Professor of History and Culture of Modern Japan
Friday, 12.00 - 13.00
Please make an appointment by e-mail.
Urs Matthias Zachmann is Professor of History and Culture of Modern Japan at Freie Universität Berlin (since October 2016). He received his undergraduate and graduate training in Law (1st State Exam 1998) and Japanese Studies (MA 2000, PhD 2006) at the Universities of Hannover and Heidelberg, and completed his Habilitation in Japanese Studies in 2010 at the University of Munich (LMU). He spent extensive research periods at Harvard University, Waseda University and the University of Tokyo, as well as at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) in Tokyo. Zachmann is a trained advocate in Germany (2nd State Exam 2002). In 2006, he became Assistant Professor at Munich University, followed by an appointment in October 2010 as Acting Full Professor at Heidelberg University. In October 2011, Zachmann assumed the position of inaugural Handa Chair in Japanese-Chinese Relations at the University of Edinburgh (until Sept. 2016). While at Edinburgh, Zachmann set up and supervised the MSc in East Asian Relations and acted as Head of Department for Asian Studies (2012-2015).
Zachmann’s research focuses on the intellectual and cultural history of modern Japan within the context of East Asian international relations, as well as law and legal history in East Asia. He is particularly interested in the transfer of political ideas and cultural institutions, their strategic re-interpretation of discourses on modernization and national agency, and the practical consequences this has for the foreign relations of Japan, particularly in East Asia.
Among his publications are the award-winning monograph China and Japan in the Late Meiji Period: China Policy and the Japanese Discourse on National Identity, 1895-1904 (2009/2011) and Völkerrechtsdenken und Außenpolitik in Japan, 1919-1960 [The Japanese discourse on international law and foreign policy in Japan, 1919-1960] (2013).
ERC Consolidator Grant Project (ERC-2018-COG 819892)
Law Without Mercy: Japanese Courts-Martial and Military Courts During the Asia-Pacific War, 1937-45
I. Project Summary
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 of civilians 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 studies of mass violence during the Asia-Pacific War are sorely lacking. ‘Law without Mercy’ uses 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 practices 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 (primarily court judgments and briefs, but also memoirs, reports, policy papers etc.) that helps to overcome the notorious direness of documentation on Japan’s conduct during the war.
The project’s principal aim is to advance our historical understanding of the inherent reasons and mechanisms of mass violence during the Asia-Pacific War and the role that law played in it. However, the complex and precarious relation between law, war and violence is still at the heart of humanitarian issues today. Thus, the historical insights of this project also have very practical implications for our conflict-laden world today.
II. Extended Synopsis
1. Research Problem
When Japan expanded its empire on the Asian continent and entered all-out-war with China in 1937 and the US in 1941, it waged war as much on the ideational as on the physical level. The courts-martial and military court system that Japan established throughout East and Southeast Asia were but different theatres of war that served crucial functions in Japan’s ‘war without mercy’ (Dower 1986). On the formal level, adjudication of soldiers and civilians sought to demonstrate to audiences at home and abroad that Japan was fighting a ‘lawful’ war that observed the laws in war to the letter and legitimately liberated Asia. In substance, however, it served Japan’s total war goals through punishment and deterrence, remoulding soldiers into more efficient fighting machines and cowing civilians into submission to Japan’s ‘New Order’ in East Asia. However, contrary to expectation, this often led to an escalation rather than containment of violence.
‘Law without Mercy’ examines the Japanese military justice system as an institution at the interface of violence, law, and ideology, providing unique and novel insights into the dynamics of the Asia-Pacific War. In particular, it contributes to solving some of the most challenging issues of the Asia-Pacific War, namely the causes of the horrendous escalation of mass violence (defined as widespread and excessive use of force outside actual fighting) and the ambivalent role that law and legal practice played in it. Although not unique to the Asia-Pacific War (and thus findings of the project are relatable to other cases and the general debate), the gap between the legal and ideological level and the horrendous physical reality of the war has been particularly wide and difficult to explain in the case of Japan’s war conduct. ‘Law without Mercy’ postulates that far from contradicting each other, violence, law and ideology were in fact mutually dependent and reinforced each other. In these dynamics, law played a key role as mediator of violence and ideology.
