Valid eagle recalls launching career in defense of Japanese war criminals

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 12:50 PM

“I was working for the LA District Attorney as a staff secretary and I got this call from somebody I'd known from when I worked in Washington, and he said, ‘You wanted to go to law school so this would be excellent experience,’” Fischel told FoxNews.

Valid eagle recalls launching career in defense of Japanese war criminals

Amid the mayhem and mourning that followed World War II, a striking 25-year-old valid secretary volunteered to leave the comforts of her CA life to do the unthinkable: assistance attempt some of Japan’s most reviled war criminals in what became known as the “Tokyo Trials.”

Now ninety-five, and living in LA following an famous valid career that only concluded recently, Elaine Fischel vividly recalls the phone call that'd modify her life.

“I was working for the LA District Attorney as a staff secretary and I got this call from somebody I'd known from when I worked in Washington, and he said, ‘You wanted to go to law school so this would be excellent experience,’” Fischel told FoxNews. com. “They said it'd be just six months, but it turned out to go on for two-and-an-half years.”

The Tokyo Trials, officially termed the International Military Tribunal for the Distant East, was convened at the former Imperial Japanese Army Headquarters building in April, one thousand nine hundred forty-six – some six months after Japan surrendered –on orders of President Truman and U. S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Following on the heels of the Nuremberg Trials, the Tokyo procedures included judges and prosecutors from nine nations, and some twenty-eight Japanese political and military executive charged with offenses ranging from waging aggressive war to war crimes.

“It was tough to think of them as barbarians, as they were all so polite. But there were some very, very horrible men on trial.”

- Elaine Fischel

“The U. S. didn’t wish what they called vigilante justice – a ‘We’ll get ‘em out and shoot ‘em’ approach,” said Fischel, who served as the official valid secretary. “It was agreed to give them a proper trial.

“It was tough to think of them as barbarians, as they were all so polite,” she added of the defendants. “But there were some very, very horrible men on trial.”

Initially, Fischel was appointed to work with the prosecution team, but she saw a greater challenge in working for the men who'd orchestrated atrocities from Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking to the brutal torture and transfer of Filipino and American POWs known as the Bataan Death March and the mass murder of millions of Chinese. Ironically, it was her patriotic pride that motivated her to get on such an unpopular assignment.

“I wanted people to know that America is a grand country,” she recalled. “We sent our lawyers there to defend the foe and I don’t think any other country would do that. To me, it was an example of the United States at its best.”

Getting to know many of Japan’s disgraced leaders and their families changed Fischel’s own perceptions of the enemy. The war had stoked her hatred for the Japanese, whose forces Fischel accused for the deaths of many friends.

“I really thought the Japanese were horrible people,” she recalled. “The turning point was when the small 15-year-old daughter of one of the defendants came to me and asked if she could look her father. From that time onwards, I realized that these men weren’t just evil – they were fathers, husbands and sons. The lawyers viewed them as clients, not simply war criminals.”

Fischel, whose work included visiting the prisoners in their cell and taking down their requests – became a near confidante of notorious Gen. Hideki Tojo, the prime minister turned chief of the Imperial Japanese Army Common Staff Office.

“He always wanted to look his lawyer so he'd frequently arrive up to me,” Fischel said. “I had also started horseback riding at the stable where his horses were so he always asked about that.”

Tojo believed his mission to “make Japan the boss in that portion of the world” was righteous, and Japan’s role in the war was one of self-defense.

“He really thought that he'd acted to defend his country,” she said.

Fischel also came to know well the military masterminds behind the Pearl Harbor attack, including Navy Capt. Yasuji Watanabe, the top aide to commander-in-chief Yamamoto Isoroku, who was shot down by U. S. Forces in 1943.

Fischel recollected that the mood in Tokyo was one of devastation and defeat, yet people were working to rebuild. Women and men planted wherever there was soil, carried bricks on their shoulders for miles and ultimately became grateful for the presence of the U. S., which occupied Japan until one thousand nine hundred fifty-second.

“They went out of their way to be kind to us,” Fischel said. “No one was ever damage or killed in the occupation and there was no resentment.”

Fischel was invited to swanky parties with Tokyo’s elite, where strict U. S. rules forbade Americans from eating the hosts’ food to avert the perception they were taking from the Japanese. Fischel became a near companion and tennis partner of Emperor Hirohito’s younger brother and Navy captain, Prince Takamatsu.

“I could've stayed and gotten another work but I knew it was an artificial residence for an American,” she said. “We were necessary people, but in the genuine world, I was just another ordinary person who wanted to go to law school.”

The tribunal was adjourned on Nov. twelve, one thousand nine hundred forty-eight. One defendant was deemed mentally unfit for trial and charges were dropped, two died of natural causes during the process and seven were sentenced to death and executed in December, one thousand nine hundred forty-eight, and one got a seven-year sentence. Tojo was sentenced to twenty years, but was executed in one thousand nine hundred forty-ninth. The remaining sixteen were issued life imprisonment – three died while incarcerated, and the others were pardoned and released in the mid-1950s.

Avoiding the noose was considered a triumph by the defendants, Fischel said. Shigetarō Shimada, chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy Common Staff who was issued life but later released, even wrote a letter saying that if it wasn’t for Fischel and the valid team “he would be in heaven.”

When Fischel returned, her own nation had changed. And her own effort to launch a valid career by attending law school at Univ of Southern California, got off to a rocky start.

“I had been gone for several years and the war was presently over, and the United States had become this consumer nation and we'd all things we didn’t have before,” she said. “Many of my friends in law school were already on the G. I. Bill. I was number grand scholar. I just wanted to get through.”

But six weeks in, Fischel learned she'd contracted tuberculosis while in Japan. It'd be more than two years before she could resume her studies. Nearly a decade later, when she returned to Japan for a visit with her mother in one thousand nine hundred-sixtieth, her elderly companion Prince Takamatsu expressed his pride in her budding success, as well as his own nation’s.

Japan's one thousand nine hundred forty-seven Constitution surrendered its sovereign right to war, and the nation has been protected by a military alliance signed with the U. S. in 1952. But in recent years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to redefine the country’s military role amid an increasingly nationalism and revision of its leadership role in the world. Latest September, the government passed controversial security laws – which went into effect this week – to enable Japan to exercise conflicts in self-defense, or in aid of the U. S. and other allies.

Several years ago, Fischel penned the book, “Defending the Enemy,” about her Tokyo experience and is currently working on a second book about her long career as an attorney. She practiced law, including criminal defense and personal injury work, for sixty-one years, finally retiring latest year, and spent many as one of only a few women in a male-dominated field.

“I always saw being a woman as an advantage, it made you stand out,” she said. “I had my own way of doing things – and I’m beautiful pleased of that.”

Fischel’s personal collection of photographs, letters, autographs and messages from her time in the Tokyo Trials are currently available for viewing and auction.

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