1947: Yoshio Tachibana, ravenous

Add comment September 24th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Japanese Imperial Army Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana was hanged as a war criminal.

A career officer whose own star rose along with Japan’s empire, Tachibana (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was one of the youngest generals on the squad and had command of the garrison on Chichijima, a Pacific island that’s part of the same archipelago as Iwo Jima.

According to Timothy Maga* evidence at the subsequent war crimes trials portrayed a monstrous pattern of routine murder of POWs and even a “cannibalism craze” driven by the unchecked sadism of Tachibana and some of his fellow officers.

Tachibana had beheaded his victim before the feast. Human flesh, he had boasted to his men, toughened him up, making him ‘strong for battle’. The Tachibana trial was truly an amazing spectacle, although it never received the press attention of less disturbing cases in Tokyo. The prosecution even charged that Tachibana’s example influenced young officers in his command, creating a certain reign of horror on Chichi Jima throughout late 1944 and early 1945. Yet finding ‘smoking gun’ evidence against Tachibana was difficult, and Rear-Adm. Arthur Robinson who presided in this case demanded evidence rather than damning tales. In August 1946, a team went to Chichi Jima and scoured the island. They found the bodies of eight of Tachibana’s victims. The torture, murder and cannibalism accusations against Tachibana numbered in the hundreds, but there was little left to prove any of them. Fourteen of Tachibana’s junior officers had been similarly charged, but, in the madness that was Chichi Jima, it was also difficult to assign specific murders to specific individuals …

Capt. Hiro Kasuga, who was briefly on Chichi Jima while en route to Tokyo near the end of the war, told the commission that one of the first things he saw on the island was several American POWs tied to stakes near Tachibana’s headquarters. All were starving, and, at one point, he dared to give one of the men a rice cake and water. The confusion of an American air raid had permitted him this action, for Tachibana, Kasuga learned, tortured all POWs in his keeping … he saw only one American servicman live longer than a couple of weeks on Chichi Jima. That soldier, Kasuga testified, had a decent command of the Japanese language, and Tachibana used him to translate American radio broadcasts. The wireless operator bayoneted him after ‘he was no longer of any use’, and Tachibana commended this subordinate for his action. Kasuga claimed that Tachibana and his officers regarded ‘human life of no more value than an old post at a dusty crossroads’. He said he ‘had been to hell’, and it was Tachibana’s Chichi Jima.

Kasuga’s credibility was in some doubt but corroboration came by way of an amazing character named Fumio Tamamuro. An American of Japanese descent, Tamamuro had the ill luck to be visiting relatives in Japan when the Pearl Harbor bombing abruptly opened war between the countries, and he was drafted into the Japanese army. He’d been under Tachibana’s command on Chichijima at the end of the war.

His testimony was in flawless English. Tamamuro claimed that he had befriended an American POW wireless operator translator. He also claimed to have witnessed the man’s execution, describing in detail the leather jacket and scarf that the victim was wearing at the time. This was critical, for the prosecution had found such a jacket and scarf near a road in Chichi Jima. They also found what was left of a body there, although identification was impossible. Tamamuro described the road and grave site in detail, noting that the victim had been ordered to dig his own shallow grave before the execution. When asked why he needed to be present during this murder, Tamamuro tearfully explained that he had promised his ‘friend’ that he would b there to the end.

The naval facilities and long-range radio there made Chichijima a regular magnet for U.S. bombing raids, which in turn assured a steady supply of captives to abuse courtesy of the island’s anti-aircraft batteries. The eight exhumed bodies referenced above formed the basis of the Tachibana’s eventual hanging, and it is these killings that are known as the Chichijima Incident — even though they might simply have been the latest and best-documented among many similar horrors.

In September 1944, eight downed flyers were captured by Chichijima’s defenders.

In the mischance of war, the Fates deal out good and ill luck by their own inscrutable logic. A ninth flyer might have numbered in this same batch, for he too was downed over Chichijima on the same mission. But 20-year-old Navy Lt. George Herbert Walker Bush bailed out of an exploding bomber, and somehow defied a head injury, the force of the tides, the pursuit of Japanese boats, and the monsters of the deep for a fascinating life that culminated as the 41st U.S. president. In his book about the Chichijima Incident, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, James Bradley sketches the sliding door to an alternate timeline.

He splashed down about four miles northeast of the island and swam to a collapsible yellow one-man life raft dropped from another plane. He inflated it and climbed in. He had no paddles, and the wind was blowing him toward Chichi Jima.

“I could see the island,” Bush told me. “I started paddling with my hands, leaning over the front of the raft, paddling as hard as I could. A Portuguese man-of-war had stung my arm and it hurt. I had swallowed a few pints of water and I was vomiting. My head was bleeding. I was wondering about my crewmen. I was crying. I was twenty years old and I was traumatized. I had just survived a burning plane crash. I was all alone and I was wondering if I’d make it.”

