Japan’s Arlington

Defenders of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine inevitably compare the shrine with America’s Arlington National Cemetary.

Yasukuni enshrines the spirits of all of Japan’s war dead. Reporters tend to misunderstand what that means. Yasukuni does not contain the actual remains of these people, instead it contains a number of large scrolls on which the names of the dead are ritually inscribed, allowing the shrine to be a vehicle through which prayers and offerings can be given to the spirits of the dead.

While Yasukuni’s rolls contain the names of over 2.5 million deceased soldiers, the controversy stems from the 1068 convicted war criminals honored in the shrine, particularly the 14 class A war criminals whose names were secretly added to the list of souls honored by the shrine in 1978. Clearly, Yasukuni’s official policy is to allow the enshrinement of any former soldier or military official, regardless of the crimes that they have committed.

How does this actually compare with Arlington’s policy?

A recent and ongoing stink over Arlington’s acceptance of a convicted murder reminds me of the Yasukuni controversy. This Washington Post article on the Arlington scandal gives us some insight into their policy. The most important bits are highlighted.

Although Wagner’s criminal history came as a surprise to the cemetery, his crimes do not necessarily exclude him from an Arlington burial.

“A capital crime and being sentenced to life in prison without parole, or a death sentence, would preclude him from being buried in Arlington,” Calvillo said. Anything lesser would not.

According to a spokeswoman at the Washington County judiciary, Wagner was eligible for parole.

Furthermore, as someone who served on active duty in the armed forces and was honorably discharged, he was eligible for a “standard” burial there
(for “full” honors — including a band, a caisson and a military escort — more stringent requirements have to be met). For an Army private first class, as Wagner was, pallbearers for his service would have been provided by the 3rd Infantry at Fort Myer.

The cemetery does not do background checks on those buried there, Calvillo said, adding that it is up to their families to share such information. Wagner’s sister could not be located for comment.

In the 1960s, the Department of Defense denied an Arlington burial to a decorated World War II veteran who had been chairman of the New York State Communist Party and had been convicted for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government.

After a three-year legal fight by his family, he was buried at Arlington.

In 1997, Congress passed legislation barring those convicted of capital crimes from being buried in a national cemetery. The law was enacted to preclude any possibility that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, a Persian Gulf War veteran, would be buried at Arlington.

For most convicted criminals, however, there are no restrictions.

So does this mean that others among the 290,000 people buried in the cemetery could be convicted killers?

“It is definitely a possibility,” Calvillo said. “If you’re eligible, you’re eligible.”

Of the 14 Class A war criminals, 7 of them were executed by hanging and 4 were sentenced to life imprisonment. One was sentenced to a term of 20 years, and two died of natural causes before sentencing.

It would seem that even if Yasukuni operated under Arlington’s rules, 3 of the 14 Class A war criminals would still be eligible for honors. It is also worth noting that Arlington’s rules became significantly more stringent in 1997. In 1978, when the 14 were enshrined in Yasukuni, there were no comparable rules in place, and it seems none of the 1068 war criminals would have been turned away. Of course, this is based on civilian convictions. Does anybody know how convictions by military courts affect a soldier’s right to burial at Arlington?

3 thoughts on “Japan’s Arlington”

  1. This still misses the basic point — who decides who a war criminal is? America has had no one else choose who its criminals are. A few unlucky countries — Japan, Germany, Chile, Serbia — have had their heads of state brought to trial in so-called courts of international law.

    Not to overstate my point, which has been made plenty of times at ComingAnarchy.com, but had the US lost the war, Truman et al would have been put on trial and executed. Had Andrew Jackson been a general and president in the 20th century, not the 19th, the Trail of Tears would have made him a criminal, not one of our all-time top heads of state. And were the US to have some of its war dead buried in Arlington brought up on war crimes charges in Germany or Belgium (not so far-fetched — also see ComingAnarchy.com), we’d be far more obstinant in our opposition to other countries meddling in our business than Japan is about Yasukuni.

  2. Curzon, do you think that a US loss in World War 2 would have led to a fullscale invasion of the continental US? It may make a good story, but there was no way it was going to happen. At worst we would have negotiated a truce with Japan that let them keep all their colonies and continue exploiting Asia. Nazi Germany is of course a different story…

    As for your main point- very few people actually defend those who were charged and/or executed in any of those tribunals. The arguments against them are all based around concepts of international criminal law that are vague at best. Does that mean that former Nazis or Japanese Imperial fascists didn’t deserve the punishment they got?

    Still, it is worth having an airtight criminal conviction, the legitimacy of which will stand up to history and avoid being turned into a propaganda tool for later generations of villians. This is why I actually believe that the decision to try Saddam Hussein in an Iraqi court, and not a US military or other form of international tribunal, was one of the very few genuinely good policy decisions made in the implementation of that particular campaign.

  3. And Curzon, I have NO idea why your comments always get held up in moderation. Maybe there’s some kind of spam white-list I can put your address in…

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