The Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s is often compared to the military of Nazi Germany during 1933–45 because of the sheer scale of suffering. Much of the controversy regarding Japan's role in World War II revolves around the death rates of prisoners of war and civilians under Japanese occupation. Historian Chalmers Johnson has written that:
It may be pointless to try to establish which World War Two Axis aggressor, Germany or Japan, was the more brutal to the peoples it victimised. The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians (i.e. Soviet citizens); the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese. Both nations looted the countries they conquered on a monumental scale, though Japan plundered more, over a longer period, than the Nazis. Both conquerors enslaved millions and exploited them as forced labourers—and, in the case of the Japanese, as (forced) prostitutes for front-line troops. If you were a Nazi prisoner of war from Britain, America,Australia, New Zealand or Canada (but not the Soviet Union) you faced a 4% chance of not surviving the war; (by comparison) the death rate for Allied POWs held by the Japanese was nearly 30%.
According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate among POWs from Asian countries, held by Japan was 27.1%. The death rate of Chinese POWs was much higher because—under a directive ratified on August 5, 1937 by Emperor Hirohito—the constraints of international law on treatment of those prisoners was removed. Only 56 Chinese POWs were released after the surrender of Japan. After March 20, 1943, the Japanese Navy was under orders to execute all prisoners taken at sea.