1946: Takashi Sakai

2 comments September 30th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1946, Japan Gen. Takashi Sakai was shot by the World War II Allies at Nanking for war crimes.

Fifty-eight years old at his death, Sakai had built his career in the 1920s and 1930s manning various commands in the occupation of China.

Hours after Japan struck the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, Sakai commenced an attack on Hong Kong, then under British control but defended with only a token force that had no odds against the Japanese.

Sakai’s forces committed numerous summary executions and other cruelties on troops captured from the overwhelmed garrison before Hong Kong finally surrendered on Christmas Day.

The whole operation was much more protracted and difficult than Japan had anticipated and perhaps as a result Sakai was relieved of responsibility for the (similarly brutal) occupation of Hong Kong, and eased into retirement back on the mainland.

His next visit to China would occur under very different circumstances — where he would find himself obliged to dissociate himself from the atrocities that his men had authored in the capture of the city. His war crimes tribunal was not impressed.

The Tribunal dismissed the accused’s plea that he could not be held responsible for the above violations because they were perpetrated by his subordinates and he had no knowledge of them. The Tribunal’s findings were as follows:

That a field Commander must hold himself responsible for the discipline of his subordinates, is an accepted principle. It is inconceivable that he should not have been aware of the acts of atrocities committed by his subordinates … All the evidence goes to show that the defendant knew of the atrocities committed by his subordinates and deliberately let loose savagery upon civilians and prisoners of war.

The principle that a commander is responsible for the discipline of his subordinates, and that consequently he may be held responsible for their criminal acts if he neglects to undertake appropriate measures or knowingly tolerates the perpetration of offences on their part, is a rule generally accepted by nations and their courts of law in the sphere of the laws and customs of war.

(Conversely, Sakai’s attempt to cite superior orders as defense against charges for his part in initiating the war also got short shrift. So in terms of the chain of command, he got it coming and going.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1891: The Namoa pirates

5 comments May 11th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1891, Chinese authorities beheaded 15 at Kowloon, including the leaders of the then-notorious Namoa pirates.

They were nicknamed for the steamer they had infamously commandeered six months before. The tale is related by an English maritime official’s orientalist (and now public-domain) memoir, The Mystic Flowery Land:

The most daring and disastrously successful piracy of late years … was the “Namoa” piracy in 1890. The startling news of this outrage created a general feeling of unsafety and consternation among the foreign communities in China, mingled with grief and just resentment for the cold-blooded murder of Captain Pocock and Mr. Petersen, both most popular and respected men, the latter being a member of the Customs Service.

On Sunday, the 3rd of December, 1890, the Douglas, Lapraik, and Co‘s coasting steamer, “Namoa,” commanded by my late most esteemed friend Capt. Pocock,* left Hongkong at noon, bound on her usual trip up the coast to Swatow, Amoy, and Foochow with several European and a large number of Chinese passengers, most of the latter being Fuhkien people returning to their native homes after many years absence in the United States and California, each with his little hoard of hard-earned dollars, gained by a small lifetime of frugal toil and self-denial in a distant land. These poor men were nearing their well-remembered haunts of earlier days, to once more spend among the relations and friends of their youth the fast-approaching New Year.

Several Chinese passengers [during the voyage] came up out of the main between-decks and walked about for some minutes in a seemingly aimless manner; then others emerged from the hatch, until there were between forty and fifty on deck — some forward near the hatchway leading down to the junior officers’ mess, others near the bridge ladder and entrance to engine-room and stokehole, and the rest at the main hatchway, saloon entrances and after skylight.

Suddenly, at a given signal, off came their loose outer garments, and these harmless-looking passengers were armed men; each with a cutlass and two revolvers in hand, and at their appointed stations.

The ship was now entirely in the hands of the pirates, whose leader placed one of the gang at the helm, with directions to steer a certain course.

