Year Zero: A History of 1945 by Ian Buruma - review by Alan Allport

Alan Allport

Among the Ruins

Year Zero: A History of 1945


Atlantic Books 368pp £25 order from our bookshop

On 29 October 1945, the Japanese general Yamashita Tomoyuki appeared for the first time before an American military tribunal in Manila to answer charges that he was a war criminal. Yamashita, who had led his troops to victory in the conquest of Malaya and Singapore in 1942 and had later been military commander of the Philippines, was the first senior Japanese officer of the Second World War to be brought to trial by the victorious Allies. It was unfortunate for him that in appearance he matched exactly the crude Western model of the ‘sinister Jap’: short and thickset, he peered out at the tribunal with narrow, squinting eyes. Few commentators thought he stood much of a chance. ‘You couldn’t find a sucker to bet two pesos to 200 on Yamashita’s acquittal,’ wrote the trial reporter for Yank magazine. 

That troops at least nominally under Yamashita’s command had committed atrocities was not in doubt. As liberating US forces approached Manila in February 1945, the defending Japanese garrison had run amok. Tens of thousands of drunken Japanese soldiers and sailors had rampaged through the city, indiscriminately slaughtering every Filipino man,

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