ARC funding for ongoing research into Japanese war crimes

November 21, 2014

War crimes trial, ManilaFunding from the latest round of Australia Research Council (ARC) grants will enable Professor Sandra Wilson and her colleague Professor Robert Cribb at ANU to continue their research into Japanese wartime brutality through a new project titled War Crimes and the Japanese Military 1941 – 1945.

The three year project, worth $140,600, aims to challenge documented explanations of Japanese wartime violence and the idea that brutality is deeply rooted in Japanese national culture.

After the Second World War, approximately 5700 Japanese soldiers were tried by the Allies as war criminals.  Professor Wilson, an expert in history and Japanese studies at Murdoch University, is the lead researcher on this project which will investigate the specific circumstances in which the Japanese military committed crimes in the Pacific region.

The new project follows on from an existing ARC Discovery Project titled Repatriation and release of Japanese war criminals 1946-1958: Southeast Asia, Japan and the Great Powers. Professor Wilson has worked on this project since 2011.

“The original project examined the processes through which Japanese prisoners were first repatriated from Southeast Asia to serve out their sentences in Japan, then, through separate negotiations between the seven prosecuting powers and Japan, gradually released on parole or through sentence reduction,” she said.

“It was born out of a desire to investigate Japanese and Southeast Asian relations during the late 1940s and the 1950s, when the repatriation of Japanese soldiers was carried out– a dramatic time of political and social change, decolonisation and the Cold War.

“The new project asks a more basic question:  Why did Japanese soldiers commit the atrocities which got them convicted in the first place?

“We hope the new study will provide a better explanation as to why these war crimes were committed and of the historical context surrounding them.”

The sheer scale of the first project saw four experts from three Australian universities partner up to examine archives in more than 12 countries, between them taking 150,000 photographs of archival material to process.

“It’s a language project as much as it is a historical project,” Professor Wilson said.

“Partnering up with researchers fluent in a variety of languages for the first project was critical to effectively examining archives in various countries in line with our respective language strengths.”

The new project spans a similar area, with Professor Wilson providing expertise in all areas of Japanese history and politics, and Professor Cribb bringing expertise in Southeast Asia and in the history of violence.

Research from the first project is near completion and will culminate in a four-author book in early 2015. The second project will span a three-year period, with a second book documenting the findings of the research by Professors Wilson and Cribb.

Image credit: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This file was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the National Archives and Records Administration as part of a cooperation project. The National Archives and Records Administration provides images depicting American and global history which are public domain or licensed under a free license.

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