An Extract from “Shig”: The Trial

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The miracle of spring and the industry of a still-hungry populace had turned the ruined capital of defeated Japan into a fecund vegetable garden, acres of green slashed with vivid purples, reds, and whites.
    Beans and spinach burst out of thin layers of soil covering the flat roofs of shattered office buildings. Leeks and radishes grew in thousands of wooden barrels that lined the sidewalks. Carrots and squash were planted in pots arranged in rows up fire escapes, and house gardens were choked with eggplants and pumpkin.
In Yokohama, headquarters of the Eighth Army, suspected Class-B and Class-C war criminals were being brought before US military tribunals.
By the end of the proceedings, more than 900 Japanese soldiers and civilians would be convicted on charges of abuse of POWs and atrocities against the civilian populations of countries the Imperial Japanese Empire had occupied. Most were sentenced to imprisonment; fifty-one were executed by hanging.
But the afternoon Buscemi sat down in the spectators’ box at the back of the makeshift courtroom, the proceedings were still in their confused early stages.
The chief judge’s voice was a nasal drone, repeating the same phrases a dozen times during each long day.
Defendant, state your name and rank.
Counsel, inform your client of his rights.
State the charges, Mr. Prosecutor.
Counsel, does your client understand the gravity of those charges?
How does he plead?
Thank you. Dismissed.
    When he heard that final word, “dismissed,” the defendant who was at that moment standing before the three judges shouted in protest and beat his fists on the table until armed MPs converged on him.
The gavel rapped angrily.
    “Counsel, enough now. Inform your client that if he does not stop his hysterics, he will be held in contempt. Just get him out of here. Tell him he’ll have his day. But it is not today.”
The defendant was bodily removed from the courtroom. The judge turned a page of the thick ring binder that lay in front of him to skim the next case. He glanced up to see the young lawyer still sitting at the table.
“You can go, too.”
    “I’m representing the next defendant also, sir.”
    “You’re having a busy day, young man.”
    “Yes, sir.”
The judge took off his glasses to check the lenses for smudges.
    “How old are you, son?”
“Did you fight or were you busy all that time becoming a lawyer?”
“I was in the Navy, sir. Leyte Gulf.”
He blew on each lens and applied his necktie to them.
    “Well, I understand the pressures you’re under, but make it clear to your clients that this is a preliminary hearing. They’ll all get a fair trial.”
    He replaced the glasses on his nose.
     “But if we have another outbreak like the one we just witnessed, I’ll let your client go free and hang you. Understood?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Bring in the next defendant.”
His skin-and-bone frame was lost in oversized prison garb. His face was gaunt, the nose a hooked bone, his hair shorn off. The Army-issue spectacles he had on were held together at one corner by a twist of wire. He was bent over and walked with a prison shuffle, clutching a yellow legal notepad in one hand and a falling-apart dictionary in the other. He put these things on the table and stood to attention.
“You can sit. State your name and rank.”
“Shigeru Yuasa. Lance-Corporal, 309th Kempeitai Unit, stationed in Fukuoka, Kyushu Island, Japan.”
    The chief judge leaned forward and smothered the mike with his hand, setting off a screech.
“The Lance-Corporal may speak Japanese. This tribunal is equipped with translation facilities.”
    Counsel said, “My client insists on using English.”
    “Very well. But don’t fall asleep completely there, young man. Your client may need your assistance somewhere down the road.”
He looked over his glasses at Shig.
“State your military career for the record.”
“I joined the plain-clothed division of the 45th Tokyo Unit of the Kempeitai in 1938 and reached the rank of Assistant Inspector. In 1939, I was transferred to Mukden, assigned to the 111th Unit, uniform division, with the rank of Lance-Corporal. I was transferred again in 1942 to Honkeiko, Liaoning province.
“The next year, I was attached to the 28th Division of the Kwantung Army. In July 1945, I was sent back to Japan and assigned to the 309th Kempeitai Unit in Fukuoka prefecture, where I remained until my arrest in September the same year.”
    “What were your duties in China?”
“With the 111th, my duties included guard duty, curfew patrol, and burial detail. At Honkeiko, I was in charge of labor recruitment. With the 28th Kwangtung Division, for a time, I did law-and-order policing duties of the civilian population.
“Then I was assigned to a POW camp, where I was again a guard. Because of my English skills, I was often used for interpreting duties between the camp authorities and the officer representatives of the American, Australian, Canadian, and British troops being held there.”
“And with the 309th Kempeitai in Fukuoka?”
“For the last month-and-a-half before the surrender, the squad I belonged to was assigned to village and town policing duties.”
The judge turned to a wide and squat white-haired gentleman in a baggy suit.
“Mr. Prosecutor?”
    He rose, brandishing a sheaf of documents in his right hand, which he shook emphatically as he spoke.
“We will detail atrocities committed by the accused against Chinese civilians in Mukden and against Chinese laborers in Liaoning province. We will present to the court affidavits and depositions showing that when he was stationed at the POW camp in China, he engaged in the torture of allied prisoners of war and participated, as interpreter, in Army Medical Services’ vivisection operations done on those same prisoners.”
Shig broke in, loudly.
“I never tortured anybody. I was never involved in medical experiments. I was a guard and an interpreter. That’s all I was.”
The chief judge growled into the mike.
“Slow down there, son. This is a preliminary hearing. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty.”
“I commend you on your English.”
    The gravel rapped.