Radha Binod Pal – Forgotten in India, but Japan’s hero
Monday,12 September 2022 02:12 PM IST
Radha Vinod Pal—I am sure many of you must not have heart about him. It was my good fortune, I read about him few days ago, and so I thought it is time to tell his story today and why he is a Hero in Japan. Very few of us remember Radha Binod Pal. To the measly numbers, few thousands may have been added recently after watching the 2016 miniseries Tokyo Trial, available on Netflix, starring the late actor Irfan Khan. The question is do we need a movie to remember a hero of the "Tokyo Trials"?
Radha Vinod Pal (27 January 1886 – 10 January 1967) was a British Indian judge who was a member of the United Nation’s International Law Commission from 1952 to 1966. He was one of three Asian judges appointed to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). The lesser-known IMTFE was created in Tokyo, Japan, pursuant to a 1946 proclamation by U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in occupied Japan. This tribunal was held to judge the Japanese war crimes during the Second World War. Among all the judges of the tribunal, he was the only one who submitted a judgment which insisted all defendants were not guilty.
Before talking about the hero, let me take you down the memory lane to the Second World War (1939-1945).Thirty countries took part in the war. Most of these countries threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities for the war, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. For the first time Aircrafts were used in a war. The Allied Powers included United States, England, Russia, France etc., while Axis Powers had Germany, Japan, and Italy. Till date it was the bloodiest war in history killing millions across the globe and wounding many more. The War was famous for genocides (including German Holocaust ), starvation, massacres etc. After the defeat of Axis Powers Germany and Japan were occupied and war crimes tribunals were conducted. This was mostly the norm after any war, the losing side has to pay for the losses and winner takes it all.
What we need to understand is the War was the result of the ambition of one-man Adolf Hitler, and the world paid the price. War began, when Hitler started attacking country after country in Europe. England and France retaliated by declaring war on Germany. The war in Europe ended with the surrender of Germany after Hitler’s suicide in 1945. Japan wanted to dominate Asia and joined the Axis Powers. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor (Hawaii, US) on December 7, 1941. A furious United States retaliated by dropping Atom Bomb in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6th and 9th 1945). On September 2, 1945, the War ended when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan's formal surrender aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay along with a armada of more than 250 Allied warships.
Once the War ended the victorious Allied governments established the first International Criminal Tribunals to prosecute high-level political officials and military authorities for “war crimes and other wartime atrocities”. The four major Allied powers—France, the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States set up the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute and punish “the major war criminals of the European Axis”. The lesser-known IMTFE was created in Tokyo, Japan in 1946. Our hero was in the IMTFE.
Similar to the IMT, the IMTFE had jurisdiction to try individuals for Crimes Against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity, and the definitions were nearly letter-perfect to those contained in the Nuremberg Charter. The IMTFE nonetheless had jurisdiction over crimes that occurred over a greater period of time, from the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria to Japan’s 1945 surrender. The Tokyo War Crimes Trials took place from May 1946 to November 1948. The IMTFE found all remaining defendants guilty and sentenced them to punishments ranging from death to seven years’ imprisonment; two defendants died during the trial.
Now, there is a twist in the story, Radha Binod Pal opposed the trial verdict as wrong. He was asked to represent India as a member of the tribunal of judges officiating at the Tokyo Trials in 1946. In deliberations with judges from 10 other countries, Pal was highly critical of the prosecution's use of the legal concept of conspiracy in the context of pre-war decisions by Japanese officials. He also maintained that the tribunal should not retrospectively apply the new concept of Class A war crimes – waging aggressive (also known as crimes against peace and against humanity). Therefore, he dissented from the tribunal's verdicts of guilt in the cases of defendants charged with Class A war crimes. His reasoning also influenced the judges representing the Netherlands and France, and all three of these judges issued dissenting opinions. However, under the rules of the tribunal, all verdicts and sentences were decided by a majority of the presiding judges. He said “ I would hold that every one of the accused must be found not guilty of every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges”, and called “ sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge”.
Pal quoting Jefferson Davis said, “when time shall have softened passion and prejudice, when Reason shall have stripped the mask from misrepresentation, then Justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places”.
Pal was born in 1886 in Kushtia (Bangladesh). He was highly educated and along with teaching, he practiced law also. Pal was a major contributor to the formulation of the Indian Income Tax Act of 1922. The British Government appointed Pal as a legal advisor in 1927. He worked as professor at the Law College of the University of Calcutta from 1923 till 1936. Pal became a judge of the honorable Calcutta High Court in 1941 and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta in 1944. So, he was selected as a jury of the “Tokyo Trial”. He visited Japan in 1966 and stated he had always admired Japan as the only country in Asia to rebel against the West. The Emperor of Japan conferred the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Pal is revered by Japanese nationalists and a monument that was dedicated to him, stands on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine, erected after Pal's death.
On 23 August 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Pal's son, Prasanta, in Calcutta, during his day-long visit to the city. Prasanta Pal presented prime minister Abe with four photographs of his father, of which two photographs were of Radha Binod Pal with Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. Shinzo Abe paid tributes to his country’s hero Radha Binod Pal, who died in 1966 and said “Justice Pal is highly respected even today by many Japanese for the noble spirit of courage he exhibited during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East”.
In recent years, Japanese historians used sections of Pal’s judgement to strengthen their argument that the Japanese were not aggressors or invaders in the Second World War. But Pal would not have been happy as he had never supported what Japan had done during the War. What he had said then was “that Japan could not and should not be singled out for its imperialist lust”. In fact, in a speech he delivered at Hiroshima in 1952 he said “If Japan wishes to possess military power again, that would be a defilement against the souls of the victims we have here in Hiroshima". During the War, our Netaji Subash Chandra Bose formed the Indian National Army to fight for Independence. After the War was over, trials were held in India against INA heroes, Shah Nawaz Khan, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Prem Kumar Sahgal in 1946. They were sentenced to death, but fearing the mood of the public they were freed. Mr. Pal was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his service to two nations.
I admire his courage and integrity, as he stood by his values and refused to give in to the tremendous pressures he must have faced from his fellow judges on the tribunal, especially the Americans.