Japanese war criminals in Indochina and the French pursuit of justice: Local and international constraints

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After the French liberation of May 1945, General Charles de Gaulle warned the government of Japan that France would be uncompromising in its pursuit of those responsible for war crimes against the population in Indochina. However, by the time the war ended and these ideals had to be put into practice, French determination to punish war criminals had to accommodate the constraints of the French position in the postwar world generally, and Indochina in particular. This article examines how the trials, the imprisonment, the transfer to Japan and the eventual release of Japanese war criminals in and from Saigon were shaped by complex political issues, both in Indochina and in the wider international context. It argues that, as well as representing an attempt to mete out justice on behalf of the victims of Japanese atrocities in Indochina, the trials functioned symbolically to rehabilitate France in Asia: to demonstrate the legitimacy of its position amongst the victorious Allied nations after a chequered wartime history, and to validate its claims to be the rightful political authority over Indochina. However, France s interest in maintaining the sentences for Japanese war criminals diminished together with the gradual realization that France s grasp on the Asian part of its colonial empire was slipping.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727 - 742
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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