Thus, when Japan entered the war with China in 1937, both parties refrained from declaring war for strategic and ideological reasons. Japanese authorities, however, stated that they would apply the laws of war nonetheless to the letter (Zachmann 2013). Japan reaffirmed this adherence when it entered war with the US in 1941. Moreover, its expansion on the continent and into the Pacific was accompanied by the highly utopian rhetoric of a ‘New Order’ and ‘Co-Prosperity Sphere’ in East and Southeast Asia. Japanese experts were even drafted into the project of devising a legal blueprint for an ‘East Asian international law’. And yet, the brutal realities belied official statements. Violence perpetrated against civilians was pervasive, as was insubordination of soldiers within the military. Civilians in the occupied territories responded with violence, either individually or as part of guerrilla warfare. Thus, courts-martial and military courts were swamped with an ever-increasing number of cases.
The military justice system generally mirrored, and substantially contributed to the escalation of violence of the Asia-Pacific War: Courts-martial prosecuted Japanese soldiers for military offences, including insubordination against superiors and crimes against civilians. Military courts prosecuted civilians in occupied territories for criminal offences and violations of criminal provisions. There were considerable variations in the way the system was set up: In some areas, local judges and the police were coerced or co-opted into the proceedings, which raises sensitive issues of collaboration and the role of local elites. In most cases, however, the Japanese military took adjudication upon itself. Moreover, military courts also dealt with ‘grave war crimes’ of soldiers of enemy countries.
Trials reproduced the irritating disconnect between excessive attention to form on the outside and extreme brutality in substance: Cases were often meticulously documented, minutely detailing the personal history of defendants as well as the facts underlying the accusations. Thus, the case files prepared by the military legal services provide a wealth of information and offer a fascinating insight into the situation of soldiers at the front and civilians in the occupied territories. Yet, trials were held in swift manner, with no right to appeal or petition and with predictable outcomes: ninety per cent of civilians were executed; soldiers were imprisoned and re-educated, only to be dispatched swiftly back to the frontline.
Yet, there was also palpable tension within the courts, as these were regularly composed of military and formerly civilian members (the legal experts). Thus, through memoirs and notes, we also get a brief glimpse into the intense ideological struggles that played out between these constituencies, thus mirroring the tensions of the Japanese empire and the course of war in nuce.
‘Law without Mercy’ analyses the verdicts, investigation reports, personal notes and ministerial documents related to military justice as a way to shed light on law’s role in the escalation of violence during the Asia-Pacific War. By systematically analysing a whole new body of sources in a unique and novel conceptual framework, this study is pioneering an innovative and productive line of historiographical inquiry. This project provides insights into the relation of law and violence in war that are still central to many humanitarian issues in our world today.
2. Research Aims and Objectives
The primary aim of ‘Law without Mercy’ is to trace the following interrelated dynamics of the Japanese wartime empire during the Asia-Pacific War through the lens of Japan’s military justice system and situate them within the wider context of the history of violence in modern Japan, legal history, intellectual and political history:
The central purpose of this project is to advance research on Japan’s war history through making accessible a whole new body of historical sources for analysis and raise questions that provide new insights into the nature of Japan’s war conduct and belligerent occupation. Providing new qualitative data to the public, it informs historical debates on Japan’s war conduct as well as the relation of law and belligerent violence in general.
(2017) ed., Asia After Versailles: Asian Perspectives on the Paris Peace Conference and the Interwar Order, 1919-1933, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (East Asian Studies Series), 2017. 256 pp.
