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 was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army. He is noteworthy for his role in the invasion and occupation of the Philippinesmarker during World War II. Homma, who was an amateur painter and playwright, was also known as the Poet General.


Biography

Homma was born on Sado Island, in the Sea of Japanmarker off of Niigata Prefecturemarker. He graduated from the 14th class of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1907, and from the 27th class of the Army Staff College in 1915.

Homma had a deep respect for and some understanding of the West, having spent eight years as a military attaché in the United Kingdommarker, including serving in combat in World War I in Francemarker in 1918 with the British Expeditionary Force.

From 1930-1932, Homma was again sent as a military attaché to the United Kingdommarker, where his proficiency in the English language was useful. He was also assigned to be part of the Japanese delegation to the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932 and served with the Press Section of the Army Ministry from 1932-1933. He was given a field command again, as commander of the IJA 1st Infantry Regiment from 1933–1935, and was promoted to command the IJA 32nd Infantry Brigade from 1935-1936.

In 1937, Homma was appointed aide-de-camp to Prince Chichibu, a brother of Emperor Shōwa. With him, he made a diplomatic tour in Europe which ended in Germany. There he attended the Nuremberg rally and met Adolf Hitler, with whom the prince tried to boost relations, following the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936.

With the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Homma was appointed commander of the IJA 27th Division in Chinamarker from 1938-1940 and directed the blockade of the foreign concessions in Tientsinmarker, where he led the negotiations with the British. After the fall of Nanking, he declared publicly that "unless peace is achieved immediately it will be disastrous". Homma was removed from his position at the front lines, and re-assigned to become commander in chief of the Taiwan Army District from 1940-1941. He was promoted to lieutenant general in July 1938.

With the start of the Pacific War, Homma was named commander of the 43,110 man IJA 14th Army and tasked with the invasion of the Philippines. He ordered his troops to treat the Filipinos not as enemies but as friends, and respect their customs and religion. In one instance, on his approach to Manila, Homma stopped his columns and ordered the men to clean up and tighten formations, knowing that unkempt soldiers are more likely to loot and rape.

This liberal approach towards Filipino civilians earned him the enmity of his superior, General Count Hisaichi Terauchi, commander of the Southern Army, who sent adverse reports about Homma to Tokyo from his headquarters in Saigonmarker. There was also a growing subversion within Homma's command by a small group of insubordinates, under the influence of Colonel Tsuji Masanobu. In Homma's name, they sent out secret orders against his policies, including ordering the execution of Filipino Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos and attempted execution of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Manuel Roxas, which Homma found out about in time to stop.

Homma failed to give credence to the possibility that a retreat into Bataan Peninsulamarker by Filipino-American forces might succeed in upsetting the Japanese timetable. By the time he recognized his mistake, his best infantry division had been replaced by a poorly trained reserve brigade, greatly weakening his assault force. Rather than waste his men in furious frontal assaults, he tried to outmaneuver the American forces. This brought criticism from superiors who believed he had been “contaminated” by Western ideas about conserving the lives of his men.

Worried about the stalled offensive in Luzonmarker, Emperor Shōwa pressed Army Chief of Staff Hajime Sugiyama twice on January 1942 to increase troop strength and launch a quick knockout on Bataan. Following these orders, Sugiyama put pressure on Homma to renew his attacks. The resulting Battle of Bataan commencing in January 1942 was one of the most intense in the campaign. However, the deteriorating relationship between Homma and Sugiyama led to the removal of Homma from command shortly after the fall of Corregidor, and he was thereafter commander of the 14th Army in name only.

The Imperial General Headquarters regarded Homma as not aggressive enough in war (resulting in the high cost and long delay in securing the American and Filipino forces' surrender), and too lenient with the Filipino people in peace, and he was subsequently forced into retirement, in August 1943. Homma retired from the military and lived in semi-seclusion in Japan until the end of the war.

Trial

After the surrender of Japan, the American occupation authorities arrested Homma, and he was extradited to the Philippines at the express order of General Douglas MacArthur so that he could be tried by an American military tribunal rather than the International Allied War Crimes Commission tasked with prosecuting Japanese war-time leaders for war crimes connected with starting the war.

Historian Philip Piccigallo said that Homma was convicted of the actions of his men during the march rather than having a direct hand in the actions themselves.

It is not clear whether Homma ordered the atrocities that occurred during the Bataan Death March, but it is clear that his lack of administrative expertise and inability to adequately delegate authority and control his men led to atrocities. After American-Filipino forces surrendered the Bataan Peninsula, Homma turned logistics of handling the estimated 25,000 prisoners to Major-General Yoshitake Kawane. Homma publicly stated that the POWs would be treated fairly. A plan was formulated to transport and march the prisoners to Camp O'Donnellmarker, which Homma approved. However, the plan was severely flawed, as the American and Filipino POWs were starving, weak with malaria, and numbered not 25,000 but 76,000 men– far more than any Japanese plan had anticipated. Additionally, the Japanese thought that the surrender would occur some three weeks later, a point at which supplies would have arrived. In his defense at his trial, Homma also claimed that he was so preoccupied with the plans for the Corregidor assault that he had forgotten about the prisoners’ treatment, believing that his officers were properly handling the matter. He claimed that he did not learn of the atrocity until after the war.

Homma was convicted by the U.S. military tribunal for war crimes in the Philippines, including the Bataan Death March, and the atrocities at O'Donnell and Cabanatuan which followed. Homma's chief defense counsel, John H. Skeen Jr., stated that in his opinion it was a "highly irregular trial, conducted in an atmosphere that left no doubt as to what the ultimate outcome would be." Associate Justice Frank Murphy of the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker protested the verdict, stating: "Either we conduct such a trial as this in the noble spirit and atmosphere of our Constitution or we abandon all pretense to justice, let the ages slip away and descend to the level of revengeful blood purges."

Homma's wife appealed to General MacArthur to spare his life; her pleas were denied, though according to William Manchester in American Caesar, he ordered Homma shot, rather than sent to the gallows, the latter being considered the greater dishonor amongst military men. Homma was executed by firing squad by the Filipino and American forces on 3 April 1946 outside Manila.

Film adaptation

A project about the trial of Masaharu Homma is in development. Titled Beast of Bataan, the project is based on the book A Trial of Generals by Lawrence Eric Taylor. Beast of Bataan is written by Chris Carlson and Mark Jean and produced by Jonathan Sanger and Sarah Black. Carlson and Jen had previously worked on a tv film. Fred Schepisi is attached to direct the film, which is slated to begin production in February 2008. Actor Koji Yakusho is attached to portray Masaharu Homma. Actor Hayden Christensen (who is also a producer) is attached to portray the young lawyer who defends Homma, who is on trial for war crimes as charged by General Douglas MacArthur. Actors Willem Dafoe and William Hurt are in negotiations to join the project.

Footnotes

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