Justice Erima Harvey Northcroft Tokyo War Crimes Trial Collection

Introduction and background

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), most commonly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, was one of the most important – and controversial – trials of the twentieth century. Like its European counterpart in Nuremberg, the IMTFE was responsible for bringing Axis war criminals to trial. Also like Nuremberg, the success and impartiality of the Tokyo Trial is greatly disputable. Perhaps the only surety of the IMTFE is its value to scholars and academics as a topic of debate. Its proceedings and vast collection of documents contain evidence for countless unanswered and unexplored questions of law, history, politics, sociology, economics, military theory, morality and diplomacy. The records and evidence presented in Tokyo are invaluable primary sources for almost any questions related to the first half of the twentieth century in Asia, particularly as it relates to the growth of imperial Japan.

In January 1949, Justice Erima Harvey Northcroft, Member of the IMTFE for New Zealand, donated his nearly complete set of trial documents to the University of Canterbury (then University of Canterbury College). Northcroft kept only the Judgment of the Tribunal for personal use. He later donated this as well to accompany the rest of the collection. The Northcroft collection is remarkably well preserved and huge. It contains 378 volumes and approx. 109,000 pages. These tallies include extra copies of certain volumes and repetitive verbatim excerpts from the trial. For the purposes of this inventory and for storage in the future, the University of Canterbury’s set of IMTFE documents is divided into 14 general sections (see Skeleton Inventory below). Attached to this document is a detailed inventory of each of these sections. It includes the main bodies of trial documents – the complete Transcripts of Proceedings, the Exhibits, the Proceedings in Chambers, and the Judgment and Annexes. Not only is the Northcroft collection enormous, but it is also one of the most complete and unique sets of its kind in the world, particularly in Australasia.

In his Preface to Kenneth M. Wells’ Index to the Records of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Japanese War Trials) (1983), Richard H. Hlavac, the former University Librarian of the University of Canterbury, claimed that the Northcroft collection was one of only twelve original sets of IMTFE documents. He does not give any explanation of this number. In fact, precisely how many sets of IMTFE documents exist is unknown and difficult to ascertain. At the end of the trial, each Justice (11) would have had a copy. There undoubtedly was at least one official set published by the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP) documents division. Similarly, at least one official Japanese language set would have been issued. It seems likely that the defence and prosecution teams would have had at least one complete section each. That brings the number of original sets up to 15 – 17. It is quite possible that more exists since evidence suggests that many of the individuals involved in the trial (i.e. defence counsel, prosecution members etc.) may have had personal sets, or portions of, the trial documents.

The number of original and complete sets of IMTFE documents at the end of the trial is undetermined, but likely relatively small. The number of complete collections that continue to exist is even more uncertain and much smaller. Any remaining documents from the Tokyo Trial are presently stored in national archives, national libraries, and universities around the world. Some of the most notable collections worldwide are found in the National Archives of Canada, the Records Office of the British House of Lords, the Peace Palace Library at the Hague, the Imperial War Museum in London, the New York City Public Reference Library, Des Moines Public Library, the London School of Economics, the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies (St. Antony’s College, Oxford), the Kansai University Library (Osaka, Japan), the Utah State University’s Soemu Toyoda Tribunal Transcripts collection, the Supreme Court Library of Queensland (Australia), the National Library of New Zealand, the University of California Berkeley, the Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), the Pentagon Library, the University of New Mexico Centre for Southwest Research, the University of Michigan Law Library, the Dawson Rare Books Room of the Cornell University Law Library, the Rockefeller Library of Brown University, the Old Dominion University Library, the Pacific Union College Library, the University of Miami, Coral Gables, the Drake University Cowles Library, the University of Indiana, the University of Chicago, its affiliate the Center for Research Libraries (formerly the Mid-West Inter-Library Center), the Australia War Memorial, and the Rijks Universiteit Groningen (the Netherlands). Each of these organisations has substantial collections of original IMTFE sources.

These collections generally include one or two of the main sections of IMTFE documents. Some, such as the Rijks Universiteit Groningen, have copies of the Proceedings in Chambers. Others, the University of New Mexico Centre for Southwest Research, for example, have portions of the Exhibits. More uniquely, the Australia War Memorial, the Des Moines Public Library and the Supreme Court Library of Queensland have interesting miscellaneous material such as personal writings and oral histories of those involved or original video recordings. Most have copies of the trial Transcripts and the Judgment. None of these collections contain all four of these main sections.

