Did the Allies Cover Up Japan’s WWII War Crimes?
The saga of Alfred Bird and the Singapore War Crimes Trials suggests they did
Seventy-seven years ago, in one of the last official surrender ceremonies of World War II, Singaporeans gathered in their city center, in front of the grand façade of the Supreme Court Building, to witness Japan’s formal return of Singapore to British colonial rule. Singaporeans, like other Asians, had suffered innumerable atrocities and privations under the Japanese, and even the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) initially welcomed the British back as liberators. All were eager to see the enemy brought to justice for the suffering they had inflicted during the war. So it was that, just three months later, British War Crimes Trials commenced in this same Court.
Picture the scene, as described in the Straits Times on 22 January,1946:
Military personnel, Allied observers, news cameramen, and reporters jostle among members of the public in the courtroom’s gallery… The accused enter the dock, bow, and stand to attention. They wear identical khaki pants and short-sleeved shirts. They have signs numbered from one to ten for identification. At the bench, three British military judges take their places. Two judges are British, and one judge is of Indian ethnicity. The presiding judge calls the court to order and declares that the accused will be treated “in accordance with the principles of British justice”.
This was the first of 131 war crimes trials prosecuted in Singapore between 1946 and 1948, which in turn accounted for more than a third of the 330 trials in total that the British conducted throughout Asia. Yet, as Lim Jia Yi, a research fellow with the Singapore War Crimes Trials Project (SWCTP), told me, these trials have largely been forgotten today.
One reason for this historical neglect is that the Japanese suspects tried in Singapore and elsewhere were lower-ranking “Class B” and “Class C” suspects, unlike the 28 notorious “Class A” military and political leaders prosecuted at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. As compared to the Tokyo and Nuremberg Trials, according to Ms. Lim, “the class B and C war crimes trials are relatively under-researched and lesser-known” even within Singapore…