Rebuttal of the Defense

Let us, for the moment, consider the justification or defense for the actions of the Japanese army presented by some writers and researchers in Japan .

One of the major points is that the Chinese volunteer forces, such as the Dalforce, fought fiercely and caused many casualties among the Japanese. This is supposed to have inflamed Japanese anger and led to reprisals against local Chinese. [9] Most of the British volunteers, such as the Straits Settlements Volunteer Forces (SSVF), Federated Malay States Volunteer Forces (FMSVF), were not in fact thrown into battle but stayed back in Singapore. As for the Dalforce, about 600 personnel of four companies from among the 1,250-strong nine companies were sent to the battle front. Around 30 per cent of the Dalforce personnel either died in action or were later killed during the Purge through Purification.[10] It is generally said in Singapore that  the Dalforce personnel fought fiercely.[11] Although I do not question their bravery, their role seems much exaggerated. The volunteers of Dalforce were equipped only with outdated weapons. Japanese military histories make no reference to Chinese volunteers during the battle of Singapore, and report that the opposition put up by British forces was weaker than expected. The greatest threat to the Japanese was artillery bombardment.[12]

During the second half of the 1940s and during the war crimes trial of 1947, no Japanese claimed that losses suffered by Japanese forces at the hand of Chinese volunteers contributed to the massacre. As noted above, the 25th Army had planned the mass screening even before the battle of Singapore . This sequence of events clearly rebuts the argument.

A second point raised is that the Chinese in Malaya were passing intelligence to the British and that Chinese guerrillas were engaged in subversive activities against Japanese forces during the Malayan campaign, for example by flashing signals to British airplanes. The Kempeitai of the 25th Army was on the alert for such activities during the Malayan campaign, but made only two arrests. Kempeitai officer Onishi Satoru said in his memoirs that they had been unable to find any evidence of the use of flash signals and that it was technologically impossible. Thus, this line of argument is refuted by a military officer directly involved in the events.[13]

A third explanation offered for the massacre is that anti-Japanese Chinese were preparing for an armed insurrection, and that the law and order situation was deteriorating in Singapore. They claim that a purge was necessary to restore public order, and this point was raised at the war crimes trial in Singapore. [14] One piece of evidence cited by the defense during the trial was an entry in Kawamura’s personal diary for 19 February that ostensibly said looting still continued in the city. The same evidence was presented to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. However, the diary actually says that order in the city was improving.[15] The extract used during the trials was prepared by a task force of the Japanese army set up to take counter-measures against war crimes prosecutions by the Allied forces. It is clear that the evidence was manipulated.

Otani Keijiro, a Kempeitai lieutenant colonel in charge of public security in Singapore from the beginning of March 1942, also rejected this line of defense, rebutting Japanese excuses and severely criticizing the Japanese atrocities in Singapore. [16] Onishi likewise stated that he had not expected hostile Chinese to begin an anti-Japanese campaign, at least not in the short term, because public security inSingapore was getting better.[17]

The fourth argument is that staff officer Tsuji Masanobu was the mastermind behind the massacre, and that he personally planned and carried it out.  Although Tsuji was a key figure in these events, I believe that researchers have overestimated his role. At the time of the war crimes trials, Tsuji had not been arrested. As soon as the war ended, he escaped from Thailand to China , where he came under the protection of the Kuomintang government because he cooperated with them in fighting the communists. He later secretly returned to Japan in May 1948 where he was protected by the US military, namely G2 of GHQ.[18]  In this situation, the defense counsel attempted to pin all responsibility on Tsuji alone. This point will be discussed in more detail later.


Reasons for the Massacre

Let us now examine the reasons why such atrocities were carried out by the Japanese in Singapore . I limit the discussion to internal factors of Japanese military and society.

In the first place, it should be noted that the Japanese occupation of Singapore began ten years after the start of Japan ’s war of aggression against China . After the Manchurian Incident in 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria, setting up the puppet state of “ Manchukuo ” (State of the Manchus) in 1932. The Japanese army faced a strong anti-Japanese campaign and public order, as a result, remained unstable and to which it responded by conducting frequent punitive operations against anti-Japanese guerrillas and their supporters. Under normal circumstances, those arrested in these operations should have been apprehended and brought to trial for punishment. However, Japan forced Manchukuo to enact a law in September 1932 that granted authority to army officers, both Japanese and Manchurian, and police officers to execute anti-Japanese activists on the spot without trial. This method of execution was usually called Genju Shobun (Harsh Disposal) or Genchi Shobun (Disposal on the Spot) by the Japanese military.[19] Once this law was in place, the Japanese military and military police killed suspects on the spot during punitive operations without trial or investigation. Those killed included not only guerrillas but also civilians, including children, women, and aged people unable to bear arms. Such inhuman methods were made legal in Manchuria . Further, such methods prevailed among the Japanese military, and Genju Shobun was regularly used throughout China during the war.[20]

Yamashita Tomoyuki, 25th Army commander directing the invasion of Malaya , played an important role in the evolution of the Genju Shobun method. As chief of staff of the North China Area Army in 1938-1939, he formulated an operational plan for mopping-up in northern China that made use of Genju Shobun in Manchuria by way of the Provost Marshal, China who had been stationed in Manchuria as a Supreme Adviser to the Military Government Section of Manchukuo.[21] At the time, the Chinese communists had a number of strongholds in northern China . After Yamashita was transferred, the plan undertook an intensive cleanup operation called the Sanguang (Kill All, Loot All, and Burn All; the Chinese character for Sanguang is used as a Japanese word that literally means three lights) Operations in 1940; which involved unbridled killing, looting, and burning during which numerous people were massacred and deported. Yamashita was the link that connected Japanese atrocities in Manchuria and North China with those in Singapore .

