Iwane Matsui (松井 石根, Matsui Iwane, July 27, 1878 – December 23, 1948) was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army and the commander of the expeditionary force sent to China in 1937. He was convicted of war crimes and executed by the Allies for his involvement in the Rape of Nanking.
Born in Nagoya, Matsui chose a military career and served in combat during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). He volunteered for an overseas assignment there shortly after graduating from the Army War College in 1906. As Matsui rose through the ranks, he earned a reputation as the Japanese Army's foremost expert on China, and he was an ardent advocate of pan-Asianism. He played a key role in founding the influential Greater Asia Association.
Matsui retired from active duty in 1935 but was called back into service in August 1937 at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War to lead the Japanese forces engaged in the Battle of Shanghai. After winning the battle Matsui succeeded in convincing Japan's high command to advance on the Chinese capital city of Nanjing. The troops under his command who captured Nanjing on December 13 were responsible for the notorious Nanjing Massacre.
Matsui finally retired from the army in 1938. Following Japan's defeat in World War II he was convicted of war crimes at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) and executed by hanging. He and other convicted war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine in 1978, an act that has stirred controversy.
Role in the Nanjing Massacre
Matsui and his staff officers in the CCAA had been especially intent on ensuring that the property and citizens of third party nations were not harmed in order to avoid causing an international incident; they had foreseen the possibility that their troops might disobey orders upon entering Nanjing, as many of them were poorly disciplined reservists. To forestall this possibility, Matsui tacked a lengthy addendum entitled "Essentials for Assaulting Nanjing" onto the comprehensive operational orders that he passed down to all units on December 7.
In "Essentials" Matsui instructed each of his divisions to only allow one of their regiments into the city itself in order to reduce the Japanese Army's contact with Chinese civilians, and he reminded all his subordinates that criminal acts such as looting or arson would be severely punished, though in the court martial ledger for December 20, Matsui, taking note of raping and looting incidents, wrote that 'the truth is that some such acts are unavoidable'. Ultimately, Matsui's orders were again disobeyed. Most of the buildings and civilian homes outside Nanjing had been burned down by the Chinese Army to deprive the Japanese of shelter, so Matsui's subordinate commanders decided on their own that they had no choice but to station all their men within the city itself.
Nevertheless, Matsui's instructions said nothing about treatment of Chinese POWs. Matsui inadvertently contributed to the atrocity in a major way when he demanded on December 14 that his triumphal entrance into Nanjing be scheduled for the early date of December 17. At the time his subordinates in Nanjing objected because they were still in the process of scrambling to apprehend all the former Chinese soldiers hiding in the city and had no facilities in which to hold them. Regardless, Matsui held firm, and in many cases his men responded to the conundrum by ordering that all their prisoners be executed immediately after capture. Most of the large-scale massacres that took place within Nanjing occurred in the days immediately prior to Matsui's entrance into the city.
On December 16 Matsui spent the day recovering from his malaria at the Tangshuizhen hot springs east of Nanjing, and then the next day he rode into Nanjing itself at the head of a large victory parade. It is not clear to what extent Matsui was aware of the atrocities perpetrated in Nanjing. His former Chief of Staff in the SEA later testified that Matsui had been informed of "a few cases of plunder and outrage" shortly after entering the city, and Matsui's own field diary also mentions being told that Japanese troops had committed acts of rape and looting. Matsui commented in his field diary, "The truth is that some such acts are unavoidable." When a representative from the Japanese Foreign Ministry came to investigate the matter, Matsui admitted that some crimes had occurred and he blamed his subordinate commanders for allowing too many soldiers into the city in violation of his orders. After the war, Matsui's aide-de-camp Yoshiharu Sumi claimed that not long after the capture of Nanjing Matsui caught wind of a plan by some of his subordinates to massacre Chinese POWs and upon hearing of this he immediately put a stop to it. However researchers have since discovered that Sumi's testimony contained a large number of inaccuracies.
Matsui left Nanjing on December 22 and returned to Shanghai, though reports of scandalous incidents perpetrated by Japanese soldiers in Nanjing continued to filter in to his headquarters over the following month. When Matsui returned to Nanjing on February 7, 1938, for a two-day tour he assembled his subordinates, including Prince Asaka and Heisuke Yanagawa, and harangued them for failing to prevent "a number of abominable incidents within the past 50 days".
Trial and execution
On April 29, 1946, Iwane Matsui became one of twenty-eight individuals formally indicted before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), a tribunal established by the Allies of World War II to try Japanese war criminals. The prosecution charged Matsui with Class A war crimes or "crimes against peace", alleging that he had participated in a conspiracy to wage aggressive war against other countries, and also with Class B/C war crimes or "conventional war crimes", alleging that he was responsible for the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 to 1938.
On the night of December 22, 1948, Matsui met fellow condemned inmates Hideki Tojo, Akira Muto, and Kenji Doihara at the prison chapel. As the oldest member of the group, Matsui was asked to lead them in shouting three cheers of banzai to Emperor Hirohito. Then he led the group up to the gallows where they were all hanged simultaneously shortly after midnight on the morning of December 23, 1948.