Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal – Two Sides to the Trial: The Defense

“… I am fighting for a human life. The life of a hated enemy but nevertheless a life,” wrote John G. Brannon on November 25, 1947 in a letter to his brother Bernard.  John Brannon had arrived in Tokyo, May 17th, 1946, about five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was an American attorney from Kansas City, Missouri, appointed by MacArthur to defend Class A Japanese war criminal Osami Nagano, Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff, in his trial before the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. 

The Law Library’s Special Collections has recently acquired over 150 letters written by John Brannon to his brother over a period of 3 years (1946-1949), along with numerous photographs, manuscripts and two 16mm films (John G. Brannon Papers).  It is a collection teeming with fervent American patriotism, Truman politics and personal reflections of a transitional time in world history.  In his letters, Brannon discusses and describes:  Japanese culture, his defense strategies, the Tribunal, the Defense team, mounting U.S. tension with Russia, and the stigma attached to American attorneys defending the enemy after the war in the Pacific.  His writing is a vibrant personal view of the inner workings of, and politics behind, an important historic and international trial.   

The George Yamaoka Collection is also part of the Law Library’s Special Collections holdings.  George Yamaoka, a graduate of Georgetown Law class of 1928, was also one of the select group of American attorneys appointed by General MacArthur in 1945 to help in the defense of those Japanese accused of war crimes.  His collection contains Tribunal proceeding transcripts and a multitude of defense documents and exhibits from both the Prosecution and the Defense, among other interesting items.  Despite the circumstances, the Defense’s zeal and passion toward “the preservation of international justice” is a testament to past, present and future lawyers. (Brannon Papers, November 14, 1947) The John G. Brannon Papers and the George Yamaoka Collection are well worth a look.  They are open for research and finding aids are available online.

Search Our Collections

For more information on the manuscript collections contact Special Collections at 202/661-6602, email or online at . 

Share or Save: