USS California Sinking at Pearl Harbor
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), informally known as the Tokyo War Crimes trial, lasted two and a half years, from April 29, 1946, to November 12, 1948. In contrast, the far better known international Nuremberg Trial lasted a little less than a year.  Established to try Japanese officials involved with perpetrating World War II, the IMTFE set a greater precedence for international law than Nuremberg yet is relatively under-studied in comparison.

The University of Virginia Law Library provides a new portal to investigate the IMTFE through the Frank S. Tavenner, Jr., Tokyo War Crimes Trial Collection.  Over 20,000 pages housed in 26 boxes comprise this archive of Tavenner’s personal papers regarding the International Prosecution Section (IPS) of the IMTFE.  Charged with prosecuting 28 accused Japanese individuals, the IPS carefully constructed legal arguments to prove war criminal acts. Tavenner, serving as the Acting Chief Prosecutor during the time Joseph B. Keenan was in the United States, acted as a leader in the development of the prosecution’s case.

Prosecution team in Washington, DC

Few other institutions own such extensive, well-organized collections regarding the IMTFE.  In addition to the Frank S. Tavenner Collection, we hold two other collections from the Prosecution side, the Roy L. Morgan and C. J. Phelps papers, and one from the Defense team, the G. Carrington Williams papers.  In the post-war era, Tavenner and these other individuals sat at a unique crossroads in the development of international legal standards. 

Our digitization efforts seek to bring these legal documents to life by amplifying their resonance through synthetic exhibits.  Our aim is to reach legal scholars, researchers and general-interest users by creating a unique “documents+” experience.  Scholars now have access to these primary documents to investigate legal precedence for the international criminal court while general users can learn more about this important but under-studied tribunal.

Update: Our exhibit now includes materials from the David Nelson Sutton Collection. This addition signals an important collaboration between the Virginia Historical Society (who owns the Sutton Papers) and the Virginia Law Library. More Sutton papers will be added as they are digitized.