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Yamashita’s Ghost

War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice, and Command Accountability

Allan A. Ryan

New in Paperback: August 2014
408 pages, 18 photographs, 2 maps, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
Modern War Studies
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1881-1, $34.95(t)
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-2014-2, $22.50(s)
Ebook ISBN 978-0-7006-2055-5, $22.50


book cover imageI don’t blame my executioners. I will pray God bless them.

So said General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Japan’s most accomplished military commander, as he stood on the scaffold in Manila in 1946. His stoic dignity typified the man his U.S. Army defense lawyers had come to deeply respect in the first war crimes trial of World War II. Moments later, he was dead. But had justice been served? Allan A. Ryan reopens the case against Yamashita to illuminate crucial questions and controversies that have surrounded his trial and conviction, but also to deepen our understanding of broader contemporary issues—especially the limits of command accountability.

The atrocities of 1944 and 1945 in the Philippines—rape, murder, torture, beheadings, and starvation, the victims often women and children—were horrific. They were committed by Japanese troops as General Douglas MacArthur’s army tried to recapture the islands. Yamashita commanded Japan’s dispersed and besieged Philippine forces in that final year of the war. But the prosecution conceded that he had neither ordered nor committed these crimes. MacArthur charged him, instead, with the crime­­—if it was one—of having “failed to control” his troops, and convened a military commission of five American generals, none of them trained in the law. It was the first prosecution in history of a military commander on such a charge.

In a turbulent and disturbing trial marked by disregard of the Army’s own rules, the generals delivered the verdict they knew MacArthur wanted. Yamashita’s lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose controversial decision upheld the conviction over the passionate dissents of two justices who invoked, for the first time in U.S. legal history, the concept of international human rights.

Drawing from the tribunal’s transcripts, Ryan vividly chronicles this tragic tale and its personalities. His trenchant analysis of the case’s lingering question—should a commander be held accountable for the crimes of his troops, even if he has no knowledge of them—has profound implications for all military commanders.

“Really excellent . . . constructive and perceptive.”—Justice John Paul Stevens, Supreme Court of the United States (retired)

“As Allan Ryan convincingly demonstrates, the trial was a travesty of justice in which the rules of evidence were flouted, the defendant was denied due process, and normal courtroom procedures were ignored in the rush to convict him. Ryan does this by a careful examination and analysis of the trial record and other basic sources.”—Army

“An impressive contribution to the literature of military justice and command. . . . His final chapter on the law of war and command accountability is an especially brilliant discussion of legal and moral responsibility.”—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Ryan’s book is a tour de force. Using his personal experience as a U.S. Department of Justice war crimes prosecutor and scholar with a deep knowledge of and appreciation for military law, Ryan takes the reader on what amounts to a graduate level seminar worth of insights and understanding.”—Journal of Military History

“A winner! A superb work that’s highly readable, very timely, and based solidly on good evidence and sources. Ryan really covers a lot of ground here, and his balance is especially impressive, for it is clear that this case was rigged from the start.”—Thomas W. Zeiler, author of Unconditional Defeat: Japan, America, and the End of World War II

“The subjects and issues Ryan illuminates so incisively here still haunt us today. His judicious treatment belongs on any short list of incisive trial-based studies of war crimes and war responsibility.”—John W. Dower, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

“The most penetrating and disturbing analysis yet written of the most important war crimes trial to emerge from the U.S. war with Japan. It’s impossible to read this gripping historical account without reflecting on how the United States has pursued the current war on terror.”—Michael Schaller, author of Douglas MacArthur: Far Eastern General

“A very clear analysis that dispassionately and thoroughly explores the issues involved from a variety of perspectives.”—Ronald Spector, author of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

“Should be required reading for every military officer, every Senator and member of Congress, and every American who wishes to understand the imperfect but critical interaction between law and military operations.”—Eugene R. Fidell, Senior Research Scholar in Law and Florence Rogatz Visiting Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School

“Impressive and important. . . . A brilliant book.”—History News Network

“Ryan’s portrayal has the pace and energy of a true-crime drama, which keeps one turning the page even though we know how the story ends.”—Law and Politics Book Review

ALLAN A. RYAN clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White, was a U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate, and teaches the law of war at Boston College Law School and Harvard University. For additional information on Yamashita’s Ghost, see

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