Saturday, August 28, 2010

My take on: Defending the Enemy

I wasn't alive on December 7, 1941, but I know it was an important day in history. The bombing of Pearl Harbor has been talked and written about for decades, but what about the people who were responsible for it. I tried to think back to what I was taught, but all I can remember is that the Japanese military had a part in it. Elaine B. Fischel played a part in defending Japanese war criminals, and her book Defending the Enemy takes you inside the trial.

In the spring of 1946, the 25-year-old Fischel left her family in California, embarking on the long journey to Tokyo. The young secretary found herself on this journey under the guise of possibly becoming a court reporter. Instead, Fischel found herself working as a stenographer for the prosecution--an unglamourous and unfulfilling position at the time. Spending her days typing, didn't appeal to her. Fischel came to Japan with hatred for the defendants, but when the chance came to work as a secretary for the defense, she embraced it. Working for the defense offered the chance to do more meaningful work.

American and Japanese attorney were assigned to the case. American attorneys were assigned to appear as if the defendants were getting the best defense possible, but the courts made attempts to thwart their efforts, even accusing them of being too passionate. After all where is their sense of loyalty?

Fischel's loyalty is questioned by her own family. Fischel and her mother wrote letters to each other throughout her two and a half years in Japan. Some of her family died as a result of WW II, so how can she defend them. "I came over here after seeing the U.S. cartoons expecting to see 26 monkeys sitting in court and being on trial, and yet there are 26 men up there each with individual personalities and faces."

Part of her understanding came from interaction with the defendants. Fischel learns enough Japanese in order to communicate with her clients better. She socializes with some of the Japanese elite, including Prince Takamatsu, whom she develops a long friendship. Trips to the beach, mountainside, and the homes of the locals were welcome diversions after long hours working with defense attorneys William Logan and John Brannon. Despite the internal conflicts Fischel knew she was a part of something special.  Working on the case reinforced her desire to go to law school.

It's always good to learn a little history. There are legal documents, articles and pictures dispersed throughout the book, which helps the reader see Japan through Fischel's eyes. Despite the heavy subject matter, the book doesn't get bogged down in legal lingo. She was just a young woman trying to make the most of her situation. Fischel's account brings humanity to a disturbing subject matter.

Rating: Give it a try

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. To learn more about the book and author Elaine B. Fischel, visit:

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