America’s attorney general has angered many Japanese by comparing the killing of Osama Bin Laden to its WWII assassination of Japanese national hero and Pearl Harbor planner Admiral Yamamoto.
In the case of Bin Laden’s killing, the circumstances are still murky – accounts conflict and are shrouded in secrecy, but they tend to agree that a team of US Navy Seals assaulted Bin Laden’s hideout without the knowledge of the Pakistani government, and proceeded to kill (or spirit away secretly) everyone in the compound, most importantly an unarmed but “resisting” Bin Laden.
His body was then secretly buried at sea, with forensic evidence and photographs of his corpse kept under wraps.
Critics of the legality of Bin Laden’s killing liken it to an extra-judicial assassination or execution, and accuse the US government of either making no effort to capture and bring to trial the terrorist, or of deliberately setting out only to eliminate him.
Such criticisms have been voiced by a variety of notables, ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury to a German former head of state, as well as the expected slew of human rights lawyers.
Whilst it seems likely the vast majority considers his killing thoroughly justified irrespective of what a bunch of lily-livered lawyers say, the US is at least ostensibly a nation of laws and so America’s top cop, Attorney General Eric Holder, is at pains to offer a legal justification for the killing anyway:
“He was the head of al Qaeda, an organisation that had conducted the attacks of September the 11th.
The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self-defence.
It’s lawful to target an enemy commander in the field. We did so, for instance, with regard to Yamamoto in World War II, when he was shot down in a plane.”
He rather spoils the pretense by arguing that the team would be justified in killing him even if he did try to surrender, however:
“There would be a good basis on the part of those very brave Navy SEAL team members to do what they did in order to protect themselves and the other people who were in that building.”
Since he would in any case have certainly been executed after a trial, the end result would likely have been the same, but the unfortunate if accurate image of the US government as a body which freely orders assassinations and torture in pursuit of its interests might have been lessened.
However, the mention of Yamamoto’s assassination quickly inflamed many Japanese – he is one of the few wartime Japanese leaders to retain any standing, having been killed in an actual battle rather than at his own hands or those of an American executioner, and prior to any catastrophic defeat.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was a WWII admiral largely responsible for planning the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, who, despite being familiar with the US and considering victory against them an impossibility, went along with the leadership anyway, in the best Japanese traditions of blind obedience whilst engaged in a pointless endeavour.
He was later killed in the air by a US Air Force assassination operation (“Operation Vengeance”) specifically ordered by President Roosevelt.
Comparing the killing of a terrorist to that of Japan’s most feted admiral is evidently too much for some:
“Why can’t America get over Pearl Harbor? They destroyed the Imperial Japanese Navy and burnt hundreds of thousands of civilians, that should be enough. But they still aren’t satisfied?”
“This is what the top US lawyer says about it? America is looking more and more like Nazi Germany these days…”
“Just come out and say ‘everything America does is right’!”
“The US is killing innocents itself!”
“The great post-war butcher nations – America, China, USSR, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda.”
“The glorification of Yamamoto is a bit much. He may have been against the war, but he was more a politician than a commander, an opportunist bureaucrat. You wouldn’t like him.”
“And they gave Obama the Nobel Prize.”
“So wasn’t 9/11 legal as well then?”
“Comparing Yamamoto and Bin Laden is taking things a bit far.”
“It might have been legal to kill Yamamoto, but for Laden it probably was not. For the US army to just secretly go into Pakistan and kill someone is hardly respecting their sovereignty.”
“You dumb yanks are getting ahead of yourselves. A terrorist and an imperial military commander are two totally different things.”
“I get what they are saying but there is no need to pick a fight with Japan.”
“Does anyone still believe the US government didn’t know about Pearl Harbor beforehand?”
“If you’re just going to execute unarmed men through trials anyway I don’t see much difference.”
“The ones who called it that were the Japanese government. There’s no way they really think of us as friends.”
“And America nuked and firebombed hundreds of thousands of civilians and that is right! Well, if you are the victors you can say what you like.”
“Comparing some spineless idiot of a general to Bin Laden is OK I suppose.”
“You guys are way off. Killing Bin Laden like that probably is illegal, but it’s only natural for them to have killed Yamamoto.”
“He was reconnoitring the front, of course he should expect risk there.”
“Just once I’d like to see those damn yanks have their cities bombed. Keep at it Al-Qaeda.”
“They don’t even mean it as an insult, the fact that they just come out and say that just shows how much contempt they have for Japan.”
“Doesn’t that excuse justify all acts of revenge though?”
“This is all the fault of those dirty Koreans enlisting American support.”
“It’s not like all Americans think this, what are you idiots on about?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t say this in front of the Americans, but amongst Japanese blaming them seems OK.”
“This isn’t just some American guy, this is their attorney general saying this.”
“Al-Qaeda are the proper successors to the Kamikaze special units!”
“It’s good that they killed Bin Laden. It’s the obvious thing to do. They should just come out and say they set out to kill him and stop all this rambling legal crap about Yamamoto.”
“The USA goaded Japan into attacking it by leaving Pearl Harbor open to attack, so it could get into the war – that should be common knowledge.”
“They are picking a fight with Japan by comparing Yamamoto to him?”
“As if they are. Who picks a fight with domesticated animals?”
“If you look at America now, they are so powerful you’d have to prepared to do anything if you wanted to harm them.
Pearl Harbor was like that. They felt their only chance was to deliver a critical hit to a slumbering foe and then force them to the peace table while they had the advantage.”
“Even an American can tell that comparing a terrorist leader to the military commander of a nation with which you are at war is misguided at best.”
“This is harsh, and just after Operation Tomodachi too…”
“They just squandered all the goodwill from Tomodachi…”