Chichijima’s defenders had seen him go down too, and launched boats for him. The other pilots on the mission, running low on fuel, were able to strafe them away from the chase but as their fuel dwindled they had to abandon him, radioing his situation on to friendly forces.

For what seemed like an eternity, George paddled and hoped and paddled some more. “I had seen the famous photo of the Australian pilot being beheaded,” Bush told me, “and I knew how Americans were treated at Bataan. Yes, I had a few things on my mind.”

But the radio ping fired off by his fellow aviators spared the future president from those fates and worse, summoning for a rescuer the submarine USS Finback.


George Bush being fished out of the drink on September 2, 1944.

* “‘Away from Tokyo:’ the Pacific Islands War Crimes Trials, 1945-1949”, The Journal of Pacific History, June 2001. This book develops the evidence in greater detail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Japan,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Soldiers,Torture,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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2003: Nobody in Illinois

16 comments January 11th, 2009 Headsman

Six years ago today, a scandal-plagued governor of Illinois cleared out the state’s death row.

Republican George Ryan, in a speech two days before the end of his term, announced a mass commutation for anyone under sentence of death in Illinois — 157 people plus 10 others with pending legal challenges to vacated sentences, and four condemned men pardoned outright.

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/George_Ryan_clemency_announcement.flv 300 225]

Once a pro-death penalty legislator, Ryan grew increasingly discomfited with the state’s administration of the error-prone ultimate sanction.

That “demon of error” was dramatically unveiled for Ryan by Anthony Porter, a mentally retarded death row inmate who fortuitously avoided execution by two days on a legal technicality, and was subsequently exonerated by Northwestern University journalism students.

Seen as part of a pattern of wrongful convictions — like that of Rolando Cruz, who was cleared in the early 90’s despite the dogged efforts of then-Attorney General (and present-day quasi-Senator) Roland Burris to execute him in the face of exculpatory DNA evidence.

The governor imposed a moratorium on conducting executions for most of his term, culminating with this day’s controversial (though it did score him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination) announcement. Maybe there’s just something in the water at the Springfield governor’s mansion that attracts its residents to impolitic death penalty interventions.

Successor Rod Blagojevich called Ryan’s blanket clemency “a big mistake”, and his formal continuation of the Ryan moratorium on actual executions has been a dead letter since inheriting a vacant death row meant that no capital case reached the end of its appeals on his watch.

For the favor of sparing Blagojevich the burden of handling a death warrant — although one doesn’t get the sense that Blago is the type for a troubled conscience — George Ryan has been unkindly repaid.

Now residing in federal prison on corruption charges, the ex-governor’s own clemency petition has been complicated by sensational allegations of Blagojevich’s graft.

That petition is addressed to an outgoing executive oppositely inclined on the death row commutation question. Ryan authorized one actual execution early in his term, and spared this day’s host; George W. Bush, his virtual mirror image, has issued one commutation and carried out 155 executions during his time as chief executive of Texas and of the United States.

George Ryan is reportedly skeptical of his prospects for receiving a pardon.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Illinois,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara

26 comments October 9th, 2008 Headsman

As of 1:10 p.m. Bolivia time this date in 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was no longer a man: he was only a god.

The Argentinian-born doctor turned Cuban revolutionary icon and the man who wrote the book on guerrilla warfare had put abroad to foment insurgency. His efforts in the Congo foundered; his bid to replicate the Cuban revolution in Bolivia was doing likewise when he was captured.

After holding him overnight, the government sent a coded order to execute him in the field. Che had done the same thing with his own hands to several who betrayed the Sierra Maestra guerrillas.

Soldier Mario Teran drew the short straw for a footnote to destiny; when he hesitated, Che chastised him with the legendary parting words “that someone invented or reported”:

“Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man.”

Maybe so, but the man looked Christ-like when they put his body on display for the press. As certain as they made his death, still Che lives.

CIA asset (and George Bush Sr. confidante) Felix Rodriguez took his watch as a trophy. The rest of Che Guevara belongs to the world.*

This site could hardly attempt a definitive rendering of such a towering and controversial figure, a task fit for two, three, many biographies.

Lengthy video documentaries are here and here. Many of Che’s own words are collected here. Declassified U.S. National Security Archive documents relating to his capture and death are here.

And highly recommended is SovMusic.ru’s huge library of Che Guevara mp3 files — like this Francesco Guccini song:

[audio:Che_Guevara_Francesco_Guccini.mp3]

“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”

-Che Guevara

* Especially, of course, its marketers.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Bolivia,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Executioners,Famous,Famous Last Words,Guerrillas,History,Infamous,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Myths,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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