in February of the following year when the US finally claimed victory. After its defeat on the island, the Japanese military conducted a large-scale propaganda campaign to unite the nation in preparation for a long war.


September. The Surrender of Italy

Italy, one of the members of the Axis Powers, surrendered unconditionally to the Allied powers. However, Benito Mussolini, the prime minister, was rescued by German airborne troops and continued his fight against the Allies.


June. Fall of Saipan

Japan lost one of its most important military strongholds in the Pacific when they were defeated on the island of Saipan which was an island in the South Pacific where Japanese troops were stationed. Just before the fall of Saipan, Japanese troops and civilians including women with infants committed mass suicide. Most civilians was forced to do so by the Japanese. After losing Saipan, Japan went on the defensive and America's victory in the Pacific became ever more certain.


July. Establishment of Koiso Cabinet

After losing the battle of Saipan, Prime Minister Dojo resigned on July 18, and was succeeded by so Kuniaki, a retired general and governor-general of Joseon (Korea), soon after on the 22nd.


March. Tokyo Air Raid

On March 10, hundreds of American B-29s, also referred to as "Fortresses of the Sky", mercilessly bombed an area in Tokyo densely populated by civilians. It has been reported that it resulted in the the largest number of civilian casualties in a single air raid during the entire duration of the Pacific War.


April. Landing of US Forces on Okinawa

US troops, with a succession of victories under their belts, made their way onto the beaches of Okinawa located south of the Japanese mainland on April 1, and engaged in ground warfare with the Japanese troops. A few days later, Suzuki Kantaro, a former Navy general, succeeded Koiso Kuniaki as the Prime Minister of Japan. The Suzuki Cabinet was also referred to "the War-ending Cabinet". However, the war continued for several months due to the refusal of the military to surrender. The Battle of Okinawa eventually ended in early June with the US’s victory; however, many Okinawan residents were sacrificed in the process.


May. The Collapse of Germany

On May 7, Japan’s last remaining ally, Germany, surrendered unconditionally to the Allies leaving Japan to fight the powerful Allies on their own.


July. Announcement of the Potsdam Declaration

The leaders of the four nations – the United States, Britain, Soviet Union and China – gathered at Potsdam, a city on the outskirts of Berlin, and announced the Potsdam Declaration on July 26 and demanded Japan's surrender. However, the Suzuki Cabinet "ignored" the demands of the Allies. One of the reasons why they ignored the demand was that the contents of the Potsdam Declaration did not explicitly mention that the Emperor’s power will still be maintained.


August. Atomic Bombing

On August 6, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a Japanese military town, due to Japan’s unwillingness to surrender despite the demands from the Allied Powers. The first atomic bomb used in war killed hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens with just one blow, and leveled the city to the ground.

Three days later, on August 9, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Not only were the Japanese sacrificed to the two atomic bombs but casualties included Koreans and Chinese as well as prisoners of war living in the city.


August. The Surrender of Japan

On August 15, the Emperor of Japan proclaimed that the "war has ended". The broadcast, based upon a script written using abstruse kanji words, was not understood by many Japanese. Rather, some even understood it as being a message from the Emperor to continue the war. The reason the Japanese refrained from using word "surrender" in announcing the conclusion of the war was because the Japanese government and the military banned the use of the words "defeat" or "surrender" during the war and also did not want to acknowledge their defeat. Furthermore, the Japanese government and the military destroyed countless official documents such as documentation on ‘comfort women’ for several days before and after the surrender in order to avoid being blamed for the war by the Allied Forces.


November. MacArthur Headquarters in Japan, One-hundred Fifty Korean ‘Comfort Women’ Returned to their Homeland

According to MacArthur's report, Korean ‘comfort women’ who had been detained and captured by US forces in Okinawa were returned to Korea on a ship in November of 1945. According to Professor Yuki Tanaka of Hiroshima City University, more than half of Korean ‘comfort women’ in Okinawa died during the battle between the US and Japanese forces (April to June 1945).



Nuremberg Trials and B & C-Class War Criminal Trials

The Allied Powers, who won the war, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, held a trial in Nuremberg from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946, in order to investigate war crimes in Nazi Germany.

The prosecutors and judges involved in the trial consisted of members from four countries, and indicted twenty-two Nazi Class-A war criminals (crimes against peace). The Nuremberg Trial was the first case where citizens of a nation were tried in an international court for committing war crimes. This had great significance in that it had the effect of education the world about the charges against German leaders and the illegality of wartime aggression. But, problems related to the trial soon came into light. Among the issues raised was that only the crimes of the defeated countries were put on trial while crimes committed by the Allies were exempted.

In addition, it was also criticized for punishing criminals with international law which came into effect after the war and did not exist at the time when the crime was committed. After the Nuremberg trials, four countries held a total of twelve trials to condemn Class-B (war crimes) and Class-C (crimes against humanity) Nazi war criminals. Classification of criminals into the three categories of A, B, and C, were not based on the severity of crime, but it was according to the type of crime they had committed.


International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trial)

From May 3, 1946, to November 12, 1948, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (also known as Tokyo Trial), consisting of judges from 11 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia, was held to prosecute Japanese war criminals just as the Nuremburg Trial did with the Nazis in Germany. Seven A-class war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, were sentenced to death, and were hanged on November 23, 1948.

Unlike the Nuremberg Trial, the Tokyo Trial was led by the United States, and various problems began to arise such as the fizzling out of the tribunal itself due to the intensification of the Cold War. Just like the Nuremberg Trial, only the Japanese war criminals were punished while war crimes committed by the Allied Forces, including the dropping of the atomic bomb and indiscriminate air raids against civilians, were left unquestioned and criticized by the Japanese as a trial carried out under the postwar law.

Some scholars point out the fact that Emperor Hirohito, who was the head of state, was not indicted as an major shortcoming of the Tokyo Trial. Another issue of the trial was that judges from formerly occupied countries such as Joseon (Korea) and Taiwan were not able to participate in the trial. Despite these problems, historians emphasize that the crimes of Japanese militarism were revealed to the world during the course of the hearings and that acknowledgement should be given to the Japanese records submitted to the court for having contributed greatly in academic research in later years.


B & C-Class War Crimes Tribunals of the Allied Nations and 'Comfort Women'

After the end of the Pacific War, B and C-class war criminals were tried in countries that fought against Japan such as Guam, England, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Philippines and Australia. The result of which, about 1,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were sentenced to death.

The sexual abuse committed against 'comfort women' was classified as a class-C crime (crime against humanity). Twelve Japanese soldiers and civilians were found guilty in a Dutch war crimes trial held in Batavia (now Jakarta) of Indonesia in February 1948. However, most of the other countries did not hold hearings on ‘comfort women’.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty (Article 11), signed between Japan and the victor nations in 1951, officially affirmed that the Japan accepted the rulings of the war crimes trials held for B and C-class criminals just as it acknowledged the Tokyo Trial which punished class-A war criminals.