(2015) with Christian Uhl, eds., Japan und das Problem der Moderne: Wolfgang Seifert zu Ehren Japan and the problem of modernity: Festschrift in honour of Wolfgang Seifert), Munich: Iudicium, 2015.
(2013) Völkerrechtsdenken und Außenpolitik in Japan, 1919-1960 (The Japanese discourse on international law and foreign policy, 1919-1960), Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2013. xiv, 436 pp., index.
(2009/2011) China and Japan in the Late Meiji Period: China Policy and the Japanese Discourse on National Identity, 1895-1904, London: Routledge (Routledge / Leiden Series in Modern East Asian Politics and History), 2009 (Hardcover) and Jan. 2011 (Paperback). x, 238 pp., index.
- Winner of the JaDe-Preis 2010 awarded by the JaDe Foundation for the Promotion of Japanese-German Culture and Science Relations (Cologne) -
Co-editor of the Series East Asian Studies Series of University of Edinburgh Press, with Natascha Gentz (University of Edinburgh) and David Der-wei Wang (Harvard).
(2018) "Loser's Justice: The Tokyo Trial from the Perspective of the Japanese Defence Counsels and the Legal Community", in: Kerstin von Lingen (Hrsg.), Transcultural Justice at the Tokyo Tribunal. The Allied Struggle for Justice, 1946-48. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2018, pp. 284-306.
(2017) “Introduction: Asia after Versailles”, in: Urs Matthias Zachmann (ed.), Asia After Versailles: Asian Perspectives on the Paris Peace Conference and the Interwar Order, 1919-1933, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (East Asian Studies Series), 2017, pp. 1-19.
(2017) “Sublimating the Empire: How Japanese Experts of International Law Translated ‘Greater East Asia’ into the Postwar Period”, in: Barak Kushner and Sherzod Muminov (eds.), The Dismantling of Japan’s Empire in East Asia: Deimperialization, Postwar Legitimation and Imperial Afterlife, London: Routledge, 2016, pp. 167-181.
(2016) “From Nanking to Hiroshima to Seoul: (Post-)Transitional Justice, Juridical Forms and the Construction of Wartime Memory”, Journal of Modern European History 14:4 (2016), pp. 568-584.
(2016) “Souveränität, Gleichheit und Regionale Autonomie: Die Entwicklung des außenpolitischen Denkens Japans im 17. – 19. Jahrhundert“ (Sovereignty, equality and regional autonomy: the evolution of foreign policy thought in 17th - 19th Japan), in: Klaus Vollmer (ed.), Japan im vormodernen Ostasien (Dhau. Jahrbuch für außereuropäische Geschichte 1), St. Ingbert: Röhrig Universitätsverlag, 2016, pp. 161-184.
(2015) “Japan’s Transition from ‘Greater East Asia’ to a Trans-Pacific Order, 1931-1960”, in: Johnson, Robert David (ed.), Asia Pacific in the Age of Globalization, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 143-151.
(2015) “Enter the Void: Japan’s Transition from Regionalism into a New International Order, 1944-1960”, in: Urs Matthias Zachmann and Christian Uhl (eds.), Japan und das Problem der Moderne: Wolfgang Seifert zu Ehren, Munich: Iudicium, 2015, pp. 125-132.
(2014) “TAOKA Ryoichi’s Contribution to International Legal Studies in Pre-war Japan: With Special Reference to Questions of the Law of War”, Japanese Yearbook of International Law 57 (2014), pp. 134-162.
(2014) “Does Europe Include Japan? – European Normativity in Japanese Attitudes towards International Law, 1854-1945”, Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History 22 (2014), pp. 228-243.
(2014) “The Reception and Use of International Law in Modern Japan, 1853-1945”, Zeitschrift für Japanrecht / Journal of Japanese Law 37 (2014), pp. 109-137.
(2013) “Race and International Law in Japan's New Order in East Asia, 1938-1945”, in: Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel (eds.), Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions, Leiden: Brill, 2013, pp. 453-473.