During the final phase of the war, Yamashita was appointed commander of the 14th Area Army in the Philippines , where he surrendered to US forces at the end of the war. While he had trouble with anti-Japanese guerillas in the Philippines , he commented to the deputy chief of staff that he had dealt harshly with the local population in Singapore , so they became docile.[22]

The army order that began the “Purge through Purification” in Singapore and Malaya was issued to the Singapore Garrison Commander, Kawamura by Army Commander Yamashita. When Kawamura presented Yamashita a report of the operations on 23 February, Yamashita expressed his appreciation for Kawamura’s efforts and instructed him to continue the purge if needed.[23] Yamashita was not a puppet of Tsuji but an active instigator of the Singapore Massacre.

A third important point is that the headquarters of the 25th Army included other hardliners aside from Tsuji and Yamashita. A notable example was the deputy chief of the military government ofSingapore and Malaya , Colonel Watanabe Wataru. [24] He was the mastermind behind the forcible donation of $50 million and the “Implementation Guidance for Manipulating Overseas Chinese”, which set out the fatal consequences of non-compliance. His earlier career included time spent as chief of a secret military agency in both Beijing and Harbin . He delivered a speech at the Army Academy in 1941 advocating the use of strong pressure against those who "bent their knees" to the British and thereby betrayed East Asia . The lesson he derived from his experience in China was that Japan should deal harshly with the Chinese population from the outset. As a result, the Chinese population of Singapore was regarded as anti-Japanese before even the Japanese military landed.

In a sense, Japanese aggression in Southeast Asia was an extension of the Sino-Japanese War.

Fourth, among Japanese military officers and men there was a culture of prejudice and discrimination toward the Chinese and other Asian people. These attitudes had deepened following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and were deeply embedded within the Japanese population as a whole by the 1930s.

A final consideration is the notion of “preventive killing”. In Japan , preventive arrest was legalised in 1941 through a revision of Chian Iji Ho [Maintenance of Public Order Law], which allowed communists and others holding dangerous thoughts to be arrested and held in custody even if no crime had been committed. A number of detainees were tortured to death by the police, in particular the Tokko special political police. The Singapore Massacre bears a close parallel to this method of preventive arrest and summary execution.

It is clear that the Singapore Massacre was not the conduct of a few evil people, but rather a product of a long period of Japanese aggression against China and other Asian countries.


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[9] This claim is prevalent among researchers in Japan . It is believed even by those who are not right-wingers. I have not clarified who put forward this reason for first time.

[10] The Dalforce file in “British Military Administration, Chinese Affairs, 1945-1946” (National Archives of Singapore).

[11] There are numerous books with such assertion, in particular, books in Chinese.

[12] Rikujo Jieitai Kanbu Gakko [ Ground Staff College , Ground Self-Defense Force], Mare Sakusen [The Malay Campaign] (Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1996), pp. 240-1.

[13] Onishi, Hiroku Shonan Kakyo Shukusei Jiken, pp. 87-8.

[14] Furyo Kankei Chosa Chuo Iinkai [Central Board of Inquiry on POWs], “Singaporu niokeru Kakyo Shodan Jokyo Chosho” [Record of Investigation on the Execution of Overseas Chinese in Singapore ], 23 Oct. 1945 (Reprinted in Nagai Hitoshi (ed.), Senso Hanzai Chosa Shiryo [Documents on War Crimes Investigation] ( Tokyo : Higashi Shuppan, 1995).

[15] See Hayashi Hirofumi, Sabakareta Senso Hanzai, p. 224.

[16] Otani Keijiro, Kenpei [The Military Police] (Tokyo: Shin-Jinbutsu Oraisha, 1973), p. 189.

[17] Onishi, Hiroku Shonan Kakyo Shukusei Jiken, p. 86.

[18]  The intelligence files on Tsuji are preserved in Boxes 457 and 458, Personal Files of the Investigative Records Repository, Record Group 319 (The Army Staff), US National Archives and Records Administration.

[19] Asada Kyoji and Kobayashi Hideo (eds.), Nihon Teikokushugi no Manshu Shihai [Administration of Manchuria by the Japanese Imperialism] (Tokyo: Jicho-Sha, 1986), p. 180.

[20] See Onishi, Hiroku Shonan Kakyo Shukusei Jiken, pp. 88-92.

[21] Boeicho Boei Kenkyusho Senshi-bu [Military History Department, National Defense College , Defense Agency], Hokushi no Chian-sen, Part 1 [Security Operation in North China ] (Tokyo: Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1968), pp. 114-30.

[22] Kojima Jo, Shisetu Yamashita Tomoyuki[Historical Narrative Yamashita Tomoyuki](Tokyo: Bungei Shunjusha, 1969), p. 325.

[23] Kawamura’s diary. See also Hayashi, Sabakareta Senso Hanzai, p. 220.

[24] See Akashi Yoji, “Watanabe Gunsei”[Military Administration by Watanabe], in Akashi Yoji (ed.), Nihon Senryoka no Eiryo Mare Shingaporu [Malaya and Singapore under the Japanese Occupation, 1941-45] ( Tokyo : Iwanami Shoten, 2001).