In fact, only a handful of more or less complete original sets of IMTFE documents exist in the world. Perhaps the two most complete sets reside with the National Archives of the United States and in the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at the University of Virginia. The University of Virginia’s collection is notable because it has probably the best collection of personal memorials of the trial. It holds the papers of Roy L. Morgan (Chief Interrogator for the IMTFE), G. Carrington Williams (defence counsel for Naoki Hoshino), and Frank S. Tavenner (Counsel and acting Chief of Counsel at the IMTFE).The Harvard Law School Langdell Law Library, Princeton University’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the United States Library of Congress, the Columbia University Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace all have as practically complete sets of original IMTFE documents. There is also a Japanese language version of IMTFE documents in Tokyo. Outside of the United States, only the University of Canterbury has a collection of a comparable size and comprehensiveness. The Erima Harvey Northcroft IMTFE Collection of the University of Canterbury is therefore truly world-class – as a relic and as a research tool.

This elite company makes the anonymity of the Northcroft collection all the more unfortunate. Hopefully this inventory will facilitate the use of the Northcroft collection, and in turn, stimulate the level of research done using this vast and unique source. What is perhaps even more surprising about the lack of use given to the Northcroft collection is the absolute wealth of primary source material found within the trial documents. This ignorance is not limited only to the University of Canterbury’s collection; in general, the IMTFE sources are a greatly underused research commodity.

R. John Pritchard, the world’s leading expert on and most determined compiler of IMTFE documents contends that there are two ways of approaching the Tokyo Trial. The first is to analyse or critique the legal matters of the trial: Its jurisdiction, the legality of its proceedings, its legal precedents, and its juridical advents and legacies. The second is, as Pritchard puts it, “to approach the records of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in relation to its enquiry into matters of fact”.¹ In other words, to extrapolate topics of enquiry out of the mounds of evidence gathered by the trial.

Within these two very general approaches lay countless specific research topics. Tokyo Trial documents are perhaps most valuable to historians. Legal historians will find a plethora of information regarding the founding conventions and organisations of the Allied quest for “justice” during and following World War II. This includes the United Nations War Crimes Commission, the Moscow Convention, The Potsdam Convention and the Cairo Conference. Furthermore, historians of law will find information concerning the proceedings of Allied war crimes operations outside the realm of the Tokyo Trial, including those run throughout Southeast Asia by the British and Australians and the famous US v. Yamashita in the Philippines. Military historians can use the IMTFE collection to access documents on the planning and waging of several wars – the Sino-Japanese conflicts of 1931 and 1937-1941, as well as the greater Asian sphere of World War II – as well as countless smaller border skirmishes. Similarly, historians studying the growth of the Japanese empire will find few better and more detailed sources than the IMTFE documents. Research topics in modern Asian history found within the IMTFE run the gamut from “en vogue” topics like Japanese atrocities in Nanjing, the Burma-Siam railway, the execution of captured US airmen, and the Sandakan and Bataan Death Marches, to lesser known and unexplored war crimes perpetrated elsewhere in the Pacific sphere, particularly in the Pacific Islands. Likewise, insight can be gained regarding collaborationist governments within the Japanese wartime possessions, the growth of Japanese nationalism and militarism, Japanese approaches to counter-insurgency, the use of propaganda, Japan’s wartime drug policies, the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, the Manchurian Incident (18 September 1931), Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, and the inner workings of the notorious Guandong [Kwantung] Army and Kempeitai (secret police).

Legal scholars, particularly those in the growing field of international law, will also find the IMTFE sources invaluable. Evidence exists therein for examinations of the charges of “crimes against peace”, “conspiracy” and the waging “wars of aggression”. Similarly, the validity of holding individuals responsible for the actions of a state and the idea of “negative responsibility” can be explored. The legality of the very structure and jurisdiction of international military tribunals can be questioned. These are just a few of the most notable examples of the worth of the IMTFE documents to legal scholars.

