Japan fought the war over East and Southeast Asia between 1937 and 1945 not only in the theatres of war, but with equal harshness in the courtrooms of military justice. Wherever Japanese soldiers went, judge-advocates followed, meeting out stern justice to soldiers, civilians and enemy soldiers alike. The system of courts-martial and military courts throughout East and Southeast Asia served three purposes: regulate violence and channel it efficiently to serve Japan's war goals; deter the civilian population and coerce it into following Japan's 'New Order' in East Asia; and finally, convince domestic and international audiences that Japan's war was not only legitimate, but also 'legal'. Yet, despite formal pretences, verdicts routinely ended in execution or harsh imprisonment. As such, the violence of the justice system mirrored the brutality of the war in general.
Despite the highly contentious nature of the war even today, a systematic study of mass violence during the Asia-Pacific War has been sorely lacking. 'Law without Mercy' undertakes this daunting task by using military justice as focal point and as a highly precise lens for studying the various figurations of violence during the war. It is pioneering in analysing legal practice as an integral part of this violence and facilitator for its routinisation and escalation on the battlefield and in the occupied territories. And finally, it opens up a wholly new and large body of sources through original archival work that helps to overcome the notorious direness of documentation on Japan's conduct during the war.
Situated at the intersection of several historical fields, 'Law without Mercy' capitalises on the double expertise of the PI in modern Japanese history and international law. With the complex and precarious relation between law, war and violence still at the heart of humanitarian issues, the historical insights of this project have very practical implications for our conflict-laden world today.
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