The Asahi Shimbun@@July 18 2002

  Why wartime documents destroyed

U.S. archives prove willful move to destroy war crimes evidence.

The Japanese military, at the behest of top brass, willfully destroyed piles of official documents soon after Japan's defeat in World War II to throw victors off the scent in anticipation of the ensuing Tokyo war crimes trials.

The Ministry of War, for example, ordered major field headquarters on Aug. 15, 1945-the day Japan surrendered-to burn documents carrying Emperor Hirohito's authorization as well as his photographs. It admonished underlings to perform the task ``with a sense of worship.''

While it has long been known the military destroyed official records, it is extremely rare to find surviving written records from the high command ordering it to be done.

Hirofumi Hayashi, a professor of modern history at Kanto Gakuin University, uncovered the documents at the U.S. National Archives.

They form part of the Far East ``Magic'' summaries of Japanese military communications during the war that had been intercepted and deciphered by the U.S. War Department.

Hayashi heads the research secretariat for the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan's War Responsibility, a group comprising historians, legal experts, writers and ordinary citizens.

According to the summaries, the first order to destroy documents was issued at midnight of Aug. 14. On the afternoon of Aug. 15, after Emperor Hirohito addressed the nation by declaring Japan's surrender in a radio broadcast, the War Ministry ordered secret imperial army documents and other key papers destroyed.

The next day, the Navy Ministry presented a list of documents to commanders that it said should be preserved because they would not be detrimental to Japan even if they fell into the hands of the ``enemy.'' Implicit in the instruction was that everything else should be destroyed.

The summaries show the fleet based in Shanghai on Aug. 20 ordered registers and duty records of high-ranking officers be ``immediately burned.'' It apparently was intended to obscure their assignments, thus throwing up obstacles to moves to pursue their war responsibility.

The Imperial Navy's 23rd base force in Indonesia issued an order Aug. 24, 1945, to destroy equipment prepared for chemical warfare.

Yutaka Yoshida, a professor of modern Japanese history at Hitotsubashi University's graduate school, acknowledged the value of the records, saying: ``Documents that were disadvantageous to Japan were destroyed for fear they would be used to press war crime charges. So, it is extremely rare to find documents that substantiate the attempt.