"Let the Commander Respond": The Paradox of Obedience in the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces

Danny Orbach*, Ziv Bohrer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Between 1870 and 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy provided uniquely broad legal protection to subordinates who perpetrated crimes under the orders of military superiors. Legal immunity was provided not only to soldiers who obeyed orders contrary to international law, but also to those who under orders violated domestic standing legislation of the Japanese Army. This gave rise to a so-called "paradox of obedience": while disobedience among officers was rampant, their subordinates were expected to unquestionably obey their orders, even in rebellion against the Japanese government. This mix of blatant disobedience to the system at large on the one hand, and blind obedience to immediate superiors on the other, was a remarkable feature of the Imperial Japanese armed forces. Drawing on legal codes, court cases and juridic writings, we analyze how this "paradox of obedience"encouraged mutinies as well as atrocities, especially in the 1930s and during the Asia-Pacific War.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalLaw and History Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society for Legal History.


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