The question is therefore not whether the state should be able to kill, but when. One of the most controversial executions in American history was in 1946, when Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita of Japan was hanged for war crimes committed by his men during World War II.
Yamashita’s men were guilty of summarily executing prisoners — an indisputable and horrific atrocity. But Yamashita wasn’t accused of ordering such actions; rather, under the principal of “command responsibility,” he was punished for failing in his duty as commander to prevent them.
He faced death honorably, even voicing respect for his old foes, whose court-appointed attorneys unsuccessfully appealed Yamashita’s case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I have had good treatment and kindness from your good-natured officers, who protected me all the time,” Yamashita said at the gallows. “I never forget for what they have done for me even if I have died. I don’t blame my executioner. I’ll pray the gods bless them.”
Justin Vernold is a copy editor at The Daily Star. Contact him at email@example.com.