Academics far beyond the more obvious fields of law and history will also find the collection of IMTFE documents of interest. Diplomatic scholars are presented with one of the greatest compilations of diplomatic relations in the twentieth century. This is especially true regarding imperial Japan’s treaties and agreements with the rest of the world. Also of note are the records of the tense negotiations between Japan and the West prior to Western involvement in the Asia sphere of World War II in December 1941. Political scientists will use the IMTFE sources to investigate Japanese factionalism, the inner workings of the Japanese political systems – particularly the Diet and Cabinet –, and the most prevalent Japanese political philosophies of the early twentieth century. Economist will also benefit from the wealth of the IMTFE documents. Potential topics for economists are the westernisation of Japan’s economy, the industrialisation of Japan and its colonies, the operation of a “heavy” industry-based wartime economy, the trade, production, resources, and currency of imperial Japan, and the affect of Western economic sanctions on Japan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Biographers of wartime figures, both Allied and Axis, high and low level, will find the IMTFE documents crucial. In many cases, the trial evidence includes the last testaments of some of the most powerful men and women of the era. IMTFE sources also include haunting tales of depravity and suffering from individual low-level civilian and military victims of war crimes.

IMTFE evidence provides sociologists and anthropologists with unique insight into the inner workings of a censored and controlled society as seen in imperial Japan. Studies on the social impact of war and atrocities will also benefit from perusing the Tokyo Trial documents. The affidavits and testimonies of the victims and perpetrators of wartime crimes give particularly poignant elucidation of the impact war has on civilisations. Finally, philosophers and moralists will find innumerable issues to deliberate upon. These include: the morality of war, particularly of “total” war and the use of nuclear weapons, the justification of Western hypocrisy and racism towards Asia, the right of a victorious power(s) to put a conquered foe on trial, the validity of placing an entire civilisation on trial, or conversely of holding a few people responsible for the actions of a state. The IMTFE documents also hold a number of valuable articles of evidence that are interdisciplinary in nature. Particularly valuable are contemporary photographs, charts, maps, and statistics from the early twentieth century.

The University of Canterbury’s E. H. Northcroft collection of International Military Tribunal for the Far East (1946-1948) documents is one of the most extensive sets of original IMTFE documents in the world. It has been a special privilege of mine to have worked with this amazing archive. I have many people to thank for this opportunity. First and foremost, this work is dedicated to Justice Erima Harvey Northcroft for the prescience and generosity he demonstrated by donating his trial documents. For my initial introduction to Canterbury’s IMTFE collection I would like to express deepest gratitude to my senior Masters supervisor Dr. Neville Bennett. For access to the collection and professional support throughout my thesis work and the completion of this inventory I thank the entire staff of the Macmillan Brown Library. Jill Durney and Murray Laughlin have been of particular help. This inventory would never have come into existence without the support and interest of Mr. Robin Stevens and Mr. Robert Low in the special collections department of the Central Library at the University of Canterbury. Gratitude should also be expressed to several librarians in charge of substantial IMTFE collections outside of New Zealand. Their responses to my queries helped me determine how complete or unique the Northcroft collection is. Robyn van Dyk gave thorough insight into the holdings of the Australian War Memorial archive. Similarly, Carol A. Leadenham, Assistant Archivist for Reference at Stanford’s Hoover Institution Archives gave valued assistance. Although the General MacArthur Memorial Archive in Norfolk, Virginia did not have as substantial a collection of IMTFE sources as I had hoped, I also appreciate the assistance provided by James W. Zobel, archivist, in our brief correspondence. Finally, for his invaluable advice and expertise regarding the trial documents, I would like to thank Dr. R. John Pritchard. He has dedicated much of his life to compiling a definitive and accessible copy of IMTFE documents. His enthusiasm in assisting a lowly thesis student working on a summer job on the other side of the world is not only greatly appreciated, but also gives hope that the Tokyo Trial will gain some of the prominence and discussion it deserves.

James Burnham Sedgwick
Christchurch, New Zealand
March 2004.

¹. R. John Pritchard and Sonia Magbanua Zaide (eds.), The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Comprehensive Index and Guide to the Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, (New York & London: Garlard Publishing Inc., 1987) xxxi; and R. John Pritchard (ed.) The Tokyo Major War Crimes Trial The Records of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East with an Authoritative Commentary and Comprehensive Guide, (Lewiston (New York), Lampeter (Wales): The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998) xx – xxiii.