Yamashita’s Ghost: War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice, and Command Accountability
Allan A. Ryan. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 380 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Biblio. Index. $34.95.
Reviewed by Alice A. Booher
The latest volume in the University Press of Kansas’ Modern War Studies series, Yamashita’s Ghost is scholarly and intense, well researched and skillfully executed. Allan Ryan, with a solid base of legal scholarship, teaches the law of war at Boston College and Harvard University, served as clerk for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, as a Marine Corps judge advocate, as first director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, and as chief prosecutor of Nazi war criminals who had escaped to America. He is not the first to address the long-lasting, wide-ranging impact of the military tribunal trial and execution of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita at the end of World War II, nor is he the first to reflect on the haunting spectral mantle it assumed then and since, but his effort is one of the best.
Many of the facts enumerated from the trial transcripts are uncontroverted: There were myriad horrific atrocities perpetrated by Japanese troops before and after General Douglas MacArthur recaptured the Philippines. Yamashita commanded the troops, and these crimes ranging from starvation to rape and torture were committed against civilians, children, POWs, and others. The prosecution conceded Yamashita may not have known of and/or had not ordered them; the sole charge against him was “failure to control the troops.” His military trial was held before five American non-legal trained general officers. In equipoise, Ryan includes insightful assessments of Yamashita by his U.S. Army defense counsels.
Neophyte law students will remember the singular precedent set when his lawyers took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court via In re Yamashita. Ryan analyzes that case with a fine point, including the attitudes of the time, and the fact that the sitting court of January 1946 was of eight members, as Justice Robert H. Jackson was absent prosecuting Nazi war crimes in Nuremberg. The two strong dissents were made by Justice Frank Murphy, a former governor general in the Philippines, and Justice Wiley B. Rutledge, the only member with any significant judicial experience. It was not a case that held any ultimate sustenance for the titular general involved (who was executed, buried near the gallows at Los Banos, and his remains later returned to Tokyo). However, the dissenters’ appeal for international human rights in war in juxtaposition with what is commonly described as command accountability has indeed been a prevalent and persistent memory ever since, ebbing and waning in the exigencies of later war from My Lai in 1968 to the post-9/11 war on terrorism in the 21st century.
Ryan also briefly addresses changes in subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions as they concern military tribunals as well as international forums that may review similar circumstances. An underlying emphasis is reflected in a quote from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case to the effect that it is during America’s most challenging and uncertain moments when the commitment to due process is most severely tested, and “it is at those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.”
Ryan’s structuring is historic, chronological, and infinitely direct, starting with a helpful cast of characters. Extensively researched and brilliantly presented, it is exquisitely nuanced and never pedantic. It provides material on Yamashita in his prior commands and some of the man himself, describing well the politics and practicalities of the times on all sides of the conflict, including issues relating to General MacArthur. While Ryan uses recorded interviews and other sources to shine light on the players, the ultimate substance from the tribunal comes from his meticulous dissection of the difficult October–December 1945 transcript. His even-handed analysis of the trial and the associated ramifications, both immediate and remote, is exceptional and not limited to a primarily legal or military audience, although both can benefit.
Ryan’s epilogue is brief and notes that however significant the principle of command accountability is today, it is but one of a larger consideration from bodies, forums, and international documents that make up the so-called law of armed conflict. Anyone participating in or analyzing such conflicts would be well advised to read the life and trials of Yamashita and the specters that survived; this is an eminently viable and readable avenue for doing so.
Blowtorch: Robert Komer, Vietnam, and American Cold War Strategy
Frank Leith Jones. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013. 416 pp. Notes. Biblio. Index. $52.95.
Reviewed by Colonel Jonathan M. House, U.S. Army (Retired)
One of the most promising developments of the Vietnam conflict was a venture called Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), an interagency organization headed by a senior civilian who was General William Westmoreland’s deputy for pacification. Beginning in 1967, CORDS replaced the previously disjointed U.S. efforts at pacification and rural development with a coordinated, high-priority effort in all 44 provinces that eventually earned support from the Saigon government.
Robert W. Komer, the inventor and head of CORDS, was one of a number of career civilian Cold Warriors who served under various presidential administrations, providing continuity and pragmatic problem solving to sustain U.S. security policy despite shifts in partisan politics. In Komer’s case, this meant being first an analyst and then a manager in a number of government agencies from 1947 through 1981, working in the private sector only under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In addition to pacification, Komer influenced various American foreign-policy issues, including the Chinese–Indian conflict of 1962, the rationalization of NATO, and the creation of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force—the forerunner of Central Command.
Komer has found a worthy biographer in Frank Leith Jones, a retired senior policymaker in the office of the Secretary of Defense and now professor at the Army War College. Jones traces Komer’s life and shows how each career step contributed to his subject’s wide-ranging expertise. To cite but one example, after graduating from Harvard in 1942, Komer became an enlisted combat historian covering the Anzio landing during World War II. This odd assignment led eventually to writing an Army history of civil affairs in the Mediterranean theater, Komer’s first experience in the realm of military government and occupation policy.