The attack had been planned and carried out with consummate tact and forethought, for the pirates were old hands — desperate scoundrels … two or three ventured below … among their terror-stricken countrymen, and ransacked their luggage, robbing them of their treasured packets of dollars, saved during long and lonesome years of comparative exile and drudgery. Every cent was taken from these poor fellows, who wept in vain, and heart-rending scenes ensued. But the wretches took all.

Then [the European passengers] were all driven into the captain’s little berth, which was barely large enough to hold them all, where they were nearly suffocated.

At this point, the pirates steam off to rendezvous with their confederates, transfer their persons and their booty to the getaway ships, and — after debating whether to burn the Namoa — instead abandon the ship unsunk and the hostages unkilled.

These put the ship to rights and got it back to Hong Kong.

Public indignation was great, and considerable pressure was brought to bear on the Chinese Government to bring the pirates to justice. Skilled foreign and Chinese detectives were sent out on their track, doggedly determined to run these criminals to earth and make them pay the full penalty of their dastardly deeds.

… most, if not all, of these notorious crime-hardened criminals were eventually brought to justice, suffering decapitation outside Kowloon city, the majority of them being executed on Monday, April 17th, 1891, and the remaining nineteen on Thursday, 11th May, of the same year.**

The pirates were such big news that posed photos were taken of their public executions. (Both images are detail views; click for the full picture.)

For some time great precautions were taken by the captains and officers of coasting steamers to search the luggage of all native passengers, and thus guard against a similar catastrophe.

* Captain Thomas Guy Pocock was killed by the pirates, and has a private memorial in Hong Kong Cemetery (aka Happy Valley Cemetery). He left a one-year-old son who died in World War I.

** According to a tome on legal administration in Hong Kong, the pirates were beheaded in batches mixed in with other criminals.

A wholesale execution took place at Kowloon City on the 17th April, 1891, when nineteen pirates were decapitated, thirteen of them for participating in the Namoa and other piracies, and six others for various offences in Chinese territory … on the 11th May fifteen more prisoners were beheaded at Kowloon by the Chinese authorities, amongst the number being six Namoa pirates, including the three leaders of the gang, one of the men being the captain of the junks on board which the pirates put their plunder … One of the leaders decapitated, named Lai A Tsat, was a man whose boldness and cunning in carrying out piracies had long made him a terror both at sea and on shore.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

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1839: An opium merchant

7 comments February 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1839, the Chinese government provocatively beheaded an opium merchant before the European consulates in Canton.

Opium exports from India into China were a lucrative trade for the British Empire* — for those watching the macroeconomic books, it balanced Britain’s costly importation of Chinese tea — but the consequences for China were wealth hemorrhaging overseas and a growing population of addicts.

Qing decrees against the opium trade dated to decades earlier, but the English had simply smuggled the stuff in. Finally, in the late 1830’s, China began to move to enforce its prohibition.

The trading port of Canton — the English name for Guangzhou — under the administration of upright Confucian governor Lin Zexu (alternately transliterated Lin Tse-hsu) would become the tinder box for open war, by which Britain ultimately compelled China by force of arms to accept its unwanted product.

This day’s execution was one small escalation in that conflict.


Lin Zexu supervises the destruction of opium.

Late in 1838, Chinese police initiated drug busts and expelled at least one opium-trading British merchant. The beheading this date was of a Chinese dealer, but unmistakably directed at westerners given its placement before the foreign missions. The consular officials pulled down their flags in protest of the affront.**

But greater provocations were to follow anon, and by year’s end open hostilities were afoot.

The humiliating British victory that ensued forced China to accept Her Majesty’s drug-running … and helped seed domestic agitation that would ultimately undermine China’s decrepit Imperial rule.

* The United States also trafficked opium — primarily lower-quality opium imported from Smyrna, Turkey — into China during this time, on a much smaller scale than Britain. (Source)

** This period would also mark Canton/Guangzhou’s eclipse as a trading port. Britain seized Hong Kong during the Opium Wars and relocated its foreign offices. Most European powers followed suit, making that city the far eastern entrepôt of choice.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,History,Known But To God,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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