(2012) “The Postwar Constitution and Religion“, in: John Nelson and Inken Prohl (eds.), Handbook of Contemporary Japanese Religions, Leiden: Brill, 2012, pp. 215-240.
(2012) Translation of Maruyama Masao “Kuga Katsunan – hito to shisō, 1947”: „Kuga Katsunan – Der Mensch und sein Denken (1947)“ (The life and thought of Kuga Katsunan), in: Maruyama, Masao: Freiheit und Nation in Japan: ausgewählte Aufsätze 1936-1949. Wolfgang Seifert (ed.). vol. 2, Munich: Iudicium, 2012, S. 19-42.
(2011) “The Foundation Manifesto of the Tōa Dōbunkai (East Asian Common Culture Society), 1898”, in: Sven Saaler and Christopher Szpilman (eds.), Pan-Asianism – A Documentary History, Vol. 1: 1859-1920, Boulder, Co.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, pp. 115-120.
(2011) “Konoe Atsumaro and the Idea of an Alliance of the Yellow Race, 1898”, in: Sven Saaler and Christopher Szpilman (eds.), Pan-Asianism – A Documentary History, Vol. 1: 1859-1920, Boulder, Co.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, pp. 85-92.
(2011) “The Foundation Manifesto of the Kōa-kai (Raising Asia Society) and the Ajia Kyōkai (Asia Society), 1880-1883”, in: Sven Saaler and Christopher Szpilman (eds.), Pan-Asianism – A Documentary History, Vol. 1: 1859-1920, Boulder, Co.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, pp. 53-60.
(2011) “Race without Supremacy: On Racism in the Political Discourse of Late Meiji Japan, 1890–1912”, in: Manfred Berg and Simon Wendt (eds.), Racism in the Modern World: Historical Perspectives on Cultural Transfer and Adaptation, New York: Berghahn Books, 2011, pp. 255-280.
(2010) “Eine andere Form der Ungleichheit: Behinderung and soziale Stratifikation in Japans kakusa shakai-Diskussion“ (A different kind of inequality: disability and social stratification in Japan’s kakusa shakai debate), Contemporary Japan 22 (2010), pp. 75-98.
(2010) “War and International Order in Japan’s International Legal Discourse: Attitudes among Japanese International Lawyers during the 1920s”, Review of Asian and Pacific Studies (Seikei University), vol. 35 (2010),pp. 103-120.
(2010) “Lob der Gegenrestauration: das Staatsverständnis Kuga Katsunans (1857-1907)“ (In praise of counter-restauration: Kuga Katsunan’s concept of the state), in: Thomas Fröhlich and Eung-Jeung Lee (eds.): Staatsverständnis in Ostasien, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2010, pp. 45-68.
(2009) “Terra marique: die Rückkehr des Raums in der völkerrechtlichen Debatte Japans, 1989-2009” (Terra marique: the revival of spatial concepts in the Japanese debate on international law, 1989-2009), in: Iris Wieczorek and David Chiavacci (eds.), Japan 2009 – Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (VSJF), 2009, pp. 113-133.
(2008) “Asianismus und Völkerrecht: Japans sanfter Übergang von der Großostasiatischen Wohlstandssphäre zu den Vereinten Nationen, 1944-1956“ (Asianism and international law: Japan’s easy transition from the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to the United Nations, 1944-1956), Comparativ: Zeitschrift für Globalgeschichte und vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung 18:6 (2008), pp. 53-68.
(2008) “’China‘ in der kulturellen Selbstdefinition Japans bei Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901): Anmerkungen zu Fukuzawas Datsua ron (1885)“ (‘China’ in Japan’s cultural self-identification: some reflections on Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Datsua ron, 1885), in: Robert Horres (Hrsg.): Referate des 12. Deutschsprachigen Japanologentages, vol. 1: Geschichte, Geistesgeschichte, Religion. Bonn: Bier’sche Verlagsanstalt, 2008, pp. 237-248.
