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East Asia’s Postwar Battle over History and Memory – the Hidden Legacy of War Crimes Tribunals

February 15 2024 - Lecture

Conférence de Barak Kushner (Université de Cambridge)

The war crimes tribunals in East Asia formed and cemented national divides that persist into the present day. In 1946 the Allies convened the Tokyo Trial to prosecute Japanese wartime atrocities and Japan’s empire. At its conclusion one of the judges voiced dissent, claiming that the justice found at Tokyo was only « the sham employment of a legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge. »

I argue that war crimes tribunals allow for the history of the defeated to be heard. In contemporary East Asia a fierce battle between memory and history has consolidated political camps across this debate. The Tokyo Trial courtroom, as well as the thousands of other war crimes tribunals opened in about fifty venues across Asia, were legal stages where prosecution and defense curated facts and evidence to craft their story about World War Two. These narratives and counter narratives form the basis of postwar memory concerning Japan’s imperial aims across the region. The archival record and the interpretation of court testimony together shape a competing set of histories for public consumption. This talk offers compelling evidence that despite the passage of seven decades since the end of the war, East Asia is more divided than united by history.

Barak Kushner is Professor of East Asian History and currently Co-Chair of the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge. He has edited several volumes and written three monographs: Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice (Harvard University Press, 2015), winner of the American Historical Association’s 2016 John K. Fairbank Prize; Slurp! A culinary and social history of ramen – Japan’s favorite noodle soup (Brill, 2012), awarded the 2013 Sophie Coe Prize for Food History; and The Thought War – Japanese Imperial Propaganda (Hawaii 2006). His next book is forthcoming from Cornell University Press and titled, The Geography of Injustice: East Asia’s Battle between Memory and History.

Modération : Ken Daimaru

Conférence donnée dans le cadre du programme de recherche Modernité et dépendance dans la sphère asiatique : fictions et réalités du Japon colonial sur le continent (1901-1945)

 Jeudi 15 février de 17h à 18h30
Salle Léon Vandermeersch d’Université Paris Cité (481C, 4e étage, batîment C, 5 rue Thomas Mann, 75013, Paris)