In 1947, his former history professor asked Komer to serve on the estimates staff of the fledgling Central Intelligence Agency. Fourteen years later, having risen within that agency, he wrote a brash memorandum to the incoming Kennedy administration that gained him a post under National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy. Resisting the idealism and moral exceptionalism of that administration, Komer continued to provide practical policy ideas to the point where he became President Lyndon Johnson’s trouble-shooter. This eventually led to the dubious opportunity of implementing his own concepts about pacification in CORDS. Johnson rewarded Komer with a short-lived appointment as ambassador to Ankara, after which he left government to work for the RAND Corporation.
The Carter administration found Komer’s experience and broad strategic perspective so valuable that he was appointed as undersecretary of defense for policy. Thereafter, however, the long-time government insider found himself increasingly isolated and even ignored once he became a critic of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. This was especially true with regard to Secretary of the Navy John Lehman’s efforts to expand the Fleet to a point that, in Komer’s estimation, damaged naval readiness and NATO cooperation.
Both Komer and his biographer acknowledge that his personality was abrasive to the point of being offensive. While in Vietnam, he outmaneuvered the senior military-intelligence staff officer and alienated Westmoreland’s successor, General Creighton Abrams, both of whom disagreed with his priorities for pacification. As suggested by the title of this work, Komer was a self-described “blowtorch”—someone who identified a deficiency or bottleneck and then applied relentless, irritating bureaucratic pressure to force a resolution of the problem. Despite or perhaps because of this tactic, Jones suggests, Komer was an expert at not only formulating policies but also managing organizations to implement those policies. One could argue, in fact, that it was precisely this dogged bureaucratic infighting that made him so invaluable to Presidents struggling with intractable agencies and personalities.
Jones provides a highly readable and balanced account of his subject’s years in government. He also does a credible job at the more difficult task of demonstrating Komer’s intellectual influence as a critic while out of office. The resulting biography offers the reader a broad overview of the many problems of the Cold War, reminding us of the interlocking complexity of issues that today are often viewed in sterile isolation. Blowtorch also provides numerous insights into the difficulties of implementing policy in large organizations.
Hero of the Angry Sky: The World War I Diary and Letters of David S. Ingalls, America’s First Naval Ace
Edited by Geoffrey Rossano. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2013. 377 pp. Illus. Notes. Biblio. Index. $28.95
Reviewed by Colonel John Abbatiello, U.S. Air Force (Retired)
As the hundredth anniversary of World War I approaches, Americans find themselves with curiously little written about our nation’s naval operations during 1917 to 1918, and even less about the nascent yet energetic employment of naval aviation so early in its history. Three recent scholarly works—Noel Shirley’s United States Naval Aviation, 1910–1918 (2000), William Still’s Crisis at Sea (2006), and Geoffrey Rossano’s Stalking the U-Boat (2010)—helped fill the void. The latest contribution, Hero of the Angry Sky, edited by Geoffrey Rossano, is a welcome and much-needed addition to this narrow corpus of literature about the U.S. Navy’s World War I aviation effort.
Rossano’s subject is David S. Ingalls—as the book’s subtitle states, our Navy’s first ace. Ingalls did not earn his six victories flying from Essex-class aircraft carriers—then only a dream for some. On the contrary, Ingalls shot down five German airplanes and one balloon over Belgium while attached to no. 213 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), based in northern France. What is perhaps more interesting is the fact that the 19-year-old American naval aviator achieved all of these victories flying a British-built Sopwith Camel fighter during a five-week period. One of Ingalls’ defeated adversaries flew the famed Fokker D.VII, believed by many to be the best fighter of the Great War.
Ingalls’ life story is a fascinating one. He came from a prominent Cleveland family; his mother’s uncle was President William Howard Taft. Ingalls entered Yale University in 1916 to study medicine and play college hockey and during his freshman year he became close friends with Harry Davison, whose elder brother founded the “First Yale Unit” of volunteer naval aviators. Ingalls joined F. Trubee Davison’s group in spring 1917 to learn how to fly seaplanes, becoming a member of an organization that would form the nucleus of a new Navy Reserve Flying Corps. The First Yale Unit was subsequently absorbed into the Navy. and many of its pilots, including Ingalls, took off for Europe in the autumn of 1917.
After spending two months in Paris awaiting further training, Ingalls was assigned to a series of British Royal Flying Corps schools to hone his aviator skills. He then joined a Royal Naval Air Service Camel squadron, no. 213, in March 1918 to fly patrols from the complex of airfields near Dunkirk. In May Ingalls briefly trained with the U.S. Army to learn how to fly bombers in preparation for the American bombing effort to be established in northern France, called the Northern Bombing Group. In August, he returned to no. 213 Squadron where he earned his six aerial victories. The Navy reassigned Ingalls in October to serve as the chief pilot and acceptance officer at Eastleigh, the Northern Bombing Group’s massive depot near Southampton. Following the close of the war, Ingalls returned home to complete his studies at Yale and Harvard, began a career in business and politics, and later served as a staff officer and naval air station commander during World War II.
Rossano employs an interesting and effective technique in communicating the fascinating story of Ingalls’ brief but exciting combat flying career. After a thorough introductory essay at the start of the book, and shorter comments to begin each chapter, the editor reproduces Ingalls’ letters home, diary entries, periodic fitness evaluations, official RAF after-action reports (found in the British National Archive at Kew, UK), and even notes that Ingalls had typed up after training courses. The documents flow in a chronological fashion, allowing the subject to tell his own story. Different fonts for each type of document serve as a road map for the reader, indicating a change in source.
By today’s standards, this book is lavishly illustrated. Rossano includes over 50 photographs acquired from the Ingalls family, the Naval History and Heritage Command, the National Archives, the author’s personal collection, and private sources. These illustrations bring Ingalls, the men he served with, and the aircraft he flew clearly into view. Reasonably priced and available electronically, Hero of the Angry Sky is a must for naval aviators, history buffs, and academics interested in our nation’s first experience in naval air combat on a large scale.
Cold Days in Hell: American POWs in Korea
William C. Latham Jr. Number 141, Williams–Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. 317 pp. Illus. Maps. Notes. Biblio. Index. $32.00.
Reviewed by Spencer C. Tucker
Americans had been taken prisoner in other wars, and often held in horrible conditions—from the prison hulks of the Revolutionary War to the Japanese prison ships and camps of World War II. The Korean War of 1950–53, however, was different in that American prisoners experienced not only extreme hardship and high death rates, but also for the first time an effort by the enemy to employ systematic indoctrination programs and efforts against them for propaganda purposes. This practice that would be replicated by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
William Clark Latham Jr., an instructor at the U.S. Army Logistics University, Fort Lee, New Jersey, first became interested in the U.S. Korean War POWs when he was teaching English at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and heard a lecture by a former prisoner. This experience led him and a colleague to conduct oral interviews of as many former prisoner survivors as possible, which form the core of his book. Latham also makes extensive use of trial transcripts, declassified government documents, published memoirs, and news accounts.
Some of the prisoner accounts in the book certainly qualify as horrific, and Latham makes it clear that the prisoners’ ordeal did not end with their repatriation. As this was the McCarthy Era, those who had suffered so much in captivity soon found themselves branded traitors or potential spies who had likely been “brainwashed” by their communist captors. Stung by the fact that some Americans had refused repatriation and exaggerated stories in the media, the U.S. military made a determined effort to try to identify and punish alleged collaborators.
The 1,036 Americans captured in the early fighting from June to September 1950 had it the hardest in captivity. The North Koreans, obsessed with the belief that it would be only a matter of weeks before they would achieve victory over South Korean forces and their American advisers, had given little to no thought as to what to do with captured soldiers. South Koreans were simply considered “liberated warriors” and incorporated into labor units employed in direct support of the North Korean military, but the Americans were another matter altogether.
The so-called “Death March” of November 1950 saw these first American prisoners relocated to camps in far northern Korea through exhausting foot marches in bitter cold conditions with inadequate clothing and little or no care for the wounded. Many POWs died from cold, malnutrition, pneumonia, dysentery, or lack of even the most rudimentary medical care. Sick and wounded prisoners were then either left behind or taken from the group by their guards and shot or bayoneted to death.
Almost half the Americans taken prisoner were captured during November and December 1950 (2,009 and 1,044, respectively), early in the massive Chinese intervention in the war. The U.S. government estimates that 7,245 Americans were captured or interned during the entire conflict. Of these, 2,806 died in captivity at a rate of nearly 39 percent; 4,418 were repatriated after the armistice; and 21 refused repatriation and chose voluntarily to go live in the People’s Republic of China.
In the spring of 1951, the Chinese assumed control of all American and United Nations command prisoners, save for the South Koreans who remained under North Korean control. Conditions for the prisoners gradually improved from the summer of 1951 on, but this next period also saw extensive efforts at indoctrination.
Latham discusses the various techniques the Chinese employed to win the prisoners to communism. These included indoctrination sessions of lectures, discussion groups, and readings, with rewards of better food and conditions for “progressive” prisoners, and hard labor and beatings for those who were “recalcitrant.” Prisoners were separated from their leaders and divided by class and race. The Chinese also employed an extensive informant system. Indeed, the communists had far better control over their prisoners than did the UN command over the more numerous North Korean and Chinese soldiers it captured and held. Partly in response to American Korean War prisoners being used as political propaganda, the United States created what is commonly referred to as the military Code of Conduct.
This well-written book is a welcome addition to POW studies and does much to dispel misconceptions about the U.S. prisoners of war held by the communist side during the Korean War. As Latham concludes, they “have earned their rightful place in history as courageous men who survived extraordinary times.”