(2007) “Guarding the Gates of Our East Asia: Japanese Reactions to the Far Eastern Crisis (1897-98) as a Prelude to the War,” in: Rotem Kowner (ed.), Rethinking the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5, vol. 1: Centennial Perspectives. Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental, 2007, pp. 13-30.
(2007) “Blowing Up a Double Portrait in Black and White: the Concept of Asia in the Writings of Fukuzawa Yukichi and Okakura Tenshin,” in: positions: east asia cultures critique 15:2 (2007), pp. 345-368.
(2005) “Imperialism in a Nutshell: Conflict and the ‚Concert of Powers’ in the Tripartite Intervention, 1895,” in: Japanstudien (DIJ Tokyo), vol. 17 (2005), pp. 57-82.
(2003) “Ich und Du: Chinesische Topoi in Natsume Sôsekis Kusamakura (1906)“ (Me and you: Chinese topoi in Natsume Sōseki’s Kusamakura’, in: Wolfgang Seifert and Asa-Bettina Wuthenow (ed.): Anbauten, Umbauten: Festschrift für Wolfgang Schamoni zum sechzigsten Geburtstag. Munich: Iudicium, 2003, pp. 171-186.
(2000) “Watanabe Kazan: Abschiedsbrief an Tsubaki Chinzan 10. Oktober Tenpô 12 (1841)“, (Watanabe Kazan’s farewell letter to Tsubaki Chinzan, 10 October Tenpō 12), hon’yaku 2 (2000), pp. 18-27.
(1996) Lexicon entries on Guilin, Hayashi Ôen, Hosokawa Gracia, Miyazaki Tôten, Shinpûren, Yabu Kozan und Yoshida tsukasa ke in: Wolfgang Schamoni (ed.): Kleines Kumamoto Lexikon (Concise introduction to Kumamoto), Heidelberg: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, 1996.
(2018) "Japan's Early Practice of International Law, 1870-1907", Rezension von Douglas Howland, International Law and Japanese Sovereignty. The Emerging Global Order in the 19th Century (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2016), in: Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History 26 (2018), pp. 483-485.
(2016) “Ungentle Civilizer: Treaties and Colonial War in 19th Century International Law”, review of Harald Kleinschmidt, Diskriminierung durch Vertrag und Krieg: zwischenstaatliche Verträge und der Begriff des Kolonialkriegs im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2013) in: Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History 24 (2016), pp. 487-489.
(2010/11) Review of Ann Sherif, Japan’s Cold War: Media, Literature, and the Law (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), in: Journal of Japanese Studies 37:1 (Winter 2010/2011), pp. 239-243.
(2008) Review of Nishida Satoshi, Der Wiederaufbau der japanischen Wirtschaft nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg: die amerikanische Japanpolitik und die ökonomische Nachkriegsreformen in Japan, 1942-1952 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007), in: The International History Review 30:4 (2008), pp. 877-879.
(2004) Review of Christian Uhl, Wer war Takeuchi Yoshimis Lu Xun? Annäherungsversuch an ein Monument der japanischen Sinologie, München: Iudicium, 2003, in: DIJ Newsletter: Mitteilungen aus dem Deutschen Institut für Japanstudien 21 (2004), pp. 9-10.
(2017) "Kriminelle Geschäfte auf Lizenzbasis. Archaisch der Habitus, modern der Unternehmensstil: Ein Band gibt Einblicke in das Treiben der Yakuza, die sich als Ritter von Japans Unterwelt verstehen." Rezension von Wolfgang Herbert und Dirk Dabrunz, "Japans Unterwelt". Reisen in das Reich der Yakuza. (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 2017), in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Nr. 191, 18.8.2017, p. 10
(2013) Written evidence for the British House of Lords „Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence“ on Japan’s historic and current soft power strategy, published on:
and referenced in the committee’s reportPersuasion and Power in the Modern World (2014)