When a book begins with an execution you know that it’s going to be a no holds barred deal. Adam Wakeling’s retelling of the Pacific War Crimes Trials in “Stern Justice” delivers on its promise. This thoroughly researched account not only expresses the events of the trials but discusses the theology behind them and what led to these events, along with Japan’s involvement in World War I. Perhaps the most poignant topic raised throughout the novel is not the atrocities committed in the name of war and country, but the questioning of the fairness of the trials conducted by the Allied forces, the victors of the war.
Born and raised on the east coast of Australia, it is easy to presume that Wakeling would be heavily biased in his account. That is simply not the case. It is also easy to assume that an in-depth and analytical review of the trials and political motivations of the governments of both sides of the fence would be a drag to read. Again, the result of Wakeling’s work denies this statement. “Stern Justice” is a well-paced and surprisingly dynamic read.
Of course, the actions of the Allied Forces are brought into question, the treatment of prisoners of war are described, stories are shared from both Axis and Allied service personnel and the public reactions are painted across the pages of this book. But it was the reasoning behind Japan entering the war, the creation of the mythical bushido code and the decisions of the Allied Forces to not persecute the Emperor, but use him as a tool, to usher in democracy that truly stole my attention. Whilst the Pacific War Crime Trials must surely be remembered as a defining point in Australian history, it is the seemingly lost knowledge of the aforementioned points that truly should be highlighted. The events of World War II didn’t just shape us as a country and nation, it changed everything about Japan; their faith in Emperor and authority, their culture, their viewpoints, their beliefs. All of these were altered throughout the war and continued to be shaped and moulded by Allied Forces during the occupation period.
While it is the trials that Wakeling concentrates on in his writing, it is those points above that continue to circle through my mind.
“Stern Justice” is a novel that will surely appeal to those interested in this period of time and is an insightful and motivating read.
- Ashayla Webster, RSLWA
“Stern Justice” is written by Adam Wakeling and is published by Penguin Books.