People & Events: Masaharu Homma
Who was to blame for the atrocities perpetrated on American POWs in the Philippines? While there is no easy answer to that question, one of the men who was charged with war crimes was Japanese Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma.
Surrender and Evacuation
Lt. General Masaharu Homma was the commander in charge of the Japanese Imperial forces during the first battles for the Philippines. He served in the Philippines from December 1941 through August 1942. It was Homma who forced and accepted the surrender of the Americans at Bataan. Homma also ordered the evacuation of American and Filipino forces from Bataan.
The irony, according to author Hampton Sides, is that Homma was not a fanatical militarist. Rather, he was a compassionate moderate with a love for all things English. He had a passion for the arts, and was keen on American movies. A sensitive, principled intellectual with pro-Western leanings, he had been schooled in military academies as well as at Oxford. He was friends with Japan's leading writers and artists. Dubbed the "Poet General," he liked to paint and write poetry during battles.
His military strength was his mind. He was considered a brilliant theoretician. His weakness was delegating authority and overseeing the practicalities of his command. Perhaps it was that weakness that allowed his subordinates to brutalize Americans and Filipinos while Homma publicly pronounced that POWs would be treated kindly and fairly. Perhaps he was negligent of duty.
Denied Knowledge of Atrocities
At the end of the war, war crimes trials were convened in Manila. Homma was tried for crimes including abuses of POWs in the Philippines, atrocities related to the death march and the bombing of Manila after it was declared an open city. Homma accepted moral responsibility as commander -- but maintained that he had no knowledge of atrocities until after they had occurred. According to historian Philip Piccigallo, Homma was convicted for the actions of his troops rather than for directly ordering atrocities.
On April 3, 1946, Lt. General Masaharu Homma was executed. His wife appealed to American general Douglas MacArthur to spare his life; her pleas were denied.
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