History award for powerful work by Murdoch academics

September 6, 2017

Premier's History Award: win for exceptional Japanese war criminals investigation   

History scholars from Murdoch University have won a major award for their powerful work on Japanese war criminals.

Professor Sandra Wilson and Dr Dean Aszkielowicz, with two co-authors, took out the prestigious NSW Premier’s History Award (General History category) for Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice After the Second World War.

It is the first book to examine all trials of suspected Japanese war criminals, and their aftermath, from 1945 to 1958 – including court proceedings in the United States, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Australia, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, the USSR and the People’s Republic of China.

The book also examines the controversial release of convicted war criminals during the 1950s, and is the product of extensive research in archives in 14 countries.

Professor Wilson and Dr Aszkielowicz worked with their colleagues ANU Professor Robert Cribb, who is also Adjunct Professor in Murdoch’s School of Arts, and Dr Beatrice Trefalt from Monash, who is a Murdoch alumnus.

The judges lauded the work as an ‘exceptional’ book that engages with ‘one of the most complex of moral and legal problems – can we achieve justice and restitution for crimes committed during war?’

They added the authors skilfully showed that identifying and seeking justice for war crimes is much more than a legal issue; it brings significant moral and political challenges as well.

“This powerful book shows us that the horror of war contaminates every aspect of civilised life, including the law and its ideals of justice and impartiality,” the judges said.

“The book is a remarkable achievement, both for its intellectual reach and its deft handling of fraught ethical issues that continue to confront us today.

“Never shying away from recognising the horror of crimes committed by the Japanese military, the book also reveals that the trials were complicated by the Allies’ efforts to prevent their own wartime atrocities from facing similar legal and moral attention.”

The authors commented that the issues raised by their book have great contemporary relevance, given that claims for redress of historical grievances are a regular part of modern international relations.

“Two lessons can be drawn from our research. The first is that one-sided justice always creates problems, even when the guilt of the two sides is uneven,” they said.

“The second is that the time to reckon with crimes is as soon as possible after the event, and only in relation to direct victims. Claiming for the redress of historical grievances long after the event only sets up new and destructive patterns of moral imbalance.”

Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice After the Second World War is published by Columbia University Press and is available from Asia Bookroom in Canberra.




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